Thespian Lights

By School House

3 years ago

Actress Susannah Fielding remembers Christ’s Hospital School, West Sussex

Actress Susannah Fielding remembers Christ’s Hospital School, West Sussex

I was 16 when I arrived at Christ’s Hospital (CH) and started my time there acclimatising at Coleridge B. But it was only a matter of days before I was promptly asked whether, when I joined the school proper in September, I would like to join Hertford – a house for the more ‘spirited’ girls, they said. Of course, I jumped at the chance.

It was hard to slot into a year group which had been steadily bonding since age 11, but the girls I boarded with were kind and welcoming and soon took me under their wing, showing me shortcuts to lessons via borrowed bikes and through bushes, introducing me to the CH lingo (a truly unique combination of historical housey words and London slang), the joys of the CH social life, including the ‘rock concert’, Saturday excursions into Horsham, and all the vital knowledge a new dep needed.

The academic education I received also far exceeded anything I would have had access to in my home town in Hampshire and I began to feel a real pride wearing their famous uniform with the yellow socks and being part of a school that was not only opening my mind, but stood for something I truly believed in – equality. Here everyone got a chance to try anything, learn anything and be whatever they could envisage, no matter what background they came from or how much money they had. Being different was encouraged – I found this incredibly freeing and my confidence began to grow in this environment.

One of the great joys for me was the art school, a magnificent building, full of the coolest and most dishevelled students with facilities to die for – endless books, easels, paints, textiles, encouragement and talent. How I long for that time and space to simply create now.

In that building I learnt one of the greatest lessons and, in reality, it had very little to do with art. I handed in a piece of sub-par writing, expecting, as I had at other schools who had cared a little less, to get an ok grade; to wing it. However, I was called in for a firm and poignant discussion about the importance of thinking for yourself and fully investing in any work that had my name on it. I re-did the work, won an award and never looked back. I was rewarded not for being perfect in the first place but for learning – the most valuable lesson and one I have carried with me ever since.

But, of course, it was the spectacular theatre that had the biggest impact on me. Having grown up in a small town near Portsmouth there wasn’t a huge amount of opportunity to go to the theatre, but at CH I was watching touring companies weekly on the stage and performing on it regularly myself. Two teachers, Jaqui Miles and Jeffrey Mayhew, nurtured my interest in performance and suggested I apply for drama school (I didn’t know such a thing existed). They helped me find speeches, prepare for auditions, choose which schools to apply to, but most importantly, they made me believe it was possible and that I had something to offer. Without them I am certain I would not be doing the job I love so much today. After sitting with Mr Mayhew, director of drama, in his office looking through the Guildhall prospectus a short time later I was accepted onto its three-year acting training course and 14 years later I am still making a living from a job I love; one that has afforded me a life more interesting and diverse than I could have ever imagined.

It is to Christ’s Hospital that I owe the greatest debt, for opening my mind to the possibilities the world has to offer and for giving me the confidence and life skills to seize those opportunities.

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