School memories: stars share childhood stories to help keep girls in school

8 min read
Various people as children

When we think back to our childhood we may be met with mixed memories, good or bad. But one thing no child should face is the anxiety that comes with a lack of access to clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene.

A third of schools globally have no basic water supply or decent toilets. This impacts millions of children's health and education - especially among girls - who often skip school when on their period if there are no toilet facilities, or drop out altogether when they reach puberty.

Because women and girls collect water in four out of five homes without water on-site, they have less time to work or study; and when girls miss out on their education, they ultimately get fewer opportunities.

That's why a host of celebrities and influencers have revealed their childhood photos and personal memories from school, to help raise awareness of these issues.

Nadiya Hussain

Author and TV chef Nadiya Hussain MBE fondly remembers a teacher who gave her a valuable confidence boost.

Nadiya Hussain wearing a green jumper

A ‘busy bee’ would be a good word to describe me as a teenager. I was senior head girl, school councillor, prefect and a reading mentor and I was doing my exams through all of that.

“I had a food tech teacher called Mrs Marshall who was so kind and nurturing. She was always really enthusiastic, and she made me feel confident whilst learning something new.

"I met her years after school and after winning Bake Off, and she was exactly as I remembered her: bubbly, enthusiastic and full of life. A walking-talking example of how to live life!”

Ellie Simmonds OBE

Paralympic swimmer, Ellie Simmonds OBE, found herself drawn to different careers.

Ellie Simmonds OBE as a child

Five times Paralympic gold-medalist and WaterAid ambassador Ellie Simmonds OBE said:

“When I was younger, I wanted to be a vet as I absolutely loved animals, but as a teenager, I decided I wanted to be a forensic scientist because we had one visit the school to do an assembly and I was hooked from that very moment.

"Throughout my secondary school years, our form teacher Mr Doe, was just the best; he treated us not just as students, but as individuals and made our classes a happy environment every single day.”

Dame Jacqueline Wilson

Author Dame Jacqueline Wilson DBE remembers why school was so important for her.

Dame Jacqueline Wilson as a child

It was dear Mr Townsend who encouraged me to write and was always very sweet and patient.”

“I wanted to be a writer from when I was six years old. I never thought I’d be lucky enough to get one book published, let alone a hundred!

"I was a daydreamer at school, my nickname was Jacky Daydream. The teachers thought I should be better at maths (I was hopeless) but they all said I was good at English.

Cerys Matthews

Musician and broadcaster Cerys Matthews describes her teenage-self as ‘wayward.’

Cerys Matthews as a child

“My school reports described me as ‘excellent when she applies herself’ and said to ‘stop daydreaming’. One teacher was especially inspirational: Mrs Ellis, my biology teacher. I adored her. Strict but loving, and utterly engaged in the enlightenment of her pupils. She taught me about ‘old mans beard’ and other botanical gems.”

KT Tunstall

Musician KT Tunstall was a daydreamer who had the chance to try many different things at school:

“My school reports stated ‘has potential…but easily distracted’ and they were totally accurate! I was definitely a daydreamer, occasionally falling on the naughty side, but I was keen to try out anything from chess to fencing to metal work; I loved all the things I was able to do.

“I had some great teachers. The Head of Music at the High School of Dundee was Mr Cochrane; he was always really supportive of me and my talent, he made the music room feel like a playground. I spent a lot of time just playing on pianos, electric keyboards and on guitars.”

KT Tunstall as a child

Tony Robinson

Sir Tony Robinson, who always wanted to be an actor, said teachers thought he was ‘a nuisance’, apart from his inspirational poetry teacher:

Sir Tony Robinson as a child

“They said that if I concentrated more and stopped messing about in class, I’d get better grades; they were right.

"I was cocky and a bit of a show-off, but I read a lot, and was dedicated to trying to rid the world of apartheid and nuclear weapons.

My favourite teacher was a lady who came to teach us poetry. I loved the sound of the words on my lips and up my nose.

"She taught us to recite for a minute at a time without drawing breath. I loved the pictures the words made, and the stories they told.”

Kimberly Hart-Simpson

Coronation Street actor, Kimberly Hart-Simpson who plays Nicky Wheatley, says that although she spent much of secondary school feeling nervous, she always knew what she wanted to do:

Kimberly Hart-Simpson as a child

“I wanted to be an actor the second I found out what one really was – performing was my fate. I was always anxious and not very academic, and all the while I was a daydreamer.

My favourite teacher, naturally, was my drama tutor, Mr Harrison. He encouraged us to be unique and to parade our inner desires.

"He was fantastic and, no doubt, the love he had for his job made a direct impact on me, and the love I have for mine too!”

Megan Jayne Crabbe

Bestselling author, digital creator and presenter, Megan Jayne Crabbe, who says she was a ‘goody two-shoes’:

“I’ve always been a perfectionist; I was never late or in trouble. But despite the nerdy streak, the subject I loved most was drama. The teachers said I was a pleasure to teach and that I had a bright future ahead, although one of them recommended I try to relax and have more fun! Both my parents were teachers, so I always had a helpful voice at home, and adults around who understood the importance of education, as well as feeling safe and comfortable at school.”

Megan Jayne Crabbe as a child

Ambar Driscoll

The founder of the Bamby Collective community group for young women said she was always a great student and a pleasure to teach!

Ambar Driscoll as a child

"I definitely wasn’t a class clown or anything. I wouldn’t say I was popular either. Not quite a teachers pet but I was definitely a goody two shoes, I always wanted to impress my teachers and get the best grades. I didn’t have one specific stand out teacher, I was fond of quite a few.

"I think I was lucky with the teachers I had, they all wanted the best for me and I deeply respected them."

Rosie Lewis

Climate scientist Rosie has always been interested in nature.

Rosie Lewis as a child

Rosie wanted to be a farmer when she was younger because of her love of animals. But her teachers seemed to have other ideas!

"My primary school reports said that I was well-motivated, organised and musical! Definitely not sure about the accuracy of the last one."

"I had lots of amazing teachers, especially in the Languages and Geography departments at my secondary school. Their passion for their subjects meant I loved studying - so much so that I’m now in my 4th year of university!"

Lucy Bella Simkins

Now an English Learning Teacher, originally Lucy says she wanted to be a plastic surgeon "because I loved making faces from clay. I soon realised it wasn't that simple!"

"As a teenager I started to think I was a bit too cool for school! All I cared about was running, rowing, and learning languages.

My teachers always told me that I could achieve more. I think they were right!

"It was only when I grew up that I learnt how to properly focus.

"A lot of language teachers I'd had in the past made their classes boring and uninspiring, but my Spanish teacher Miss Flores made learning Spanish so much fun! I'm so grateful to her."

Lucy Bella Simkins as a child

One thing they didn’t have to worry about was whether there was somewhere to get clean water and go to the toilet at school.

And yet, millions around the world are denied access to these basic human rights. Puja, 12, goes to school in Lahan, Nepal, where a lack of these vital facilities means many girls miss school every month.

Puja, who would like to be a nurse, told us:

“There is water, but it contains iron and it stinks. I’ve fallen ill by drinking the water at school, it generally causes stomach ache.

"When girls menstruate at school, it affects our studies as we return home. There should be proper management of pads, toilets and drinking water, so girls wouldn’t have to return home and miss their classes.

“We go to school to study and gain knowledge, which will help us become somebody we wish.

"Life is not possible without water, since we need water to do everything like drink, cook, clean, wash, sanitation, personal hygiene.”


If you want every child to have the life changing education that these people have had, then please consider making a donation.

With your support, we can bring clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene to schools and homes around the world, transforming the lives of tens of thousands of children like Puja.

This project was part of our Thirst for Knowledge appeal. Funds raised were matched by the UK Government, to bring these vital facilities to 28,000 people and 30 schools in the Bardiya district of Nepal, along with income-boosting activities such as making liquid soap and sanitary pads. 

This appeal is now closed. We'll share updates on the progress we're making with our work in Nepal soon.

However, you can still support our other projects around the world by donating now.