Me and my school photo: Singer Cheryl Baker remembers second-hand clothes and her eccentric maths teachers
 

This is me aged about 12 at Morpeth Secondary School in London. I was born in Bethnal Green in 1954, in the front room of the council flat where I grew up with my three brothers and sister. In those days I was Rita Crudgington – I changed my name when I became a singer. I lived at home for 29 years. By that time I had gold discs on the wall, but still stayed with my mum, Doll, and dad, Ted, a shoemaker. It was a happy home. I went to my primary school, Bonner, when I was five. There was no uniform and my clothes were second-hand from Brick Lane market.

Cheryl Baker, 57, shot to fame in the 80s in Eurovision winning band Bucks Fizz, she currently lives in Kent with husband Steve and their teenage twin daughters

Cheryl Baker, 57, shot to fame in the 80s in Eurovision winning band Bucks Fizz, she currently lives in Kent with husband Steve and their teenage twin daughters

Though I made some friends, including Sharon Brown, who is still my buddy, there was a bit of bullying. One girl, Miriam, used to taunt me with her own version of the words from a Tetley Tea advert, saying, ‘Rita’s Flea-bags go in the pot!’ to underline the fact that I was poor. But, apart from that, I loved school.
The school had a choir and our headmaster Mr James would come in and listen to us. If you were no good you were put into what was called ‘The Cat’s Chorus’. Very un-PC! I was incredibly shy but did my best, and he kept me in the choir. There was music all the time in our house. We had a piano squeezed into our tiny front room, which Mum played with an untamed flourish.
 

Bad timing: Cheryl says she was a good girl, but her biggest failing was being late

Bad timing: Cheryl says she was a good girl, but her biggest failing was being late

I failed the 11-plus and couldn’t go to grammar school but didn’t mind, as I wanted to go to Morpeth with my friends. We all wore a uniform, so at last I was the same as everybody, and the bullying stopped. By then, Dad could bring me home new shoes from the factory where he worked. Suddenly I didn’t look like the poor kid, and I had a lot more self-assurance.
My English teacher, Miss French, was terrific and I won all sorts of prizes. But my maths wasn’t great and I put that down to the teachers. One was a drunk who’d go out at lunch and get plastered. Another threw the blackboard rubber at you if you talked, and even when you were quiet he’d flick your legs hard with a ruler. I was a good girl, but my biggest failing was being late. (I am the same to this day. For some people that’s unforgivable. For me it’s almost an illness. It used to infuriate the others in Bucks Fizz – Bobby Gee couldn’t bear it and in 1982 I was threatened with the sack for being late.)
When I was 14, I started a shorthand and typing course at school. Even though I’d wanted to be a singer from the age of five, I thought I’d get a job in the meantime, just one Tube stop away from home in The City. I passed the exams and took a secretarial job in the summer, earning £12 a week. It was good money – too good to go back to school. I started working full time, but didn’t forget my dream.
At 16 my sister and I joined an amateur operatic group called the Cathedral Players. My first role was in The Merry Widow and on the last night I was crying. I knew this was where I had to be – singing on stage. At 21 I plucked up the courage to audition for a band called Mother’s Pride, later changed to Co-Co. I got in, and within three days I’d left my job and was on a bus on my way to Blackpool. I never looked back.