The Duchess of Kent has spoken movingly of her “love” for teaching at a state primary school in Hull, after ill health forced her withdraw from official royal engagements.
By Andrew Hough
In a touching television interview, the 78 year-old spoke of her excitement teaching music, mostly anonymously, for eight years at Wansbeck Primary School.
The Duchess, whose husband the Duke of Kent is the Queen’s cousin, admitted she got a “tickle” of excitement when she recognised talent in pupils.
Known as “Mrs Kent” to her students, the royal said she was proud to have given some the confidence to go on to university or pursue careers that previously would have been unachievable.
But she said she feared for the future of music in the English school curriculum, which could deprive underprivileged children of valuable stimulation.
She said music was powerful enough to help children climb the virtual “Berlin Wall” that surrounds many council estates across the country. It is thought to be the first time she has publicly spoken of her time in teaching.
In a pre-recorded interview, broadcast on The Alan Titchmarsh Show later on Friday, the duchess also gives a rare insight into her life and discloses that she is an avid user of her iPhone and is a fan of popular music.
After her self-imposed exile from public life in 1996, she agreed to a friend’s request to visit Wansbeck Primary School after they moved to the city.
Upon her visit, the head teacher disclosed that the school was in desperate need of a music teacher, and she volunteered. She was involved with the school for the next 13 years.
“When I was teaching the first thing I began to notice was the power of music as a stimulant to these children to give them confidence and self-belief. I began to see that happen all the time,” she told the ITV1 show.
“Some of the children I taught haven’t necessarily become musicians, but the confidence it has given them, some have joined the Army, some to university, which they might not have done otherwise.
“I have always loved talent, I love that tickle up the neck when you see talent and I began to realise I was teaching some very, very gifted children.”
She added: “I love those children, I loved being there and I love Hull, I wouldn’t have stayed there if I hadn’t.
As a schoolgirl the Duchess learnt to play the piano, the violin and the organ and narrowly missed out on a place at the Royal Academy of Music.
She pursued her passion for music through finishing school in Oxford and held dreams of playing at Carnegie Hall.
Asked if music was underrated in schools, she replied: “Oh my goodness is it underrated. I would love to see one of the arts being compulsory at GCSE level. I think that would be wonderful.
“Someone asked me the other day, why wasn’t music as popular as football and I couldn’t answer at the time because I was nervous but then I realised that music is so much more popular than football.
“There isn’t a person in the world who doesn’t tap their feet to music.”
Since leaving teaching, the duchess has launched a music charity, Future Talent, which aims to help gifted children develop their musical prowess, the Daily Mail reported. The charity now works with orchestras such as the Halle in Manchester and links them with primary and secondary schools.
The duchess has three children with the Duke of Kent – George Windsor, Earl of St Andrews, Lady Helen Taylor and Lord Nicholas Windsor.
But following the stillbirth of her fourth child in 1977, she suffered recurrent health problems and her withdrawal from the royal circuit prompted claims she had become a recluse.
Public appearances also became rare following her decision to convert to Catholicism in 1994, becoming the first senior royal to convert publicly since the passing of the 1701 Act of Settlement.