The vet, author and CBeebies Minibeast Adventure presenter Jess French talks about eventful schooldays in Norfolk and her passion for challenges

Where did you go to school and when?

Norfolk in the ’90s.

What was school like for you?

I went to quite a few different schools, so I got to experience a whole spectrum of different education settings. I was really fortunate to attend the local middle school, which provided an extraordinary array of extracurricular activities, all spear-headed by one industrious teacher.

Did you love school or hate it?

I mostly loved it. At the end of Year 1, when we were finishing for the summer holidays, I cried and refused to leave the classroom. My teacher had to carry me out. I have always loved learning but sometimes the social side of it was tricky, especially moving schools a lot as I was always the new kid.

What were your favourite subjects / activities there?

English and biology were my favourite subjects, but I was really lucky to go to a couple of great schools which offered loads of opportunities and I loved acting, playing music and getting involved in sports such as netball and athletics too.

Who was your favourite or most memorable teacher and how did they influence you?

I had an amazing music and drama teacher called Mr Bailey. He would write original plays for us to act out and he ran several musical clubs and bands. Playing in his marching band took us all over the country and even around the world. We worked really hard, but he taught us that hard work pays off and we often won national music competitions. Looking back on all the sacrifices he must have made to give us the opportunities that he did, I am way more grateful now than I ever was at the time. He was very inspiring.

The Making of Me: Dr Jess French discusses her school days in Norfolk
Dr Jess French’s passion for animals of all colours began when she was very young

Where was your favourite place / space at school and what did you do there?

I campaigned for us to build a wildlife garden at my middle school. I loved hanging out in there once it was done – almost as much as I enjoyed the process of making it!

What beliefs do you think your time at school instilled in you?

Hard work pays off and I’m tougher than I realise.

What was your proudest school moment?

I was a very hard-working and conscientious child – I represented my school and county quite a few times for sports, debating, acting and poetry. I don’t remember feeling that proud though, I was mostly looking for the next challenge and trying to do more. Perhaps I should have given myself a bit more of a break in retrospect!

What was the most trouble you got into at school?

I was really well behaved until sixth form. I’m not sure I had ever been in trouble before lower sixth. After that I was regularly in trouble for wearing my uniform wrong, being late or not turning up. Those were tricky years for me.

Were you ever too cool for school?

I definitely wasn’t a cool kid. I was usually digging about in the dirt in search of creepy crawlies. In some of my schools I was ignored because of this, in others I was picked on.

Jess French
The CBeebies presenter loves a challenge

What is your most vivid school memory, looking back now?

I can still remember some of my lines for the plays that Mr Bailey wrote for us! I can also remember the feeling of performing them on stage.

When and how did your interest in animals and the natural world begin?

For as long as I can remember I have been surrounded by nature, my parents are both really interested in animals and the natural world, so a love for wildlife, pets and the planet were all instilled in me from a young age.

What other key influences / passions shaped you when you were growing up?

I loved the performing arts and was regularly found performing on stage in one form or another.

What projects and challenges are coming up next for you?

I am currently writing five books, which will come out over the next 18 months and I’m juggling that with looking after my young family, our menagerie of pets and other secret projects that I can’t mention yet!

How would you sum up your school days in three words?

Jam-packed, turbulent, lucky.


* Dr Jess French’s How to be a Vet and Other Animal Jobs is published by Nosy Crow, price £6.99;

Further reading: Explorer Dwayne Fields on school days in Jamaica and London