Me and my school photo: Ainsley Harriott remembers being a bit of a show-off and playing the recorder

TV chef and presenter Ainsley Harriott pictured in his schooldays

TV chef and presenter Ainsley Harriott pictured in his schooldays

This photo was taken at Honeywell, my primary school in Wandsworth, south London, when I was seven years old. I loved that school and it still has a fabulous reputation.

Both my parents were born in Jamaica, but my elder brother and sister, Chester and Jacqueline, and I were born in Wandsworth and I still live in the area. I was a bit of a show-off at school. I told jokes a lot because I wanted to have friends.

However, the naughtiest thing my mates and I did at Honeywell was try to drink as many bottles of the creamy free milk as we could. Delicious! My father, Chester, was a successful pianist so there was a bit of money around, which meant the other kids loved coming over to try my mother’s wonderful food.

School friends who visited had never had sweetcorn or avocado before, or tasted yam and green bananas, which we bought from the market for a taste of the West Indies. Mum passed on her cooking skills to all her children.

My brother, a businessman, is the main cook in his home and my sister teaches cookery. Good food and good music were the mainstays of my childhood. I studied music at school and played the recorder.

Later in life music was a great way of supplementing my income because I was paid really badly as a young chef. Luckily an old friend – we did music at school together – and I formed a duo, The Calypso Beat, which later became the Calypso Twins.

As for my studies, I wasn’t bad at English but not so great at maths, although I knew my times tables. Most of all I loved art and being creative – I had a manual dexterity that came out later in my cooking.

It’s vital for teachers to focus on the things each individual child is passionate about and to encourage that passion, rather than just treating kids like robots. Looking back, Honeywell did just that, giving me a touch of confidence.

Ainsley, 54, lives in south London with his wife Clare and their two children Jimmy, 20, and Maddie, 17

Ainsley, 54, lives in south London with his wife Clare and their two children Jimmy, 20, and Maddie, 17

My secondary school, Wandsworth Boys’ School, had 2,000 boys so there wasn’t such individual attention. Some of the lads got up to some awful pranks. They’d take the geometry compass, carve out holes in the chalks and hide a Swan match inside so when the teacher started to write on the board it caught fire!

I myself was never that bad – although I did get detention for staying inside when it was cold. We were all meant to go out, but a few of us would lie flat on the chairs behind our desks and hope that, seeing no feet, the prefects would assume the class was empty and leave us in peace.

I was part of the Wandsworth Boys’ Choir at school. They were terrific and went all over the world to perform. Benjamin Britten himself was always coming to hear us. I went off to a few venues round Britain, but didn’t go abroad with the choir because I had asthma quite badly.

After my O levels, I left school to become an apprentice in the kitchen of the prestigious Verreys Restaurant in Regent Street. Happy days! Mum would have liked me to become something like a doctor, but I had found my own groove – and it’s been amazing ever since.

Ainsley is backing healthy eating campaign Supermeals. For recipes and tips, visit