Former Student Profile – Jill Meager, Class of 1974

Guild Art

We are looking forward to welcoming Jill back to school Tuesday 10 October for the Year 7 Inspire and Career Talk.

What years did you attend WHS? 1969 - 1976


What did you get up to at WHS in terms of study and extracurricular activities?

Uncharacteristically – not being particularly sporty - I was in the school swimming team for five years and loved the fact that we had a pool on site. (Although sadly it was never available to dip in and out of on hot sunny days.) I would have liked to be in other sports teams but had no ball skills whatsoever. I definitely felt the cool girls were the ones in the netball, tennis and hockey squads.

My main interests were in art, languages and any performance or drama opportunities.  I took part in every verse-speaking going, even the Latin one which involved me going to the final in London and having to wear the spectacularly awful school hat on public transport.

Passionate about drama, and even then knowing I wanted to be a creative, I was in every school play and then an opera in the Sixth Form – Mozart’s Magic Flute. I loved art probably more than anything else, but was encouraged to stick to academic subjects if I wanted to go to a good university, so I reluctantly gave it up.

My entire school career was spent longing to give up the humiliation that was Maths. I hated it, was dreadful at it and had the constant fear looming over me that if I didn’t pass the GCSE, I would go to hell, never get into the Sixth Form and certainly never go to university. I passed with the lowest grade and remember going home and playing the Beatles’ Here Comes the Sun because life had suddenly got a whole lot better.

In Sixth Form – apart from the separate building, which made us all feel suddenly very sophisticated – I remember teachers talking to us as equals and learning took on a different feel – small groups, more discussion, a broadening out. I studied English, French and Italian. Italian from beginner to A level across the two years. And it was a revelation: whereas English and French texts were widely known and studied, the modern Italian texts weren’t even translated so it felt like genuine discovery and I fell in love with Italian twentieth century literature - writers such as Calvino, Pavese and Vittorini, and went on to read Italian and French at Cambridge. (French didn’t get much of a look-in.)

Do you have any fond memories you’d like to share?

Things that immediately spring to mind:

Not being able to use the bridge until Sixth Form (such a pain to go the long way round). Not being able to talk in the corridors. Faking illness to get a lie down in the san. Being terrified of the headmistress. Living in fear of disobedience marks (got them for nipping over the bridge, talking too much, talking to boys over the fence). Wanting a deportment girdle (never got one). Dr Harley, my Russian teacher, who conducted lessons with her feet in the waste paper basket and who prefaced every sentence with “darlink”

And of course:

Rigorous academic standard

Huge variety of subject choice

Excellent teachers

Amazing facilities

What did you do after school? Gap year, straight into business or Uni.

Oxbridge was chosen for me: a group of us had a scary interview with the head (Mrs Miller) in Year 8 where we were told we were Oxbridge material and had to get our heads down. I didn’t have a rebellious bone in my body, so that was that. Cambridge was a very mixed experience for me: I was in the first group of women to go to Trinity Hall: we were 40 women and 300 men with a real feeling that many of the staff thought we were a mistake. There was little or no pastoral care and it was sink or swim. It didn’t help being from a state school and a background of very little money.

Because Oxbridge exams happened post A-level, I had a gap year which I spent teaching English in Genoa. I nearly didn’t come back, so amazing was it to be in a country of olive oil, pesto and parmesan cheese, none of which existed in the UK at that time. And the boys were very good-looking.

What did you do after University?

After Cambridge, I became an actor, working first as a Stage Manager at Hampstead Theatre in London and then playing many roles in TV, theatre and film. At 34, I had had enough of acting, partly because I wanted to be at home more and have a second child, partly because I lost patience with an industry that was so fixated on beauty, and so I retrained as a therapist and spent a couple of years on the stand-up comedy circuit.

What are you up to now?

Finally, I started studying art again at an amazing art school for adults in Putney and have been painting ever since. Alongside my art practice, I spent many years delivering creative thinking classes in the advertising and design world and I now work as a speech-writer and media handler for a Labour MP while also offering media and presentation training to chief executives across a wide variety of organisations.

What do you know now that you didn’t in Year 13 that you’d like to share with current students?

It can take a long time to find your chosen path, so don’t worry. Don’t beat yourself up if you think you’ve made a wrong turn. You may do jobs in your twenties that don’t fulfill you but you will get there. I didn’t get myself back to art till my forties.

To get to where you want to be, take small, regular, dedicated steps, nothing happens in giant leaps.

Go the extra mile, work late, be helpful. It all gets noticed and it pays off.


Please visit Jill's website to experience more of her wonderful artwork:

You can also follow Jill on Twitter: @JillMeager


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