Credit: Dave Eastbury

'I became very anxious, near suicidal at some stages' - Dame Stephanie Shirley

The tech pioneer and philanthropist was desperate to study maths, but that meant going to the nearby boys school, which was an 'experience'.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 18 Aug 2016

Name: Dame Stephanie Shirley, tech entrepreneur

Age: 81

Which school did you go to? My sister and I arrived as refugees from Nazi Germany in 1939, and were placed with a foster family in Lichfield. I started picking up this rather nasty regional accent at the village school, so my foster parents sent me to a tiny catholic convent school, St Paul’s. Neither they nor I was at all religious, but they were a bit snobbish, God bless them. Later I went to the local grammar, The Friary School, and Oswestry Girls’ High School.

What grades did you get? Oh, it’s too long ago. I got very good grades though. I was a rather nasty little swot. I did maths and English for A level, and geography I think.

How did you handle pre-exam nerves? It was so important to get good results because I knew that would get me out of poverty. I became very anxious, near suicidal at some stages, though I have since learned just to do the best I can. I’m lucky though that I always do my best when I’m under stress, so I did myself justice in my exams.

What was your favourite subject? I was desperately keen to study maths, but in my generation girls didn’t really study science. I had to go to the local boys’ school to get mathematical training, which was quite an experience. It was a forerunner of the sexism I’d face in the workplace.

What advice would you give your teenage self? Get yourself to university. I had a real chip on my shoulder until I was about 30 because I’d missed out on that educational experience. It took me six years of evening classes to get my degree, while working full time as a lowly civil servant. It’s possible but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Return to MT's exams special page to find out how the others did.


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