The school corridor resembles a hall of fame.
Framed shirts recognising the talents of scholars such as Manchester United’s rising star, Luke Hendrie, son of former professional footballer, John Hendrie, dominate the walls.
A photo montage of famous faces who once studied here reveals the sporting and creative force within St Mary’s School in Menston.
Academically, it is one of the top performing schools in the country, but staff develop and encourage all the varied abilities of pupils.
The school’s alumni reads like a Who’s Who of stage and screen.
Simon Rix, Nick ‘Peanut’ Baines and Nick Hodgson of the Kaiser Chiefs, were all educated here.
We certainly give the opportunity for the talent to emerge and we recognise, promote it and celebrate itDavid Geldart, assistant head teacher at St Mary’s
Swivelling around in her seat, Cath Garrett, the school’s acting head, points to the view from her office, beyond the trees, to the site of the former psychiatric hospital the Kaiser Chiefs sang about in their track High Royds.
It’s some years since they studied here before entering the glitzy world of showbusiness, but the lads remain supportive of their old school and the fundraising work it is involved with in South Africa – the country which gave the Kaisers their name.
Cath explains: “They support Leeds United and the Kaiser Chiefs came about because Lucas Radebe was an important South African footballer who played for Leeds. When he played in South Africa, he played for the Kaizer Chiefs.”
Cath arrived at St Mary’s nine years ago. The lads were already on their way to stardom by then, but Cath did get to meet them when they returned for an awards presentation. “They were wonderful when they came back and they have supported the school,” she says.
David Geldart, assistant headteacher, recalls they were all ‘great lads’ when they were in his form. He and Cath credit them with working hard, playing in local pubs before hitting the big time. “They certainly put the time in and they evolved the way true bands do,” they say.
The school’s photo montage also features sporting stars – cricketers David Wigley and Joe Sayers and diver Michael Jones – ballet dancer Dominic North, Harry Potter actor Matthew Lewis, who has played Neville Longbottom in all the Harry Potter movies, and actresses Laura Power and Verity Rushworth, who played Donna Windsor-Dingle in Emmerdale, before going on to star in West End hit show, Hairspray.
David says all the famous scholars share the same attributes. “Modest, unassuming and well-grounded is a feature of all of them,” he says.
Verity has fond memories of her schooldays at St Mary’s. She was 11 when she landed her role in Emmerdale. “I loved St Mary’s and they were so good about me leaving for filming. I used to get all the homework before I left. I had to put extra time in and they were so good about it,” she says.
Actor Christian Cooke, who starred in ITV series Demons and comedy film Cemetery Junction, also went to St Mary’s. The school offers an extensive range of creative and arts-related courses, including GCSE drama and theatre studies at A-level.
Students can also do a BTEC performing arts course, music at GCSE and A-level.
Cath is keen to acknowledge the support of parents and families. “There are children in all schools who are talented. The key is encouraging it and we have tremendous parental support and encouragement. If you have the encouragement from parents and a push from school it helps.”
Lynda Lewis, mother of Harry Potter star Matthew, says all her three sons enjoyed their time at St Mary’s.
Her eldest son Christopher went on to become a TV editor and Anthony is an actor who played Marc Reynolds in Emmerdale.
She says tutors on the Harry Potter set liaised with Matthew’s teacher at St Mary’s to keep him up-to-date with his schoolwork.
The 20-year-old is currently filming the last Harry Potter film. It is ten years since he starred in the first movie and had just landed the role when he started at St Mary’s.
“The staff were very supportive of my boys,” says Lynda. “They had already started acting in primary school.”
Says David: “We certainly give the opportunity for the talent to emerge and we recognise, promote it and celebrate it.”
Cath and David are proud of all their students, not just those who have gone on to become famous.
The latest up-and-coming talent on the music scene hoping to emulate the Kaisers’ success are soft rock act Gentle Breeze.
The band, comprising St Mary’s scholars Declan Barry, Alister Roberts, Oliver Hughes, Cole Hardcastle and Ben McNulty, were selected as the house band on Radio One’s Switch show, hosted by Annie Mac and Nick Grimshaw, after lead guitarist Alister, who’s from Yeadon, e-mailed the programme, which showcases young musical talent.
“We hope they use the Kaiser Chiefs as their inspiration and follow in their footsteps,” says Cath.