SPOTLIGHT - ANNA MORTIMER
The Spotlight shines on the ‘Lady of Byne House’, our chic Parisian Prep French Teacher and Headmaster’s wife, Anna Mortimer.
Anna is half French, half Greek and was born and raised in Paris. Anna spent much of her childhood travelling and living between France, Greece and New York as her mother is French and her father Greek-American. She studied English and American Literature and Civilisation at university in Paris, before arriving at Giggleswick School in North Yorkshire as a postgraduate French Assistant. She was only supposed to stay for one year, but the Head of History (now her husband) messed up her plans slightly! She changed tack and trained as a French teacher via the Graduate Teacher Programme at Leeds University and has worked at four different English schools, both state and private, before arriving at Warminster School. She still enjoys travelling between Britain, France and Greece to see family and loves spending time with her family. Her other passions are fashion, cinema, reading, yoga, Pilates and playing the piano.
How long have you worked at Warminster?
Since January 2014 and teaching in the Prep School since September 2015.
What’s the best thing about your roles?
As the Headmaster’s wife, I am fortunate to see talented pupils in their plays, matches and concerts. I am able to host regular coffee mornings for staff, afternoon tea at Byne House for pupils, organise suppers for the prefect team and support and attend WSPA events. It is not a defined role, so I enjoy the freedom it gives to get involved in every aspect around school. It’s a great privilege.
Meanwhile, as a Prep School teacher, it is working with the children. They amaze me and make me laugh every day (as do my colleagues!).
You have an ‘interesting’ role in Speech Day this year thanks to the pupils at Curriculum Enrichment Day. Are you both looking forward to the challenge? Is the Headmaster nervous?
We are looking forward to it, with a little bit of trepidation! We have had eight dance lessons to get ready for our challenge which have been great fun and hard work but James, our wonderful teacher, has been very patient.
Describe a typical day?
I am lucky that the day usually starts by walking with my children through our beautiful grounds to the Prep School. No two days are the same when you work with (and have) young children but what is constant at our school is the warmth and energy of people you see every day and the feeling you are part of a very supportive team. The day usually ends with some great entertainment (hosting a dinner, watching a play, listening to a lecture...)
What do you think makes Warminster a special place to live and learn?
The sense of community and the genuine family feel.
Gavin Mortimer, the author of Through the Wren Door also mentions that after 300 years Warminster remains a ‘family’ school. How does Warminster continue to instil this genuine family feel?
People are genuinely friendly. When I first arrived at the School, I did not know anyone, I had three children under five and it rained non-stop for six weeks! I will never forget how welcoming, kind and helpful people at the School were. We quickly felt adopted by the “family”: second hand school uniforms arrived at the door, lists of everything there is to visit with small children in the area were handed out to me, playdates were organised, school events explained… I will never forget how friendly everybody was.
According to chapter 3, Dr. and Mrs Alcock (Headmaster from 1864) purchased Byne House in which to enjoy their retirement and keep a beady eye on the School!
Luckily, we have had the house to ourselves, but there used to be boarders, staff and lodgers living here! We have been so lucky to live in Byne House, which must be the most gorgeous Headmaster’s house in the country, full of history and perfect to host functions. It is a family house, but at the heart of the school and we have enjoyed opening its door to staff, pupils, OVs and parents.
The book also mentions the importance the Head’s wife plays: “We must not forget the part played by Mrs. Alcock. As always in the School’s history, the contribution made by the lady of School House had helped to ensure success.” What’s the key to a successful partnership?
Helping and supporting each other, one might work more on stage and the other backstage, but the roles are equally important to make sure everything runs smoothly and that life is well balanced!
What would surprise us about you?
I competed in rhythmic gymnastics and horse showjumping for many years while at school.
What other Warminster role would you like to try for a day and why?
I would love to be in admissions for a day, to meet people from around the world and discuss their motivation for wanting to join Warminster.
As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
A marine biologist as I love whales but I quickly realised there was more to it than a love of mammals and that I was better at literature than sciences.
What did your school reports say about you?
Has a good ear for languages.
Your note/advice to teenage self?
Being tall is cool, you will love it in the end!
From your experience, is there any guidance you would give to pupils who are thinking of travelling or working overseas?
Ensure you are fully aware of national and regional dishes perhaps. In 2003, I arrived from Paris to Giggleswick School in North Yorkshire and it was a bit of a culture shock. In my first weekend, I thought I should do something very English and have a cup of tea at 5pm (I had never had English tea!). I went to the only tea room nearby, “Ye Olde Naked Man Cafe” in the next village of Settle. I looked at the menu and ordered a cup of tea and what I thought was a regional cake: “a Yorkshire pudding”. My cup of tea arrived, followed by a huge brown thing covered with a brown sauce with little bits of meat floating in… I looked so horrified that the waiter felt sorry for me. He explained what a Yorkshire pudding was and quickly brought me some scones instead!
Your mantra/motto or favourite quote?
Treat others as you would like them to treat you.
Hidden ambitions still to achieve?
To jump out of a plane. It was all arranged last year, but it got called off because of the snow. To be honest, having to wear an orange jumpsuit is putting me off slightly!
A favourite possession you would save from a fire?
My family photos and diaries (I have been keeping a diary for more than 20 years).
Rudeness and grumpiness. A smile always goes a long way.
Michel Berger, a French singer and composer who wrote the first French musical, Starmania.
Very dark chocolate and watching Death in Paradise for the scenery (although I always fall asleep before finding out who did it!).
MasterChef signature dish?
A chicken casserole with a French twist (which of course means adding wine) and a dark chocolate mousse.
Favourite TV programme?
Recently, Line of Duty, and Back to Life, a dark comedy full of English humour. Increasingly, I understand British humour!
Last book you read?
Becoming by Michelle Obama and The book you wish your parents had read (and your children will be glad that you did). My children won’t ever say I did not try my best…
Last movie watched?
The Wife, for which Glenn Close was nominated for an Oscar. The title could actually have been “Behind every great man, there is a great woman!"
Which actor would play you in a movie about your life?
Someone tall, with long dark hair – someone has suggested Anne Hathaway to me.
A good red wine (it obviously has to be French).
Favorite place/city in the world and why?
Korthi, a village on the Greek island of Andros. It’s where my father is from, where I was baptised and married and it is a haven of tranquility, still largely preserved from tourism. Time stops there and you just live in the moment, surrounded by the beautiful Aegean sea.
Twitter or Facebook?
Twitter, mainly because I enjoy following all the different school Twitter accounts.
Finally, what will you miss most about Warminster?
All the people who make this school such a “family school” and the beautiful buildings, full of history.