AN international star made his way home to pay tribute to a retiring Wearside teacher.
During her 37 years as a music and performing arts teacher at Thornhill School, Jacqui Bennett has inspired many on the road to acting and singing careers.
A number of them returned to the school to say thank you at a special retirement evening – including Ben Forster, who shot to fame after clinching the role of Jesus in Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar.
Jacqui, who recently celebrated her 60th birthday, began working at the Thornholme Road school in 1977 and remained there throughout her career.
Originally from Leicestershire, Jacqui came to the North East to study at Newcastle University.
A special retirement momento came in the form of a letter from Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber, which read: “I was very interested to read of your work at Thornhill School and the fact Ben Forster, and so many other West End performers, were former pupils.
“I believe it is very important that music is taught and young talent is nurtured within our educational system, but the system needs teachers like you.
“I congratulate you on all you have achieved at Thornhill School and I wish you the very best for your retirement.”
Other former pupils who have gone on to work in the entertainment industry include Gary Watson, who has starred in Matilda the Musical and Les Miserables, and Barry and David Hyde from The Futureheads.
Dave Lupton, a spokesman for the school, said: “The surprise concert was arranged by members of staff, and was compared by former pupil Emma Maw, who currently works as a red carpet celebrity interviewer.
“Jacqui was shocked and delighted when she entered the main hall at school to discover an amazing array of talent, all gathered to say goodbye.
“This was a truly one-off event that celebrated the work of a lady who was so much more than a teacher for many talented pupils, she provided the inspiration to develop careers in entertainment.”