Sunderland's Jill Scott and Jeff Brown on why Monkwearmouth school has produced so many famous and successful former pupils

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Lioness and Queen of the Jungle Jill Scott, Coronation Street actress Melanie Hill and Horrible Histories creator Terry Deary are some of the most successful well recognised faces in the country.

As well all being some of the nation’s most famous and successful names, they all have one thing in common; not only are they Mackems born and bred but they also attended Monkwearmouth Academy.

You can also add to the list of alumni BBC Look North’s anchorman Jeff Brown, an integral part of the region's staple teatime diet, and female voice of BBC Radio Newcastle Gilly Hope.

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Son of Pele himself, Martin Smith is also a former pupil at the school as is fellow former Black Cat and current SAFC coach, Michael Proctor.

Monkwearmouth Academy is even represented in the upper echelons of Parliament with former pupil, Baroness Hilary Armstrong - who also served in the Labour Government - now sitting as a peer in the House of Lords.

The significant, and what appears to be a disproportionate, number of famous alumni was first brought to my attention when I was invited into the school for the unveiling of a series of plaques to represent their famous former pupils.

Maybe it’s something in the water, but just what is behind the conveyor belt of successful and famous former figures who used to attend Monkwearmouth Academy and the previous grammar school?

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Where better to start than with the school’s most famous current face, Jill Scott, who after a massively successful football career which saw her represent England 161 times, then saw her profile rocket into the stratosphere after being crowned I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here Queen of the Jungle.

Jill, who attended the Monkwearmouth from 1998 to 2003, recently returned to the school to unveil her plaque and didn’t hold back when speaking about how the school helped to shape her future career.

The former lioness said: “I’ve got so many great memories of being at this school, but playing football has to be the biggest.

"This is where I was shaped as a character and a person first foremost and I think that’s the most important thing for life. It’s great to then go on and have sporting or academic success but becoming a good person is the most important.”

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Jill Scott, Jeff Brown and Melanie Hill are just some of the famous faces who attended Monkwearmouth Academy.Jill Scott, Jeff Brown and Melanie Hill are just some of the famous faces who attended Monkwearmouth Academy.
Jill Scott, Jeff Brown and Melanie Hill are just some of the famous faces who attended Monkwearmouth Academy. | National World

Recalling her time teaching Jill, PE teacher Judith O’leary, who still teaches at the school, said: “I’ve been blown away by what she’s done. But what you see is what you get with Jill and the whole nation has seen just what a genuine person she is.

“She was a real character in school. She loved PE and would always give her all in anything she was asked to do, even netball, which she didn’t really like and I would have to convince her to play for the school team.”

Having taught at the school for 25 years, Judith feels it is providing a platform for children to discover what they may be good at - and not just in traditional academic subjects - which may be behind the school’s star-studded roll of honour.

She said: “We’ve always had a strong extracurricular provision at the school, whether that be different sports, drama and our Search for a Star initiative, or writing for the school newspaper.

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“This gives children the chance to try different things and develop new skills which may be the reason behind the success of former students.”

It’s a sentiment shared by headteacher Mike Grummett who added: “We give our children as many opportunities as possible to experience different activities and come out of their comfort zones.

“If you don’t try something then you may never know if you have a talent at it. We are also in an area which has a traditional working class background where people have strong characteristics of resilience, determination and a will to better themselves.

“This is exemplified by Jill who has always strived to make the most of her talent. 

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“It all fits really well with our motto to Believe, Achieve, Succeed.

The familiar face of Jeff Brown is transported by the power of television into hundreds of living rooms across the North East every weekday evening, but it was his time at what was then Monkwearnouth Grammar School which he credits with laying the foundations for his successful career.

Jeff, who attended the school from 1972 to 1979, said: “I loved school and it was here where I found out what I wanted to do. Like Melanie (Hill) and Jill, the school gave me great encouragement, and I’ll always be grateful for that.

“It’s more than 40 years since I left Monkwearmouth, but several of my old teachers are still good friends.”

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The Look North presenter also recently returned to the school to unveil his plaque on the corridor of the English Department and he hopes his story can help to inspire the current generation of pupils.

Jeff said: “My dad had a great saying when it came to jobs you might think would be out of reach. He’d say: “someone has to do it – so why not you?” And that’s the message I give when I’m asked to speak to youngsters these days. 

“I never thought I’d end up on TV, but someone has to read the news, so why not me? I’d like to think the school still gives its pupils the confidence to feel anything is possible.``

Seeing so many famous faces who've walked in the footsteps of the current pupils certainly seems to have had the desired effect.

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Year 10 pupil Zara Connolly, 15, said: “I do find it really inspirational to see all these successful people who were once in my position. I’m particularly inspired by Jill Scott and the success she has had in what is traditionally a male dominated career.

“I want to go into a career in science and technology which is again a traditionally male career path, but seeing what Jill has done gives me the belief I can also make that breakthrough.”

Ethan Marchbanks, 13, added: “I find these people a real inspiration. It makes me think if they can do it, then so can I.”

Monkwearmouth Academy pupils (left to right) Poppy Atkinson, Erin Anderson, Lucas Robinson, Zara Connolly and Ethan Marchbanks.Monkwearmouth Academy pupils (left to right) Poppy Atkinson, Erin Anderson, Lucas Robinson, Zara Connolly and Ethan Marchbanks.
Monkwearmouth Academy pupils (left to right) Poppy Atkinson, Erin Anderson, Lucas Robinson, Zara Connolly and Ethan Marchbanks. | National World

No one knows what the future holds but it would be nice to think in years to come I will be returning to the school to cover the unveiling of the plaques of new famous and successful alumni.

And who knows, maybe Ethan and Zara will one day see their faces and career stories around the school to inspire the next generation. 

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