My Inspirational Teacher: by Downton Abbey star Laura Carmichael

Picture: Facebook/Haiti Hospital Appeal

As part of our My Inspirational Teacher series we talk to Laura Carmichael, the British actress who plays Lady Edith Crawley in the hit TV series Downton Abbey. Laura, 28, is a patron of the Haiti Hospital Appeal, which provides a range of health care services to vulnerable children and adults.

Who was the teacher, or person, who really mattered in your life?

I had a very brilliant history teacher called Rebecca Collins at The Mountbatten School in Hampshire. I had her from year 7 when I was 11 until I was about 16. She was one of those teachers who terrified most people but you had the utmost respect for her. She had a way of talking to us and treating us like adults. I got to understand how history as a topic would play into the rest of my life and the way I looked at the world.

What did they say or do to make them so special?

She took me to the battlefields in France and Belgium and also to China, which was unbelievable. She did these fantastic school trips – and this was at a state school. She really made me understand that learning about history was about learning about the world. She was teaching us how to look at the world, read the news and form opinions. She was amazing in that way. She really inspired everyone in each class.

What was the moment you realised this person was influential to you?

I was at school when the September 11 attacks happened and I really remember that feeling of having to get to my history class to ask Miss Collins about the way that the world had just changed. She spoke to us about these huge world events.

Laura as Lady Edith Crawley in the TV series Downton Abbey

Would you have been successful without this person’s encouragement?

Miss Collins was able to make you focus and everything felt achievable because she told you that you could do it. I had a lot of teachers like that and they encouraged you to find what you liked. That is such a gift when you’re young. She also helped me figure out what kind of person I was.

Did you stay in touch with them?

We stayed in touch a bit but she moved to a school in Wales. I wonder if she knows about Downton Abbey? I’m sure she does! I’m certain she is inspiring other kids to look at the world very differently.

Did you ever tell them what they meant to you?

I think I did. I was very soppy that way. I knew that she was my favourite teacher. I respectfully told her that I was very grateful because she’d gone out of her way to give us experiences that we were beyond just teaching history. My parents are really grateful to her too.

Laura on a trip to Haiti Picture: Facebook/Haiti Hospital Appeal

Who in the world today would you describe as inspirational?

I look to actors that I find inspiring. I was always inspired by Penelope Wilton, who is in our cast at Downton Abbey. She had a wonderful and varied career and is an incredible woman who supports a lot of charity projects. I look to her and Maggie Smith (another Downtown Abbey star) and all the wonderful women I work with.

We know you care deeply about giving children the healthiest and brightest start in life and that educated mothers give birth to healthier babies. Can you tell us how you came to be a patron of Haiti Hospital Appeal?

I happened to know someone from drama school who knew the guys who set up the charity, so I had met them. Then another friend had been to Haiti and met them. So I got involved in the charity in that roundabout way.

I was very struck that Haiti’s had such a run of bad luck. In the years after the earthquake it had dropped out of the news headlines. I went and visited and it’s a place that still needs help getting itself up on its feet.

The charity is about supporting local doctors and nurses. The hospital was there before the earthquake and then it expanded – it now has cholera wards, services for persons with disabilities, a full obstetric emergency operating theatre and other maternity, neonatal and paediatric facilities and lots more.

They help young mothers learn how to have a safe birth if they can’t get to a hospital – often they don’t even have electricity or hot water. They don’t always have the funds and supplies. The aim is for them to be self-sufficient in the near future. It’s a small charity but it’s doing great work.

Learn more about the Haiti Hospital Appeal here.

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