Long Stratton teacher celebrates retirement with nude portrait

Thousands of past and present schoolchildren across south Norfolk may well see their former English teacher in a very different light after she revealed a nude painting of herself to celebrate her retirement.

Penny Wilson-Downe, of Long Stratton High School, decided to mark the end of her 45-year career by fulfilling a long-held ambition to pose naked for a portrait which was officially unveiled to cheers from dozens of friends and colleagues during a party on Friday afternoon.

The vivacious teacher, who leaves the school after 21 years, said she enjoyed the experience so much she is now considering a second career as a life model.

'In 1983 I went to the Castle museum in Norwich where they had a nude exhibition from the Tate. I liked it so much I went three times, and I thought when I retire I will have a nude painting done of myself,' she said.

'I might take up life modelling. Once you've taken your clothes off once it doesn't matter after that. When I was 50 I had a tattoo, I also have a diamond in my tooth. You've got to enjoy life.'

Mrs Wilson-Downe's teaching career began in south London, but she has also taught in Shropshire, Herefordshire and Germany.

She was originally employed for just one term as maternity cover at Long Stratton but was soon invited to stay.

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During her time she threw herself into all aspects of school life, including the library, pantomimes and theatre trips. It was also where she met friend and former art teacher Jane German, who she would later call on to paint her nude portrait.

Mrs Wilson-Downe, who has become known for her vivid pink and purple highlighted hair, has lived in Long Stratton for 15 years, most recently in Beech Court.

She said: 'I have loved it. I really have enjoyed it. But I have always enjoyed it and that's because I love the children.'

On retiring, she added: 'It feels a bit surreal in a way. I cannot quite believe it's happening and it's come so quickly because the term seems so short. I'm just amazed by how many people have come here today.'

She now intends to spend her time writing a novel and a film screenplay, while her special portrait will be hung proudly in her bedroom.

Paul Adams, headteacher at Long Stratton High School, said Mrs Wilson-Downe was a 'distinctive' teacher who pupils would hold fond memories of into their adult years.

He said: 'Penny has contributed to the life of the school, beyond the classroom and within the classroom. She is also an excellent teacher. She really enjoys being with the children and in many ways she represents what the school is about - those good staff and pupil relationships.'

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