The sports hall at Hall Park Academy is buzzing with chattering teenagers as Steve Coogan takes to the stage beside Ashfield MP Gloria De Piero.
Although most of the Sixth Form students only recognise him as ‘a bloke off the tele’, for Alan Partridge fans and all the members of staff, there is huge excitement that an Oscar-nominated and Bafta award-winning actor has paid a visit to their unassuming school to encourage them to follow their dreams.
After offering his support for Ms De Piero’s election campaign, Mr Coogan tells the sea of wide-eyed faces: “You are smarter than you think, and you know more than you think you know.
“You are not from a particularly privileged school but that is a strength, not a weakness, as you probably understand the world far more than people from privileged backgrounds.”
Steve Coogan is a man who worked his way up from the very bottom with no connections other than an auntie who worked as a make-up artist in television.
In fact, at school Mr Coogan failed his English O-Level twice and he was warned by his careers advisor that acting was a precarious job so he would probably have to do something else.
Mr Coogan says: “Rather than putting me off, it made me more determined and more driven. I found that if you are driven and work hard, you can do well.”
The 49-year-old actor began his career in the 1980s as a voice artist on Spitting Image, before going on to create characters such as Alan Partridge and Paul Calf and starring in many films including Night at the Museum and Tropic Thunder.
Most recently he was the voice of Silas Ramsbottom in Despicable Me 2 and he wrote and starred in Philomena opposite Dame Judi Dench.
He even offers some advice to the sixth formers hoping to go into writing or acting, and encourages them to write about what provokes an emotional response in them.
He says: “Everyone has a different story to tell. Write about what you care about - things that make you angry or sad.”
At the end of his rousing speech, Mr Coogan rather bravely takes a selection of questions from the 16-18 year olds ranging from ‘what is your biggest regret?’ to which he pointedly responds that he wished he had worked harder in school, to ‘which is your favourite car out of your collection?’ - which incidently is his Lotus, although he admits: “I look a bit of a d**k driving it.”
Ms De Piero decided to hold the event as she is keen to raise the aspirations of young people and stress that no career should ever be considered off limits or out of reach purely because of background or the area they are from.
As a firm Labour supporter and a friend of Gloria’s, Mr Coogan agreed to support Gloria’s election campaign and to inspire the younger generation.
Ms De Piero adds: “This is an exciting year for me and for the community.
“For some of you this will be the first time you vote, and I hope you do vote.
“People from Eastwood and former mining communities should have exactly the same chances as those from other areas.”