COUNTDOWN star and Thorpe Bay native Rachel Riley has lavished praise on her former physics teacher at Southend High School for Girls.

Writing in the Times Education Supplement, the 28-year-old said Paul Betts, who taught her for three years at the school, opened up a world of “glorious tangents” with his unconventional teaching methods.

She said his classes were always wonderful to be in and inspired her degree choice, which would ultimately set her off on a path to replacing Carol Vorderman on the Channel 4 game show in 2009.

Riley said: “He wasn’t afraid to go off on a tangent. “We once found ourselves discussing quantum universe, stuff about quantum particles – the sort of thing you’d never cover at that age – because we kept asking questions and he kept answering them. And it got to the point where he said: “You know what? I don’t know the answer. Actually, no one knows. That’s what we’re trying to find out.

“That’s why I made my degree choice – applied maths with elements of physics, at Oxford. It intrigued me, thanks to Mr Betts. “It was him who encouraged me to apply to Oxbridge. He came to the school, saw something in me and pushed me.”