Belinda Ray – Part 1 – Wild About Spain
Amid the gloom of pandemic and pessimism, Belinda Ray is a beacon of light and life. And, for the moment at least, her presence shines near the Preseli Hills in north Pembrokeshire, from where she presides over a very special global network.
In short, Belinda (aka Bella) teaches Spanish online. But there’s a lot more than that to what she does – and to the remarkable journey that has led her here.
Born 59 years ago in Sheffield, she lived from the age of three in Croydon, south London. She went off to university in Canterbury to do English but changed her mind and switched to studying film and drama.
College was a mixture of good times and bad times. “At times I felt a lot of pressure and I also felt very lost,” she says. “It seemed like an alien system and I had a sort of breakdown. But it wasn’t all bad… I also had some grand times… singing in bands, friendships…” And she also became involved in setting up a film cooperative.
Then she decided to go to Spain: “Originally I planned on going to learn Spanish and then to go to South America to make films,” she says. “But I just stayed in Barcelona. I was there for 12 years.”
And why Spain? “I had an ex-boyfriend there. He had gone there and he told me about it. I also knew that when I went to Mediterranean countries, I came alive. And I think my inner guidance system was at work…”
The lure of Spain certainly seems to have been there, deep down, for a long time. Belinda explains: “My father had the most amazing record collection… and he had a record by Carmen Amaya, the world-famous flamenco dancer. I remember looking at that album cover as a child… These things speak to something in us.
“When I lived in Barcelona I studied flamenco singing and dancing, and I was going to secret flamenco bars on my own.”
And she was learning and absorbing Spanish. “In the first couple of years I felt ‘I am never going to get this language!'” But as she persisted, she most certainly did get it.
“Initially I taught English,” she says. “In the late 1980s I was riding around Barcelona on a moped – dressed like Purdey [from The New Avengers] – going to teach English to corporate clients.”
She found people were “extremely friendly and welcoming” but apart from learning Spanish she realised that to be really accepted she had to learn Catalan too [see part two of this feature].
“I had various romantic relationships in Spain. One was with a Spanish music journalist in Madrid, and I went to cover festivals with him, working as a photographer and interpreter.”
In 1996 she moved to Sydney for a few months and then returned to London: “I worked in fashion PR – which was just like being in AbFab. But I couldn’t bring myself to bullshit.
“Then I worked in food PR and the whole thing was deadening. I got ill from the environment I was working in – surrounded by banks of computers.”
She studied the effects of the physical environment on health and this led to her being taken on by the NHS as a healing environment manager. “Working in mental health in the NHS was a combination of heaven and hell,” she says. In the end she moved on…
She lived in Hampshire and then West Sussex. She hosted a Positivity Radio show interviewing social entrepreneurs and playing music. And she made regular visits to an ashram in Bali which helped her establish a regular spiritual practice, what she calls “waking up the soul in the body”.
She explains: “You plug yourself into the earth and into the sky. You allow the soul to be the lead and allow the mind to be its emissary… so the mind is in subservience to the soul.”
And then, a few years ago, she discovered Pembrokeshire. “I came to visit a friend here,” she says, “and I felt I was much better on a cellular level. On my third visit I felt like I wanted to come and stay here, and two of my friends offered me house sits – in Glyndwr and in Whitesands.”
She did those house sits and felt truly at home. “I had this feeling of being able to breathe,” she says. “It suits me here because I’m not interested in the latest fashion or the latest car or the whole thing of consumerism.”
She now has her own place, in Boncath, and says with the wisdom of a journeying soul: “I am here – for now.”
Before Covid struck she was teaching Spanish at home and in local cafés, but now she has her own internet business called Wild About Spanish: “My teaching only went online thanks to the pandemic. Now I have students as far away as in Australia. The pandemic has boosted what I was doing. My teaching now has an extra element of real excitement about it – it’s enlivened, it gives everybody a buzz.”
She talks about the importance of not just learning vocabulary and grammar but “learning the embodiment of Spanish”. What does she mean? “It’s like the difference between patting a horse and sitting in the saddle. When you are in the saddle, you are planted and your power is all intact.
“Each language has its own morphic field of energy built over hundreds and thousands of years. The more we can touch and connect with the many elements of the culture associated with that language, the more we can recalibrate our universe. It’s like discovering a new territory. And Spanish bestows a gift in return for all the hard work.
She says that she attracts “the kind of people who find a resonance with Spain. And our lessons are about discovery, creativity and community. Igniting our inspiration together. We really care about each other. We play, we do yoga, we dance. The more you move, the more the rhythm of Spanish is getting into your body.”
My final question is: does she prefer to be called Belinda or Bella?
“Belinda has more gravitas,” she says. “Bella more bounce and sweetness.”
This remarkable teacher seems definitely to have all of those qualities… and much, much more besides.
TOMORROW: When Bella met Jagger…