In defence of boarding schools and a book rec

And heeeere’s my Sun Tel column from yesterday. Have written about the private school system in this country because there’s nothing like a good kicking on Twitter, is there? Now I’m off to bed with David Nicholls*.

*His new book, not the man, alas. Sweet Sorrow is out on July 11 and it’s dreamy. It follows a young summer romance and you can smell the hormones wafting from the page. See the below paragraph about a teenage snog. Just heaven. (The writing obviously, not the snog.)


It’s fashionable to criticise boarding school. It’s fashionable to slam private schools as a whole, obviously, as elite engine rooms churning out a disproportionate number of prime ministers and actors. But not all private schools are born equal and it’s the boarders – the Etons and Harrows – which are seen as the real privilege-pushing bastards by many.

Kirstie Allsopp is the latest to have a go, commenting recently that she finds the boarding system ‘weird’, that it’s a ‘peculiarly British thing to believe that someone looking after 80 kids, a housemaster trying to do his job and also bring up his own family, is more qualified to safeguard your child than you are.’

To be fair, Kirstie is highly qualified to speak on this subject since she went away aged eight and had a miserable time drifting through 10 boarding schools as she grew up. Also, I remember the day my parents, sister, grandmother and I dropped my brother off at prep school, also aged eight, and left him standing beside his trunk in the sports hall. Drum was so small and thin you could have blown on him and he’d have fallen over. We left him there, knees knocking in his scratchy grey uniform, and wailed like professional mourners in the car home. Mention this memory to my mother and she still wells up. Yes, a bit weird, and eight is very tiny.

Then I went to boarding school aged 11 and had seven absurdly happy years. It wasn’t all ideal. Cross-country was hell and I was always cast as the man in school plays because I was so tall. There were also far fewer midnight feasts than Malory Towers led me to believe. But I was surrounded by girls who, to this day, remain my closest friends and, for many of us, being away from home and warring parents was no bad thing. In such cases, the relationship one had with a watchful housemistress or housemaster was vital.

What’s more, in the 16 years since I left boarding school, they’ve only got cushier. Flexi-boarding, when you’re allowed out every other day or so, is the the norm and, having overseen the Tatler Schools Guide for some years, despatching a teenager at the start of term is like checking them into Claridge’s. There are ‘executive chefs’, ‘health and fitness centres’ and skiing trips to Whistler. A few years ago, Roedean had a £9m makeover by a firm of architects who usually knock up boutique hotels.

In the same interview, Kirstie said she intended to send her sons to a secondary London school, but in my experience these can be more problematic. Those I know who went to London schools discovered drugs, anorexia and self-harm much earlier than we mollycoddled sops in our country dormitories.

Debating the merits of sending your kid to a private day or boarding school is bourgeois dinner party chat, I admit. More of my generation than before won’t be able to afford the dizzying fees anyway, which you may think is a good thing, but all I currently see happening instead is my middle-class mates fighting to get on the local church ‘roof committee’ in order to get their children into the best primary school over others with less pointy elbows. Still, if you’re an American tech billionaire or a well-paid presenter of a TV property show and wondering where to send little Augusta, don’t necessarily discount the boarding option. It depends on the child. I still remember the day we were served ostrich burgers for supper. It really wasn’t much of a hardship.


Parp parp, controversy klaxon! Meghan’s blinged up her engagement ring so instead of three diamonds sitting on a plain gold band, the band is now also strung with diamonds. There’s been grumbling about this from commentators who think it’s vulgar to which I say, sorry, have you ever seen the Crown Jewels? This Elizabeth Taylorisation of engagement rings has been going on for some time among Sloaney wives, the sort married to Prince Harry’s mates. Take my chum Sarah, who wanted more diamonds on her ring like Meghan, but was simultaneously trying to persuade her husband that he had to wear a wedding ring. Hugo was resisting so eventually they struck a deal – the cost of Hugo’s wedding band would go towards extra diamonds on the band of Sarah’s engagement ring and he didn’t have to wear one. Everyone was happy.


The Queen of Clean has spoken. Boris Johnson’s car, more a mobile dustbin, really, covered as it is with crumpled clothing, bottles of water, plastic bags and Tintin books, is unsanitary. The cleaning expert Lynsey Crosbie has declared ‘a tidy car is a tidy mind’ and said we should all spend 10 minutes a week mucking out our cars. Nonsense. My car is strewn with dog hair, old coffee cups, used napkins, around fifty billion hair ties and the odd pair of M&S knickers (clean) which, after one MOT, were placed, neatly folded, back on my passenger seat. A messy car is simply the sign of someone who’s got other things to worry about. It’s the psychopaths with spotless cars and air fresheners twirling from their rear view mirror that we need to look out for.