“As an Old Etonian, I belong to a tribe that everyone has a view on, and that I had no choice in joining.”
I have a confession to make: I was an Eton Rifle. Not only that, but David Cameron was in my platoon, so I also have the dubious claim of having charged a Gurkha regiment, 303 in hand, alongside the current Prime Minister.
By now you will subconsciously have made an assumption about me, an Old Etonian (OE), and you will also be curious to hear some juicy revelations about David Cameron’s school years.
First things first. As an Old Etonian, I belong to a tribe that everyone has a view on, and that I had no choice in joining.
At the tender age of seven, I was sent away to boarding school to make sure I passed Common Entrance so that I would get into Eton. I didn’t have any say in where I was going: Eton was chosen because both my father and grandfather had been there. They both had dreadful times at Eton, but regardless of their unhappy schooldays, it was still considered a good idea to send me there.
I am sorry to say that I continued the family tradition and was spectacularly unsuccessful and unhappy at Eton, being both thick by Etonian standards and hopeless at sports. I was one of only four boys in my year who left without a single colour for sporting achievements. An achievement of its own, if you will.
This singular lack of Etonian prowess meant that I was the focus of some fairly unpleasant attention from my peers. Eton did not specialise in physical bullying along the lines of Tom Brown’s School Days; its speciality was mental bullying.
From the moment you arrived, you were relentlessly engaged in a far-ranging battle of verbal debate which tore your soul and personality apart.
In my year alone, three boys out of some 270 suffered from mental breakdowns while at school, and I am aware of two who committed suicide soon after leaving. The only upside was the sense of relief that my peers and I felt when we were finally released into the real world, where we discovered that most people were civilised human beings.
On leaving the tribal warfare of Eton, I joined the world-famous tribe of Old Etonians. The Old Etonian label is an interesting one to have because it carries an assumption of where you’re from and where you’re going.
The specifics of this prejudice vary depending on the perceiver, but it’s always there. So, for example, if you are on the Labour Party front bench, my being an Old Etonian automatically precludes me from running the country because I am a toff, out of touch and over-privileged.
Being an Old Etonian usually eclipses other more interesting or relevant achievements. If I were ever to be in the press or on TV, my name would probably be qualified with ‘Old Etonian’ before my achievements or misdemeanours were reported.
Most people will almost certainly have an opinion on what OEs are like – good or bad. I never cease to be amazed at the amount of people who tell me: ‘You’re nothing like an Old Etonian’, as if all Old Etonians shared the same, clearly defined, personality.
Being an Old Etonian invites a perception of unearned privilege. The reality is much more complicated and in many cases the five years of an Eton education come at huge mental cost.
We see OEs ruling the country in dramatic disproportion to their numbers. Most people would see this as condemning evidence of their automatic ticket to feed at the top table but I would leave you by asking you this; is it possible that the reason OEs so commonly hold public office is because they are encouraged to have a sense of duty, to use their privilege to the good and that this leads many to end up as servants of the people? An uncomfortable twist on a deep seated prejudice? Maybe, but then again, maybe it’s true…●