The importance of being Eton

Last week, the Tory leader David Cameron said that he had learnt about citizenship on the playing fields of Eton. We ask Old Etonians of all ages what the school taught them.

By Harry Mount in The Times Online

After 570 years of educating the great and the good (and the bad: one old boy, Lord Lucan, rarely tells his old school magazine what he’s up to these days) Eton is loaded down with preconceptions.

When I was at university, no one referred to Wykehamists or Harrovians as a single, amorphous mass; but they did with Etonians, all of whom were supposedly blessed with superhuman helpings of languid confidence, cash and the floppiest, blondest hair available.

After four years in their company, I found that God had divided His talents rather more evenly among them, on a pattern that pretty much reflected the human race. Some were awful; some became my greatest friends; some even had dark, static hair. On the whole, the awful ones had awful parents; the nice ones nice parents.

Even public schoolboys are influenced by things other than where they lived between the ages of 13 and 18. Still, certain minor characteristics are imprinted by the school. Going to Eton means never having to feel done down about where you went to school. And that confidence produces an attractive, easy-going air in some; in others, it creates the attitude that there are only two schools in the world — Eton and Somewhere Else. The Old Etonian father of a friend of mine used to say of sympathetic Etonians that they were “nice”; if he liked someone who hadn’t been to Eton, they were “surprisingly nice”.

Eton is assumed to be stitched into a man’s DNA more than any other school in Britain. No one refers to the Old Westminster Nick Clegg, or Old Fettesian Tony Blair, but at times it seems as if the Tory leader’s real name is The Old Etonian David Cameron.

When I talked to five Etonians this week, they had long grown used to being typecast in the same way. The truth is rather more nuanced.

[Read the full article at


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