Prince William models the Eton look*
All this talk of a political "class war" in the build-up to the next general election (because the next Tory government will be largely Old Etonian in character) draws me to Eton College, celebrating its 570th birthday in 2010. Its lucid website describes a most excellent nursery for those fated by God - or at least by parental wealth - to lead us.
The fee per boy boarder per year is £28,851, plus extras for music tuition, "tradesmen's bills", etc. Assuming a boarder stays at Eton for five years (from ages 13-18), that will set back his parents by at least £144,255 at current charges, probably more in practice. Anyone who harbours fears that Eton is a haven of classlessness - David Cameron is after all known as "Dave" - is reassured that "the house system provides excellent opportunities for boys to discover their leadership skills in their final two years in the school."
Eton's most recent Ofsted report, of October 9, 2009, judged the school to be "outstanding". However a close reading of this document reveals at least two areas of concern. The first: "There is a lack of suitable safeguards on some windows." What could this mean? If I were shelling out £144,255 on my brat's education, I'd want to know about the windows. One trusts they are double-glazed at the very least. Iron bars optional.
Even more troubling is the section on severe allergies. Somewhat illiterately, the inspector writes: "In one house, whilst staff were aware of the risk to health, did not sufficiently monitor foods brought into the house that is a serious threat to a boarders well being." Perhaps this would read a little better as: "In one house, foods which were brought in and which posed a serious threat to a boarder's well-being, were not sufficiently monitored, despite staff awareness of risk to health." One expects better of an Ofsted inspector.
The report rhapsodises on Eton's procedures against misconduct and misrule. Just as well. As recently as 1999 a Berkshire inquest heard how up to 10 Eton boys indulged in "fainting games" - thrill-seeking near-strangulations - after a pupil was found tragically hanged at the college. No satsumas were involved. A 14-year-old boy told the inquest: "You sit on a bed and someone produces a dressing gown cord and it is wrapped around your neck. One or two friends will pull it until you feel dizzy and faint for a few minutes. The attraction was that it was something different - it made you feel abnormal."
One can only hope Eton has eliminated entirely exotic subterranean activities of this sort - though I am sure future Old Etonian memoirs will paint a very different picture from that prettily framed by Ofsted in 2009.
*At 13, William was sent to Eton College, close to Windsor, a choice well-suited to a boy with a public future, not least because his new classmates would be as well-connected and as well-heeled as he: the Prince would not even be the only boy with a private detective." The Royal Report.