Being a Deputy Head Girl taught me everything I need to know about life
They’re the ones with the real power and influence
Life is full of little disappointments. You miss the Tube by one minute. They don’t fancy you. Bags suddenly cost 5p. But it’s the little disappointments, not the big ones – the tectonic plates shifting and realigning your future – which make us who we are. It’s an ailing Deputy Head taking you out of class to tell you, congrats, the votes are in, you’re Deputy Head Girl. Then a twitch, a vein flashing in your neck, seeing your campaign flash before your eyes, and hearing your rabble rousing speech echo in your ears. It’s asking “oh, who’s Head?”
Being pipped to the highest – I cannot emphasise how high – post in an all girls Catholic school, changes a person. There are the seven stages of grief – I can’t remember them all now. There are the tantrums and resentments. But I do remember that the last stage of grief is acceptance, and it meant accepting that being Deputy Head Girl is a blessing in disguise.
Humanitarian Margaret Thatcher was Head Girl at her grammar in Grantham. Kate Winslet – human vanilla essence – was Head Girl at Redroofs Theatre School in metropolitan Maidenhead. Head Girls have a type. They’re smart, they’re nice, but you wouldn’t go out for a drink with them would you? They’re the kind of girls who would ask you for a cut of a £5 Uber with four people in the car.
It comes to this: where does great political power lie? The Queen rules, but what goes on behind the scenes? Serena Van Der Woodsen had Dan, but everyone knew Blair Waldorf and her fabulous hairbands ran the show. While the Head Girl has the most glowing reference for her CV, being the deputy instils ambition and resourcefulness. You create a niche as the less dedicated, less worthy foil to a superior who actually, is a bit of a bore. You are a People’s Princess.
Once you leave the confines of secondary school, the conventions of girlhood glory change and you realise that being Head Girl is rather lame. Heads of school leave and become a strange breed of women. They are the type who keep their old house badges, who move the “year’s experience” down their CV. They are still a shining cipher of biddability, dependability, obedience and carefully controlled success. They are bright and amiable (synonyms for “nice”, itself a synonym for “dull”), and their success rings quietly with a sense of peaking too soon.
On the other hand, Deputy Heads do not become these women. They understand that there is value to not being the head of state. They’re more chilled out, and they’re more fun. If the Head Girl is the dad who invariably denies your plea for a trip to Thorpe Park, then the Deputy Head Girl is the mum you went to behind his back.
They move through life awkwardly, because they do not understand how to cope with small disappointments. They are hit hard by boring setbacks: that 2:1, their pitiful graduate salary, their soft-bellied balding husband and the semi-detached in Kent. Ultimately, school is a microcosm of the real world – and in the real world, being the grinning gal on the prospectus website does you no favours.
At least if you play Deputy you can hide behind her and pretend you were too cool to care.