Former pupils confess juicy secrets from the poshest schools in Britain
‘Our cookery teacher taught us how to open champagne bottles with a sword’
Straw boaters, wine tutorials, prep, matrons and soggy biscuit. Scandalous teacher and pupil relationships, young royals with bodyguards, helicopter pads, blow jobs in the swimming pool changing rooms and streaking across the green after mufti day. Britain's private schools are a world apart from your standard 9am – 3.30pm state school, thanks to the eye-watering wealth and absolutely bonkers shit that students were able to get away with.
Who uses the most elite vocab like beaks, tardies and squits, who has the biggest stables and who teaches you how to open a bottle of champagne with a sword?
We spoke to dozens of ex-pupils from some of the UK's most prestigious private schools to confess the biggest rumours and weirdest traditions to figure out once and for all which private school is the poshest.
Rumours: A student once arrived for a taster weekend in a helicopter that landed on the lacrosse pitch.
I was playing netball one day and the lots of parents came to watch and the headmaster pulled up on the field next to the courts in a hatch back and plus-fours (trousers) and began shooting grouse/pheasants with a shotgun right there and then, whilst also cheering on the netball team
Traditions: We had after school activities in-between prep and supper that were compulsory and included options such as jewellery making, croquet, archery, golf and Bible reading. Everyone took spoken English classes. In lower and upper sixth we still had to do activities after school but it included options like wine tasting, ceramics or pottery.
Our cookery teacher taught us how sabrage, which is opening a bottle of champagne with a sword. Then the next week we were cooking fish and a representative from Dom Pérignon came in to talk about champagne and he did the sabrage thing too.
The groundsmen used to mow the grounds with a massive tractor lawn mower hybrid, and so every Tuesday we’d wake up to a massacre of beheaded rabbits on the lacrosse pitches and golf course. We were instructed not to touch them and run round them as foxes would inevitably feast on them.
Rumours: At Stowe there were all sorts of rumours and tales of what people got up to. There was the Temple Challenge, where you had to have sex at every temple at the school (there was like 12) and then to complete it you had to have sex in the headmaster’s office. Rumour has it only one person ever completed it. It's super hard to do as well, as some temples are literally an archway (pretty visible) and because of the Beadle – an ex-army guy who patrolled the grounds making sure no students were rebelling.
Hazing in the boys houses was rumoured to be bad. As in making guys stand naked with the backs against the wall on their tip-toes, with tacks and glass laid under their feet so they can’t move. Lots of forcing boys into closets and threatening them with lighters and hairspray if they leave.
There was also the rumour of a pizza delivery van that delivered every drug, but no pizza. There was a kid who smuggled kilos of cocaine under his bed and into his walls.
There are plenty of other rumours about various drug-fuelled orgies and an unfortunate girl being spit-roasted.
Traditions: The general vibe of Stowe is people with way too much money and very little sense. It's a bubble – no one really worked as they were all relying on their trust funds.
They had etiquette classes as part of PSHE, where the students got deportment lessons, girls learnt how to tie a bow-tie, what cutlery goes where and the boys learnt how to use a washing machine.
We had a cork screw society where the teachers and kids “tasted wines” but basically got absolutely trollied.
We had "club" on a Saturday night where we were allowed two small glasses of wine or a beer/soft drink, and students took it in turn to DJ. Everyone used to get all dressed up and (of course) heavily pre – everyone got breathalysed when they went back into their boarding houses though. Although two girls were able to steal the "breathalyser list" off of their housemaster's computers and let everyone know before to make sure they weren't caught.
Famous pupils: There were lots and lots of oligarch and Mafia children (think armoured car convoys if they ever had to leave school and their parents being flanked by body guards). There's also the daughter of the owner of Sony, the Prime Minister of Thailand’s son, a few lords (no clue what their names were – it’s a bit of a blur).
Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School
Rumours: The biggest rumour at Habs was that Sasha Baron Cohen (an old Habs boy) was expelled for running around school naked.
Traditions: “Rugby Dinner” was held on the penultimate day before the end of the Autumn term. The captain of the rugby team would book a venue with loads of alcohol and music. Both the Boys’ and Girls’ schools sixth form would be invited, and everyone would pull an all-nighter and then go to school the next day. It was always a massive piss up and was impossible not to pull. People always ended up shagging in the McDonald’s across the road. It was pretty grim. Also one of our teachers smoked a pipe. Once he got it out and started filling it up in front of us. When we told him that smoking caused cancer he called us “bloody liberals.”
Famous pupils: I think Sigmund Freud’s great grandson was in the year below me.
Rumours: It was full on like St Trinian's. My sister's best friend smuggled a guinea pig into her locker and they called the RSPCA. We had dungeons which were transformed into a locker room, but in my sister's year a girl was tied up to a pipe with a skipping rope for the whole of lunch. They also set a common room on fire (no one was hurt it was tiny fire but still).
Traditions: Discipline wise my sister yawned once and a teacher made her stick her head out the window the rest of the lesson to "get some fresh air".
Famous pupils: Apprentice winner Zara Brownless and Montana Brown from Love Island – there is a Montana Brown drama cup.
Rumours: The big goss was that the headmistress’s husband had an inappropriate relationship with one of the students and everyone found out because he kept a diary about it.
Some Year 9 students ordered a crate of alcohol to be delivered to their dorm and got away with it, until two of them had to get their stomach pumped like two days after the bottles got there.
Traditions: Overall pretty wholesome boarding school for girls, but had the classic bullshit extracurriculars like ballroom dancing and horse riding. Located in Surrey with a convenient built-in train station and their own train stop. The budget for art and drama plays was ridiculous, it was considered as the set for the school for Wild Child.
Traditions included mock up day of course, a lot of people enjoyed dressing up as “chavs” for it and the headmistress and IT guys rolled around the facilities in golf carts. The uniform was cute, it included a navy and pink tartan skirt. Our boy school was Tonbridge and we had a “frugal lunch” day where they only served soup and bread for lunch, but then everyone would go and spend all their money in the tuck shop that evening.
I’m not too sure about famous people but Nigel Farage’s kid went there at the same time as me and he popped up a few times, we took selfies with him in the parking lot. There’s also some celebs like Carey Mulligan.
Rumours: People broke into an empty house and used it as their drug/smoking den and it caught fire. Marlborough has a rep in the area for being extremely cokey.
On a side note, Princess Eugenie was rumoured to streak across the playing fields, even though she has body guards.
Traditions: The girl sixth formers had to wear long black floor length skirts – they are fugly AF. For a school with so much money you would think they’d invest in better clothes for sixth form.
Famous pupils: Duchess of Sussex Kate Middleton, Siegfried Sassoon, William Morris, Princess Eugenie.
St Paul’s For Girls
Rumours: Best stories include when the head girl allegedly vomited all over the headmistresses shoes after Colet day – an annual service in St Paul's followed by a piss-up – and when a group of girls flooded the headmistress’s office when a paddling pool burst, fusing the electrics. St Paul’s also had the "austerity day" which was a scandal.
Traditions: All the girls hang out in Hammersmith during free periods which is where they can have their cigarette breaks. Most hail from around the posh parts of London like Chiswick, Richmond or Hampstead Heath. Most people had fake IDs for nights when the girls and boys would meet up either in Chelsea at one of the clubs or at some St Paul’s boy’s Portobello Road flat.
Famous pupils: Grace Fit, Alexandra Shulman (Former Editor of British Vogue), Edie Campbell. The step daughter of the guy who owned Atlantis resorts went to the school and her 13th bday party was a treasure hunt around London and each group got driven around in a limo.
Traditions: School wasn’t your usual 9am-3.30pm, more like 8am-7pm and full Sundays as well – like a full time job. In the evenings you would have to spend two hours prepping for the day ahead. The matron would serve you croissants for breakfast, then when you get back from school the leftovers were made into bread and butter pudding.
There’s a bar at the school which is where everyone goes to on Saturday night – effectively a place for all the girls and boys to get off with one another. It made for excellent gossip on the way to chapel the next day.
Uniform is tweed jackets that smell like wet dog when it rains and grey trousers for boys, floor-length grey skirts for girls (which are great because you can wear pyjamas underneath them).
Famous pupils: Malia Obama’s boyfriend, Lewis Carroll, Rupert Brooke, Matthew Arnold.
Rumours: At Harrow there was a rumour going round that a group of boys who had a Snapchat group chat called "Slut Cake" used to meet up in the music schools and suck each other off – this sounds fake but 100 per cent reputable.
Traditions: We had a day called Long Ducker – a 10 mile race that everyone would take part in. We'd take a coach to Marble Arch in London and then have to run back to our school and everyone had to do it no matter what.
We also had this thing called bog rolling that meant when you were caught wanking during registration, or what we called "bill", when the housemaster asked if anyone had any announcements, the person who caught you would stand up with a toilet roll and present it the person caught wanking and the whole house would clap.
We had a thing called new boy solo, which meant you had to sing a solo in front of the whole house as part of your initiation into the house.
The school uniform for Harrow is obviously a straw boater and a full Sunday tails that are only ever used on Sunday's for church. Also with the boater we had to cap our hat every time we walked past a beak. Our teachers were called beaks, so the beaks would walk around and tap their hat and if we didn't tap our hat back we would get in trouble. If we did something wrong or did something badly there was something called double, which was like lines, and you could get "double", "dot double" and "Christmas double". You had to do this on paper which had really small lines and "Christmas double" was when you had to alternate between red and green pens for each letter and "dot double" was when you had to make all of your double out of dots. You could also get "rainbow lines", which is where you write lines in different coloured pens per page.
We also had this thing called Custos – he was a teacher but it was also a punishment. When your uniform wasn't correct, if you had your shirt untucked or you looked shabby, you'd be put on Custos which would mean for three days in a row you'd have to get up at 7am and stand outside Custos' door and show him that you were dressed correctly. If you missed one of the three days you would have to do three more days, so some people had a ridiculous number of Custos days.
Famous pupils: Winston Churchill, Benedict Cumberbatch.
Rumours: The biggest scandal was when a girl was caught shagging a boy pupil when the head boy was showing prospective students around.
Traditions: Punishments could be quite severe at Wellington, such as no appeals for anyone caught having sex or doing drugs on the premises. Other punishments could include cleaning the whole brew (our name for the kitchen) if it was messy. Sometimes the older students would give more creative punishments – such as having to write essays on rogue topics with certain rules. One boy was made to write an essay on the life of a ping pong ball but couldn’t say the word "white" or "round".
Ibstock Place School
Rumours: A few years ago three girls took poppers in the changing room before a rounders lesson, then got caught passing notes in English saying stuff like “I feel so sick from all the drugs I took” and got suspended.
Gordon Ramsay’s kids went there and once he posted a selfie on his insta of him and the headmaster, and then got banned from parent-teacher meetings for drawing too much attention to him or something.
Traditions: On muck up day (the last day of classes for the Year 13s), the Year 13s would pull pranks and stuff, one year they stuck dildos to the windows of the common room facing out to the school.
Famous pupils: Megan, Tilly and Holly Ramsay (Gordon Ramsay's kids), Darcy Bussell’s daughter, Mick Jagger's son Gabriel went there for a few years, Emily Blunt, Georgia May Jagger, Suki Waterhouse for a bit, Nigella Lawson.
Rumours: The boarders had “regulation drinks” every Saturday, and a lot of people would try and sneak in alcohol in various ways, such as tapping alcohol bottles to the bottom of chairs, hiding them in tampon boxes or mixing vodka into bottles of lemonade and leaving it in the kitchen fridge.
People would sneak out of windows onto the roof or sneak into girls/boys bedrooms and have sex in the bushes or behind buildings. Someone also got a blowjob in the disabled toilet of the swimming pool.
Supposedly our school’s dining hall was originally going to be used as the dining hall in the Harry Potter films. It was offered to our school, but we would have had to take down all the paintings, including one called the “Verrio” which is incredibly long and would have had to be taken down in pieces, so we rejected the offer.
Traditions: The pupils still wear the original Tudor uniform, including a cloak, a white cravat and bright mustard yellow socks. We’d march into lunch every day (except Sundays) to a band, which was a pretty surreal thing to do every day.
We had a system of “nurse maids” and “squits” whereby when you joined you were called a squit and you had someone in the year above assigned to you, called a nurse maid. The nurse maid was meant to look after you. Other more minor traditions include things like only being able to walk along a path (known as Grecians’ Path) if you were in the upper two years and weird names for things.
At 7:15am we had excruciating bells that woke us up. We had to put our uniform and home clothes (called “civvies”) into big bags in the back of house, where they would be taken to be washed and then put in your specific pigeon hole. The uniform always came back in a funny roll.
We had to listen to grace before lunch every day. Someone would bang a hammer and we all had to stand up and be quiet.
Famous pupils: Not many as far as I’m aware. Joe Launchbury, the England rugby player, is the only famous one I can recall.
Rumours: Always something going on between a sixth former and a gappy. Various rumours about students being gangsters. One spread a rumour about herself having been a stripper in Vegas (after running away with her dad’s credit card or something) in order to pay for her schooling.
Some boarders ran up to Strawberry Hill behind the school to get drunk one night and all got busted by security sneaking back onto school grounds, except the one guy who got stuck in a barbed wire fence until morning.
Hemens (one of the upper school boys day houses) apparently has a milk challenge, where you have to drink something like 16 pints and keep it down.
Swimming pool changing rooms obviously the best spot for blowjobs.
We had fingerprint registration for afternoon reg rather than all having to get back to our houses. Someone got a hold of the IT log-ins for it by getting a button hole camera he’d built into the IT staff offices, then changed it so the machines swore at you to confirm registration rather than just beeping. Think they work for government or GCHQ now.
Traditions: Standard leavers’ muck up day on their last day of sixth form. Always involved lube on every door handle in the entire school, rumours of someone spiking the squash machines in the dining hall with Viagra, and lower school pupils being taken hostage in the top tower IT rooms by people in gorilla suits one year.
Famous pupils: Dan Ings (actor), Mohamed Nasheed (former president of the Maldives), Simon May (composer of Eastenders theme tune), sisters Guin and Miriam Batten (2000 Olympic silver medallists in rowing).
Rumours: Someone got expelled for sniffing deodorant. Apparently some girls used to try and get drunk at school discos by wearing tampons soaked in vodka. One time students made a teacher cry by locking her out of her own classroom. A couple who got rusticated for sending each other nudes over the school email.
Traditions: Malvern College had plenty of weird traditions. The years would have the weirdest names, like FY, Remove, Hundred, L6 and U6 and punishments would be called tardies, sin bins, gatings, etc.
There was the Gun Run at Commem every year – basically all the fit CCF boys lugging a fuck-off massive gun around the cricket pitch. Christmas Supper where it was almost guaranteed that someone would be caught drinking and get rusticated.
Eating ridiculous amounts of chocolate spread at break time was also a tradition – there was a huge scandal in one of the boarding houses when a girl tried to steal a whole jar from the kitchen.
Uniform and looking prim at all times was so important – we were given access cards to enter buildings and it wasn’t unusual to be stopped and have your skirt checked – it had to be no shorter than a card’s length (a few inches) above the knee.
There were so many dogs at school. It wasn’t unusual to usually have a teacher’s puppy sitting in on a lesson.
People would also always have sex on the Fives courts or literally anywhere – in bushes, common rooms, disabled toilets.
Famous pupils: Jeremy Paxman, CS Lewis, Dominic Sandbrook (historian), Najib Tun Razak (sixth Prime Minister of Malaysia), James Delingpole (journalist), Richard Hammond’s daughter, several princes/princesses.
Godolphin and Latymer
Rumours: The (married with kids) Deputy Head teacher had an affair with a student that the school claimed started after she left. When a young Oxford graduate joined the school as the new English teacher, some pupils followed him home – he left after a year. Abramovic's two daughters went here for a bit so paid for a whole new security system.
Traditions: Two minutes away from SPGS and rivals from the start. Godolphin is undoubtedly full of posher and richer, albeit dumber, girls than St Paul’s Girls Schools. Like their rivals the girls, in their tiny skirts, loiter in Hammersmith Broadway after school with the surrounding private schools: St Paul’s Boys and Girls and Harrodian.
Famous pupils: Kate Beckinsale, Nigella Lawson, Sophie Ellis Bexter.
Rumours: If the head boy and head girl ever got married together then the headmaster would have to give up his onsite house to them or something like that. During the Leavers' Ball some teachers would come clubbing with us and some also smoked with us. They also fell asleep during exam invigilation and also played a game where they would go and stand behind a pupil who they thought was “most likely to break down during the exam”, “most likely to shit themselves during the exam” etc. A couple of students in my year got kicked out for egging someone’s house who turned out to be the head boy. Supposedly some people had a threesome in the onsite school chapel.
Traditions: We had Founders Day which took place in Exeter Cathedral, the whole city governors, mayor etc would come bringing this gold baton. Standard hymn singing etc but even the teachers hated it – everyone would go to the pub straight after.
There was also the standard sixth form leavers’ pranks. Students brought in their hens and sheep from home leaving them in the hallways which were covered in straw.
During break time everyone would go to "the alley" just outside of the school grounds to smoke. There was also intense competition between Exeter School girls and another local all girls private school The Maynard.
In detention you had to polish the school’s silver.
Famous pupils: Chris Martin, Matthew Goode (actor), Sir Harry Veitch (helped set up the Royal Chelsea Flower Show), Michael Aron (British diplomat and ambassador to Yemen, Libya, Sudan, Kuwait, Iraq), Matt Hooper (plays rugby for Harlequins).
Rumours: Every party was like an episode of My Super Sweet Sixteen, where the dress code was always black tie.
Traditions: Peacocks roam the grounds of this Croydon all-boys school, alongside flamingos, Japanese cranes and wallabies which sit in enclosures. If you're not at school you joined the school's cadets force, flying small planes or joining the military marching band who have performed in front of the Queen.
Facial hair wasn't allowed – if you had any the school nurse would shave it off. Hair must be short enough to be off your collar and longer than a grade three. Failure to do this will result in you going home for a haircut. If your socks were anything other than black you would have to clean the lunch hall.
Famous pupils: Lord Freeman (Conservative politician), Lord Freud (senior government advisor), Darren Brown, Neil Gaiman, Danny Cipriani, Elliot Daly, Marland Yarde.
Traditions: "Hash" and "crack" take on a whole new meaning at Charterhouse, and not because everyone's dining out on them. Instead hash means lesson and crack means the tuck shop. Like Harrow, teachers are referred to as "Beaks" and "Banco" instead of prep – it's weird. Those who were really good at sport, as in the best, were awarded a pink tie.
Did we miss out your school? Or a particularly mad story? Please get in contact with us, don't worry we won't tell anyone it was you who told us.
We want to hear the biggest rumours, odd traditions, famous people or famous people's children who attended, day-to-day knowledge that is quite weird but seemed normal at the time, any funny disciplining that happened.