The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Bill Coles Headshot

The Old Etonians Are Going Viral

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

Prince William's old school, Eton College, is having quite a good run at the moment, what with Old Etonians now in charge of both the UK and London - though no-one in their right minds could ever have guessed that another Old Etonian would soon be running the Church of England.

But if you think it's bad now with this huge raft of Old Etonians in power, then just wait another 20 years: the Old Etonians are going viral.

I have a strong hunch that Old Etonians will soon have infiltrated the upper echelons of every aspect of society, whether it's the arts, the City or that traditional Old Etonian bastion, Westminster.

The reason is that the school now has such a gigantic reputation that it can cherry-pick the very brightest boys in Britain - if not the world. And that reputation is going through the roof after last month's "Eton-style" Gangham video - over 3 Million viewers on Youtube and counting.

Sixty, 70 years ago, boys usually went to the school because their parents were rich. These days, Eton is looking not for power or wealth, but red-hot talent. Boys are interviewed at just 11-years-old to see what they might be able to offer. Competition is so fierce that the masters are almost able to ask, "What can you bring to the party?"

Being bright is certainly necessary to make it into Eton's unique hot-housing system - but it is no longer sufficient.

Over the last year, I have talked to both old boys and old masters, and I have a sense that the bumbling mediocrities, who may be intelligent and affable enough, are being filtered out to make way for the potential super-stars.

Eton is still keen to keep its links with old boys, and apparently some 40% of the current crop are in some way related to Old Etonians. There's even a means-tested bursary for such candidates, where prospective parents have the ignominy of having to state just how impoverished they've become; I believe they're even asked for the make and registration of their car.

But Eton has become like the big teams in Britain's Premier League - if you've got talent, then one way or another, the school will try and snap you up.

Eton has more money for scholarships than anywhere else on earth (I may be wrong on that one, but I very much doubt it). A fifth of the boys are currently on some sort of bursary. On top of that, Eton is in the throes of an immense fund-raising drive, with its old boys regularly being tapped up for a mention in the will.

But Eton's vision has changed. Once it might have seen itself as a training ground for the country's politicians; now they don't really care what the boys are good at - just so long as they're heading for the top table.

Even a quick trawl through Wikipedia shows the astonishing diversity of Eton's old boys - Hugh Lawrie and Damian Lewis and Dominic West, all A-listers over in Hollywood; Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall the cook; Bear Grylls the adventurer and Chief Scout; the Olympian Sir Matthew Pinsent; and then let's not forget the future King William V.

To some people, it must seem like this most frightful infestation of toffs; they have good reason to be worried. This infestation is going to get considerably worse.

* Bill Coles was in the same year at Eton as Boris Johnson, Earl Spencer and the former Prime Minister of Thailand Mark Vejjajiva, as well as - amongst others - the reformed international jewellery thief Darius Guppy.

Around the Web

Eton

Eton College

Eton, Berkshire - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Eton College - Historic Site in Windsor, Windsor and Maidenhead ...

David Beckham wants to send his sons to expensive boarding school Eton ...

Charity which sent Dagenham boys to Eton plans to expand

Eton only reinforces class privilege

Elite From Eton Or Oxbridge 'Dominate Top Jobs', Finds Sutton Trust

Eton: why the old boys' network still flourishes