At a remote Scottish boarding school, King Charles spent his formative years developing a passion for the arts and environment, and according to one letter home a biographer quoted, dealing with bullies and wishing he could go home.
Charles, the new British monarch, was 13 when in May 1962 he began attending Gordonstoun, a private school on the north coast of Scotland where his late father Prince Philip had also studied and wanted his son to go.
“For everybody at Gordonstoun, it’s a huge sense of pride to have been the first school to educate an heir to the British throne,” current Gordonstoun principal Lisa Kerr told Reuters.
“What’s more powerful for us is knowing that many of the attributes which Prince Charles takes forward as monarch were developed here at Gordonstoun.”
Earlier generations of British royal children, including Charles’ late mother Queen Elizabeth, had been educated by tutors at home.
Charles found aspects of life hard at a school that had rugged practices such as sending pupils on early morning runs followed by a cold shower.
Novelist William Boyd, whose time at the school overlapped with Charles, said the monarch had detested his time there. In a biography to which the now king gave his blessing, Jonathan Dimbleby described the royal’s time there as an “incarceration.”
“As an adult, the Prince of Wales would insist that the decision to send him to Gordonstoun, which at the time he regarded as a prison sentence,’ was in fact beneficial, instilling in him the self-discipline sense of responsibility without which he might have ‘drifted’,” Dimbleby wrote in “The Prince of Wales: A Biography.”
According to Dimbleby, Charles once wrote home saying: “The people in my dormitory are foul. They throw slippers all night long or hit me with pillows … I still wish I could come home.”
Charles’ son Harry also suggested it had negatively impacted on Charles, talking during a discussion on parenting about “the pain and suffering” his father had suffered.
“I never saw it, I never knew about it, and then suddenly I started to piece it all together and go OK, so this is where he went to school, this is what happened, I know this bit about his life, I also know that is connected to his parents so that means he’s treated me the way he was treated,” Harry said in a 2021 podcast interview.
However, Charles himself has suggested his schooling was not as bad as is sometimes portrayed, praising what it taught him.
“I am always astonished by the amount of rot talked about Gordonstoun and the careless use of ancient cliché’s used to describe it,” he told the House of Lords in 1975.
“It was only tough in the sense that it demanded more of you as an individual than most other schools did — either mentally or physically. I am lucky in that I believe it taught me a great deal about myself and my own abilities and disabilities. It taught me to accept challenges and take the initiative.”
‘Studious young man’
Asked if Charles had been happy, principal Kerr said: “I suppose everyone’s schooldays have their ups and downs, and it’s probably no surprise that the downs are more interesting from a media perspective.
“But interestingly, Prince Charles himself has said that he’s always astonished at the amount of rot talked about Gordonstoun … in many speeches, he’s talked about the really positive impact that his time here had on his life.”
Describing him as a “studious young man” who went on to study at Cambridge University, Kerr said Charles, who has visited the school since leaving in 1967, would have mixed with people from a whole range of backgrounds.
She said he had enjoyed music and drama, taking part in several school productions.
At the time, Gordonstoun was a boys-only school and girls from a nearby high school joined their casts. One of those involved recalls the thrill of being on stage with the heir to the throne.
“Just to be involved in the Gordonstoun production was always exciting … And then when we discovered that Prince Charles was going to be involved too … it did make it more exciting,” said retired PE teacher Alison Stockley.
“We were quite used to him being up here. He was seen in shops. He was involved in other things in the community … We knew he was very musical.”
Stockley acted alongside Charles in shows including “The Pirates of Penzance”, in which Charles played the Pirate King.
“He carried it off very well,” she said. “[He was] just one of the boys … He just joined in as we all did.”
Since its foundation in 1934 by German educator Kurt Hahn, Gordonstoun students have got involved with the local community and Charles was a member of the coastguard, where he kept watch along the Moray coast.
The new British king is not the only famous alumnus from the school. Late actor Sean Connery and late singer David Bowie sent their sons to Gordonstoun.