Boarding schools have long been considered ‘psychopath factories’ in which abuse and humiliation are a fixture of daily life. Yet it is from these very institutions that many of our rulers have been selected.
Comedian, actor and marathon man Eddie Izzard believes the death of his mother, years at boarding school and ‘coming out’ as transgender have toughened him up. Hannah Stephenson catches up with the star and discovers his next challenge might just be the biggest…
Fifty-five-year-old Eddie Izzard is a tough character but you can understand why when you look at his past. The son of BP’s chief accountant Harold Izzard, his mother Dorothy Ella died from bowel cancer when he was six, a year after the family returned to Britain from the north, but his parents didn’t tell him she was dying and he wasn’t prepared for the emotional loss.
Soon after, he and his older brother Mark were sent to boarding school, another traumatic event which led to him battening the hatches emotionally, as detailed in a chapter he entitles ‘Exile‘.
“We didn’t see Dad for two thirds of the year. I did a lot of crying and wailing. I was unhappy about everything and feeling sorry for myself. I cried till I was 11,” he recalls.
“Boarding school toughens you up. It can make you emotionally dead because you are emotionally blocked, but you are tough. You can’t empathise or sympathise.”
He didn’t cry again until he was 19, when a cat was run over in the road in front of him. He picked it up and, realising that he needed to feel something, forced himself to cry.
“I ripped open those pathways to ensure I knew how to cry. I knew it was bad not feeling anything.”
At an event last week called “The Dark Side of Business,” held at the Corinthia Hotel in London, neuroscientist Tara Swart spoke about why psychopathic traits were so common in high-powered people.
She said many signs of psychopathy were also synonymous with those of strong leadership, such as callousness, impulsivity, aggression, and showing little emotion.
With more men in CEO positions than women, Swart says, boardrooms are severely lacking female characteristics such as empathy, intuition, and creativity. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, and Swart acknowledged that some women were bad at empathy and some men were good at it — but as a general rule, she said, these tend to be female traits.
Some of Swart’s male clients were sent off to boarding school at a young age and had horrible experiences of bullying, institutionalised violence, and humiliation. But women experience these things too.
Business Insider asked whether the ways men and women coped with these feelings of shame and rejection had an impact on more men ending up with psychopathic traits.
[But no mention of Boarding School Syndrome?]
African countries get that early boarding is a no-no. Why doesn’t the UK?
“Sending children aged below ten to a boarding school is denying them their basic rights, which include parental love and care. The remarks were made by the Acting Director of Temeke Municipality, Mr John Bwana who is also Head of Children Department in the Municipality, in Dar es Salaam on the occasion to mark the International African Child Day.”
“Mr Bwana, who was the guest of honour said sending children below ten years old to boarding schools contributes to lack of parental love and care to the children.”
Three prominent Benedictine boarding schools – Ampleforth, Downside and Worth – should be examined as a combined case study for the UK child sex abuse investigation into the Catholic church, a preliminary hearing has been told.
The work of the archdiocese of Birmingham and its schools should also feature as a complementary case study, according to the lawyer in charge of the Catholic church strand of the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse (IICSA).
Setting out her recommendations for hearings planned in November, Riel Karmy-Jones QC proposed that an examination of a fourth school should be delayed because of an imminent criminal trial involving a former teacher.
Inquiries into allegations at Fort Augustus Abbey school in the Scottish Highlands should also be restricted to the movement of English monks transferred to the institution, Karmy-Jones suggested, because a separate Scottish inquiry into child sex abuse would deal with any offences committed there.
“Anyone who has been to an English public school will always feel comparatively at home in prison,” observed Evelyn Waugh. But in the journalist Alex Renton’s polemical new book about boarding schools, the stories of institutionalised humiliation and endemic physical and psychological abuse are worse even than what an inmate might expect in jail.
Alex Renton examines the disturbing brutality of boarding school life.
Short of prison, what can estrange a child so completely from parental love as boarding school?
Parents are replaced with new and often unsafe attachments; predatory abuse is not uncommon. My own boarding school in south London, called Brightlands (a misnomer for such a dark Victorian-era barracks), traded in beatings. Any of us caught masturbating or talking after lights out was made to strip in the bathroom down the corridor, where a sports master (it was always a sports master) beat us with a slipper. It was a shaming business that fills me even today with impotent perplexity. In some unformulated way, I understood that the punishments were a sexual outrage: the sight of livid marks on our posh white backsides must have excited that master.
At eight, in 1969, Alex Renton was sent to one of the country’s most expensive boarding houses, Ashdown House, a feeder for our most exclusive public schools (he later went to Eton). Young Alex knew nothing about the paedophilia and sexualisation of life at Ashdown, though his father (Tim Renton, later Margaret Thatcher’s last chief whip) must have had an idea: “Remember, if any of the older boys try to take you into a bush, just say ‘No’.” Naturally Alex had an abject terror of parental abandonment. Yet crying after lights out was punished with a beating. The headmaster turned out to be a sadist whose pleasure was to spank bared bottoms until they bled.
Renton, a “self-declared survivor” of sexual abuse, was frequently caned at Ashdown but, as he writes in this grimly absorbing account of British boarding-school life, it was not done to “sneak” on one’s tormentors. Boys had to take their punishment like men – like the men who meted it out. Life at Ashdown is so tear-jerking and brutal that Dickens might have invented the place. One maths teacher, Mr Keane, liked to offer sweets in return for a “rummage inside our shorts”. Renton told his mother about the fumblings but the headmaster’s wife managed to convince her that a formal complaint “would cause unpleasantness” and, anyway, “children made these things up”. Thus Renton was taught early on to expect disappointment.
Boarding schools should be forced to report child abuse, a leading headmaster has said, following revelations that Winchester College students had suffered horrific beatings during summer holidays at the hands of John Smyth, a leading QC, in the 1970s.
Leo Winkley, the chair of the Boarding School Association (BSA) has urged the Government to make the mandatory reporting of abuse a legal duty for all teachers and youth club workers.
Addressing headteachers at the BSA annual conference, he said that institutions must “face up to the failures of the past” adding that there have been “too many times when our schools have failed to keep children safe”.
[But do the boarding schools get to decide what is “child abuse”, missing the point about Boarding School Syndrome created by abandonment, emotional abuse, sending young children away to board, homesickness? All are forms of child abuse and have no place in the 21st century….]
A Catholic priest who repeatedly sexually abused a teenage student breached his position of trust in a “spectacular and horrific” way, a court has heard.
Father Michael Higginbottom, 74, is accused of subjecting the teenage boy to repeated sexual abuse when he worked as a teacher at St Joseph’s College in Upholland, Lancashire, in the late 1970s.
Liverpool Crown Court heard the boy, aged between 13 and 14 at the time of the allegations, said he would be struck with a strap if he did not attend Higginbottom’s living quarters, where much of the abuse was alleged to have happened, at appointed times.
The boarding school, which has now closed, was attended by boys aged 11 to 18, many of whom were considering a career in the priesthood.
There were fresh calls last night to widen the Scottish government’s child abuse inquiry after a former pupil of a military boarding school in Dunblane claimed he was abused by a teacher.
It has emerged police launched an investigation after a victim broke decades of silence to reveal his abuse at the hands of a housemaster at Queen Victoria School (QVS) in the 1970s.