How David Cameron’s brutal prep school featured regular beatings

From maggots in food to naked baths in front of the headmaster: How David Cameron’s brutal prep school in the 1970s featured regular beatings

  • In his new book the former Prime Minister describes Heatherdown Preparatory School as an austere establishment
  • He wrote the food was ‘spartan’ and he lost a stone in weight during a single term
  • Mr Cameron attended the Berkshire school between the ages of seven and 13 

Regular beatings, maggots in the food, and naked baths in front of a pipe-smoking headmaster.

They may sound like moments from a brutal Victorian childhood but they are, in fact, among the memories of life at a prep school in the 1970s, as revealed by David Cameron in his memoirs.

In his new book, serialised in The Times, the former Prime Minister describes Heatherdown Preparatory School as an austere establishment – even by the standards of the time.

Austere times: David Cameron (centre) at Heatherdown Preparatory School in 1976. Mr Cameron attended the Berkshire school between the ages of seven and 13

He writes: ‘The food was spartan. I lost a stone in weight during a single term. There was one meal that consisted of curry, rice – and maggots.

‘At bath time we had to line up naked in front of a row of Victorian metal baths and wait for the headmaster, James Edwards, to blow a whistle before we got in.

‘Another whistle would indicate that it was time to get out. In between we would have to cope with clouds of smoke from the omnipresent foul-smelling pipe clenched between his teeth.’

Mr Cameron attended the Berkshire school between the ages of seven and 13. He left for Eton College in 1979.

In his book For The Record, which goes on sale this week, he depicts himself starting school as an uncertain and tearful child

As Prime Minister, Mr Cameron’s confident displays at the Dispatch Box earned him the nickname ‘Flashman’ – the fictional Victorian public-school bully and coward from Tom Brown’s Schooldays.

Yet in his book For The Record, which goes on sale this week, he depicts himself starting school as an uncertain and tearful child. 

Plagued by homesickness at first, Mr Cameron would lie in his bed crying while gazing into a plastic cube containing photographs of his family.

While his father was ‘pretty phlegmatic’ at sending his son away at such a young age, ‘Mum was torn, and later admitted that she only coped after waving me goodbye on the first day by taking a large dose of Valium.’

Despite being a small school of fewer than 100 boys, Heatherdown attracted the cream of the British elite – including Princes Andrew and Edward. 

It was where a young Cameron had his first encounter with the Queen, which ended in disaster when he swore in church. ‘I was asked to read one of the lessons at our carol service – Isaiah, I think – and Her Majesty was in the front row.

‘I did OK, but crucially forgot to say ‘Thanks be to God’ at the end.

‘I remembered as I stepped away from the lectern, started to turn back, then realised it was too late to go back, panicked, and said, ‘Oh s***’.’

Prince Edward and the Duke of Bedford were ‘dorm captains’ at the time Mr Cameron attended the school.

He recalls being ‘madly jealous’ that his elder brother Alex once ate breakfast on the Queen’s bed at Windsor Castle after being invited by his classmate Edward.

Heatherdown, which closed in 1982, was renowned for its academic and sporting excellence. 

Discipline was harsh, and Mr Cameron recalls regular beatings with the smooth side of an ebony clothes brush. 

He writes: ‘If I shut my eyes I can see myself standing outside the headmaster’s study, hearing the ticking of the grandfather clock and the thwack of the clothes brush on the backside of the boy in front of me, and feeling the dread of what was to follow.’

In the months ahead of the 2010 General Election, the then Tory leader faced accusations of being ‘Dave the dunce’ at the school. 

However, it was subsequently revealed that teachers had marked him out as ‘very bright’ and had moved him up at the age of 11, which meant he was competing against boys two years his senior.

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