Colditz in kilts? Charles loved it, says old school as Gordonstoun hits back at The Crown

Olivia Rudgard
Prince Charles and Princess Anne at Buckingham Palace - Robert Viglasky/Netflix

Prince Charles's time at school is widely thought to have been far from happy - and he is reported to have even described it as "Colditz in kilts". 

But his Scottish boarding school has hit back after Netflix drama The Crown depicted an unhappy, bullied Charles struggling with cross country runs and hostile classmates. 

Gordonstoun School has pointed to a speech the Prince made in the House of Lords, as well as an interview printed in the Observer Magazine, to suggest that he has a more nuanced view of his education that the drama suggests. 

Both took place in the 1970s, less than 20 years after he attended the school, and paint the Prince's time at Gordonstoun in a more positive light than the drama. 

Episode 9 of its second series chronicles the Prince's experiences at the school, focusing on his shabby dormitory, hostile classmates and freezing morning runs. 

It also includes a flashback to his father Prince Phillip's experience at the school, which is located in the north east of Scotland. 

In the drama, sensitive Charles is all set to go to Eton, following the wishes of his mother, the Queen, and her cousin Lord Mountbatten, known as "Dickie". 

But Prince Philip insists he attend his own alma mater because of its tougher environment which he believes will add to his character. 

Charles endures bullying from his fellow students and must sleep by a window which does not close properly, letting in rain. 

He also struggles with the physical demands of the school which include runs in the cold and wet, during which other boys slap him on the back of the head. 

He fails to complete the school's annual orienteering challenge and must be rescued, leaving him feeling humiliated. 

Claire Foy, left, and Matt Smith in a scene from "The Crown". Credit: Robert Viglasky/Netflix

Charles has since hinted at his unhappiness at the school with the infamous description "Colditz in kilts", and has also reportedly described his time there as "a prison sentence". 

But the school is keen to set the record straight, and has unearthed the speech and interview in the hopes of providing "a more balanced view of Prince Charles’ time at Gordonstoun". 

In the speech, given in 1975 to launch his charity, the Prince's Trust, he told the House of Lords: "I am always astonished by the amount of rot talked about Gordonstoun and the careless use of ancient cliches used to describe it. 

"It was only tough in the sense that it demanded more of you as an individual than most other schools did - 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 - why else do you think I am brave enough to stand up before your Lordships now?"

In the Observer interview, the Prince said: "I am glad I went to Gordonstoun. It wasn't the toughness of the place - that's all much exaggerated by report - it was the general character of the education there - Kurt Hahn's principles; an education which tried to balance the physical and mental with the emphasis on self-reliance  to develop a rounded human being.

"I didn't enjoy school as much as I might have, but that was only because I'm happier at home than anywhere else." 

He added that the "discipline" at the school gives "shape and form and tidiness" to life.

The Queen with Prince Philip and Prince Andrew at Gordonstoun on Prince Andrew's first day as a pupil there. Credit: PA

Gordonstoun was founded in 1934 by German educator Kurt Hahn, an exile from Nazi Germany, who believed education was key to creating a new generation of community leaders. 

It had a Platonic ethos and a focus on outward bound activities including sailing and mountaineering. 

The drama also suggests that Prince Philip's earlier time there was far from smooth, depicting him fighting with fellow students and punching one in the face.  

However it has also come under fire for its depiction of the death of his sister Cecile in a plane crash, by suggesting that the Prince was to blame for the tragedy because his misbehaviour meant she had to fly to London for a wedding. 

Writing in the Mail on Sunday Royal historian Hugo Vickers called the episode a "pernicious lie". 

"It is beyond me how serious film-makers would wish to turn such a dreadful tragedy into a series of invented scenes bearing no relation to the truth," he said. 

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