Grooming alpha girl wives for the rich and famous

By Victoria Lambert

Kate, The Duchess of Cambridge. Photo / AP
Kate, The Duchess of Cambridge. Photo / AP

Privilege and connections are under fire yet again. With MP Liz Truss tearing into the political dynasties epitomised by Labour's "Red Princes", and accusations that the old school tie is throttling social mobility, all eyes are again focused on the old boys' club. But forget Etonians in the Cabinet - a head count needs to be taken of the Old Marlburian girls privy to the pillow talk of the rich and powerful.

When you look through the alumnae of Marlborough College, the Wiltshire boarding school, a pattern soon becomes clear. Among the old boys of this 170-year-old school, founded for the sons of the clergy, can be found the expected botanists, bishops and back-bench MPs.

But among the girls who have attended Marlborough, the first major independent school to go co-ed, starting with its 1968 sixth form - there is a more fascinating trend. For the brightest and best are listed often next to the words "wife of".

Most famous, of course, is the Duchess of Cambridge, "wife of" Prince William.

But see also, Samantha Cameron, "wife of" the Prime Minister. Frances Osborne, "wife of" the Chancellor. Sally Bercow, "wife of" the Speaker. Diana Fox, "wife of" the Governor of the Bank of England.

If Eton is often referred to as alma mater of leading politicians and power brokers, it seems that in Marlborough College, there exists a second, potentially just as influential, seed bed which grows alpha consorts.

Remarkable, isn't it, that one country boarding school - which turns out only 80 girls a year from its sixth form - should have educated so many pillow-talkers to the great and good? Jonathan Leigh, Master of Marlborough, says: "It is a unique situation of which we're quietly proud - a rather happy coalescence has led to this group of able and powerful, supportive women."

Sally Bercow.
Sally Bercow.

And it hasn't just produced "better halves" for politicians - its reach of influence stretches across the internet, fashion, the BBC and Hollywood, through old girls Amanda Rosenberg (dating Google founder Sergey Brin); Amanda Harlech (former wife of Lord Harlech, and muse to Karl Lagerfeld); Elizabeth Ann Clough (long-term partner of Jeremy Paxman); and Georgina Chapman, "wife of" Oscar-winning producer Harvey Weinstein.

So does the curriculum include husband-hunting and salon-hosting? Is it a school for social climbers? Or is it simply the case that matron adds testosterone to the girls' water supply?

A female Old Marlburian laughs at all my theories, calling it "a great school for either gender: it sets you up for the world".

"There are plenty of good single-sex schools, but very few truly mixed independent schools at this level - so the girls who go there stand out later on. Everyone is treated equally, and that gives you the confidence to hold your own in the world.

Samantha Cameron. Photo / AP
Samantha Cameron. Photo / AP

"When I was there in the '70s, there were hardly any girls - I was one of four in a house of 60 boys. Later, working in the City after university, the experience helped me understand men and their behaviour better."

A recent Marlburian, Thomas, tells me he is not at all surprised so many alumnae do well. "Given that public schools can be viewed as an elitist male club, for the Marlborough girls being inside this club helps them understand this type of man, making them more desirable and better potential partners." A female ex-pupil confirms this when she tells me the school gives you such "confidence, a sense of ease around boys; you can be quite comfortable in a successful partnership".

Old Marlburian Sasha Howard, 24, who works for Quintessentially, a luxury lifestyle company, admits she often hears that Marlborough girls are "unique", but talks of a school that encouraged positivity. "We were taught to be proactive, to push ourselves, get things done, and be happy, too. I can talk to anyone of any age or gender with total confidence.

"It was a grounding experience. Every weekend in my first term we seemed to go camping - we all had to build campfires and make food. The boys I grew up with are still like brothers to me. We learned to bond."

So is the success of the Marlburian ladies as much to do with the inner strength that any good independent school instils as co-education? Kate Reardon, editor of Tatler, thinks so.

"A good education gives you confidence to stick up your hand for anything - whether it is the job you want, or the bloke. And the more you stick up your hand the better your chances are that you will get what you want." That's not all, she says. "A good school teaches you resilience - that ability to bounce back." Think Kate Middleton in her wilderness years.

The Tatler Schools Guide rates Marlborough highly. One of its editors tells me it "has built on the already very strong pastoral care and house system. Yes, they have excellent exam results but they are looking for all-rounders, so, although they are increasingly popular, they are not raising the academic assessment to get in. They are a genuinely full-boarding school, so pupils are together the whole time - seven days a week."

Perhaps most tellingly, the school ethos revolves around three Cs: conversation (lots of lively debate); compassion and companionship. Leigh, as Master, also emphasises three Rs: respect, rigour and responsibility. All of which, one imagines, Sam Cam and the Duchess have in spades.

Yet one can't help wondering how those alpha girls get along. One old girl tells me: "It was fine. We tended to see boys as friends - not love interests. There was no real sense of girliness. People make an effort on a Saturday night but not compared with those I knew at my all-girls day school, where girls put on make-up to go home on the Tube."

James, a male Old Marlburian, doesn't quite see it the same way: "I remember cliques - you had to be quite tough as a girl to cope." He recalls at least one girl, who wasn't interested in dating her peers, setting her sights on bigger fish to fry - which she caught.

Back to hauling in husbands. But surely the typical Marlborough parents, described to me by several old girls as "normal - farmers, businesspeople, entrepreneurs, lawyers", who sweat the 30,000-a-year ($57,000) fees, hoped for more for their daughters than a future as trophy wives?

"Of course," says one Marlborough mum. "It says more about society that women who are clearly successful in their own right, like Samantha Cameron or Diana Fox, get labelled in this way. I shouldn't think they like it particularly. But, male or female, if you marry a politician or someone super-successful, it's not unusual to be eclipsed by them - or gain associated fame. And, let's be honest, you can enjoy genuine influence in such a position."

- Daily Telegraph UK

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a4 at 30 Jul 2014 20:34:49 Processing Time: 649ms