Kate Middleton has bowed to the inevitable and is to allow her son, Prince George, to be educated at Wetherby, the same private school Prince William and Prince Charles attended, and long famed among aristocratic Londoners for being the city’s most exclusive and intensively academic private “pre-prep” school.
The boys-only day school, which was also Romeo Beckham’s alma mater (contemporaries recall that he excelled at cross-country running, as well as football, like his father) used to take children from the age of 4 to 8 when they would go on to prep schools such as The Dragon or Caldecott.
However, since the school was bought out by a private equity group, it now goes all the way through to age 13, the age at which British fee-paying senior schools—confusingly known as public schools—start, although most boys still leave at 8 or 9 for rural boarding prep schools.
Although there is no academic test for entry, Wetherby has a fearsome reputation as one of the most high-achieving schools academically for youngsters. It’s a huge feeder school (albeit at one remove) for Eton and Westminster, amongst the “brightest” schools in the country.
“It’s basically for people who hope their children are one day going to be running the country,” says one mother.
Wetherby is not actually any more expensive than many of the other private pre-preps and preps in London. It costs about $30,000 a year plus extras, including a substantial outlay on the famous red-and-grey blazers and red-hooped caps that are a common sight in the leafy West London streets around the school. So they can afford to be fussy about who does and who doesn’t get in.
As such, there is a race to get male children’s names “put down” on the entry list soon after birth. “I rang them up seven days after my child was born,” recalls one London mother. “The first thing they asked me was, ‘Seven hours?’ When I said, ‘No, seven days,’ they sounded very disappointed.”
However, no matter how quick you are on the draw, without a suitable introduction and reference, some parents say, it is impossible to even get your child through the famous red door which is the front entrance of the grand stucco building in one of the smartest parts of West London.
“They ask you, ‘Where did you hear of us?’” says one mother. “You have to drop some names. They want to know who you know. If you tell them you looked up the number on the website, you might as well just chuck the application form in the bin—although it’s actually not as social as Garden House in Chelsea. Trying to get your kid in that place literally is like trying to join Soho House. But pick-up at all these schools is pretty insane. There’s a traffic jam of Land Rover Discoveries parked all the way down the street.”
As with many British boys schools, the sons of old boys are given automatic places, and as both William and Charles attended Wetherby, Prince George would be entitled to this privilege.
The fact that George has been put down for the school is a hitherto unexpected sign that Will and Kate do intend to move back to London eventually, and will once again make Kensington Palace rather than Anmer Hall in Norfolk their primary home.
It has long been expected that they will take over more royal duties as the Queen, soon to be 90, steps down her commitments.
The knowledge of what is to come might explain why they are making the most of being able to do so little now, even if that does lead to media accusations they are lazy and work-shy.
Wetherby would be conveniently located for the Cambridges, as it is on the north side of Kensington Gardens, the massive central London park in which Kensington Palace is found, meaning Kate and her boy could easily walk to school through the park on fine days.
Compatriots for George are likely to include family friends such as the extended family of the Duke of Bedford (as well as Woburn Abbey, the family own the London district of Bloomsbury, including the land the British Museum is built on, and recently sold Covent Garden); the children of the current duke’s brother Jamie and his American wife Dawn go there.
Kate would enjoy a ready-made social scene as well; after drop-off, one gang of Wetherby mothers go to Ottolenghi on Ledbury Road for $6 cups of coffee and $8 slices of carrot cake, while another set can be found at Gail’s artisan bakery in Notting Hill.
“It is very intimidating at first but actually they are perfectly nice people when you get to know them,” says one mother. “They are just very posh or very rich. I do cringe a bit when I hear my kids’ friends asking them, ‘Where does your housekeeper live? In the basement?’ But it’s worth it because it is actually the best school in London.
“It is totally elitist. They are streamed from the moment they get there, and the not-so-bright kids tend to head off elsewhere after a few years, but there is also amazing sport and everything like that too. Basically, you know that you are giving your kid every chance of doing really well if you send them to Wetherby.”