TV presenter, writer and adventurer Ben Fogle reveals how Bryanston School inspired a passion that he never knew he had
Words: Frank Grice
It’s perhaps surprising to learn that for someone as outward bound, someone so unwaveringly excited by life, Ben Fogle was almost the most reluctant of school pupils. ‘I was a slow starter,’ he laughs.
‘But as time went on, and perhaps unwittingly, I took inspiration not from the syllabus or the surroundings, but the people. And looking back I’m glad of that.’
As an explorer, adventurer, broadcaster and prolific ambassador of good causes, Fogle’s schooling was largely serene in the leafy surrounds of The Hall Preparatory School in Hampstead, then Bryanston boarding school in Blandford, Dorset.
‘I certainly wasn’t as applied as I went on to become in adult life,’ he jokes. ‘I was shy, often hiding behind my parents and others, and perhaps a bit lazy as well. I think, like most children, I was looking for the spark of an idea or a conversation. Once I grabbed hold of that I was capable of anything, but you often see scholars just waiting for something to inspire them, and I was definitely like that.’
Although Fogle admits his attendance at The Hall School wasn’t a time to be cherished, he admits to being wholly homesick upon arriving in Dorset. ‘It was a different world,’ he looks backs.
‘I loved London, and Dorset seemed a strange place in comparison. It was airy and beautiful, but very quiet and I missed the constant hum of life that I had become used to in the capital. But I think that became an interesting contrast – there weren’t the obvious distractions of the capital when it came to the surroundings, so after a first year in which I kept myself to myself, I began to really open up and invest in the people.’
I loved London, and Dorset seemed a strange place in comparison. It was airy and beautiful, but very quiet and I missed the constant hum of life that I had become used to in the capital
The 41-year-old realises now that one of Bryanston School’s key modus operandi was to encourage each pupil to explore his individuality. ‘Of course there were rules, and the process of learning was well planned and shaped, but if you had an idea or suggestion you were encouraged to run with it, no matter how outlandish it might seem.
The Headmaster, Mr Weare, used to fire up the school. He wasn’t a disciplinarian, he was an imaginary, and the teachers and heads of department who worked under him ended up taking forward those same values.’
Yet it was Fogle’s housemaster, Mr Long, who really inspired in him a passion to reach beyond the conformity of textbooks and study. ‘Sport was an integral part of what we did – after all we had so much space in which to run wild and express ourselves.
Mr Long opened up a world where academic prowess was shown to be only one part of what we studied – it was about what we believed in, how ambitious we were to do something special with our lives. He was someone you could confide in, and ultimately he offered the perspective that the world was about more than classrooms, and I loved that.’
Mr Long and his family resided on the school estate and his home became a pop-in clinic for kids looking for support, encouragement or simply inspiration. ‘We felt he was one of us and that was magnificent,’ Fogle smiles.
‘Whenever you get a teacher who you respect completely, yet feel you are on some kind of level with, you’ll offer them everything you can. And I think that’s really the secret of good teaching – being “in charge” but ultimately alongside. And as time went on I grew to love Dorset, precisely for the same tranquillity that spooked me a bit at first. It’s a beautiful county that, dare I say it, still feels like “home” even today.’
Whenever you get a teacher who you respect completely, yet feel you are on some kind of level with, you’ll offer them everything you can
Fogle left Bryanston to travel around South America before taking up a Latin American degree at Portsmouth University. It was there that his seafaring legs hardened and he joined the University Naval Unit, becoming the Midshipman aboard HMS Blazer.
‘I think everything I went on to do I think was inspired by Bryanston’s philosophy that the world is a big place and anything is possible if you put your mind to it,’ he reflects.
‘You don’t need money – you need ambition and energy, and perhaps an inspirational teacher or two along the way!’