The broadcaster, writer and adventurer Ben Fogle has mixed feelings about his boarding school days at Bryanston in Dorset

Where did you go to school and when?  

Bryanston for five years in the Nineties.

Did you enjoy it?  

I was really homesick in the first year but then I loved it.

What did you like about it?

I liked the fact that it was rural. I grew up in central  London and I loved the access to the woods, forests and rivers. I liked the independence; being able to decide when to do my homework, when to play tennis. It was very liberal and I liked that fact that the school encouraged every pupil to be themselves, to be who they wanted to be.

What was your favourite subject?

Art and CDT (Craft, Design and Technology).  I’ve always been more creative than I am academic. My mother and sisters are all creative types and I loved making things as a child.

Who was your favourite teacher?

Mr Long, my housemaster. During that first year he was so good at taking me into his own house and trying to settle me. He and his late wife treated me as if I was their son. If it wasn’t for him I don’t think I would have stayed.


Would you send your own children to boarding school?

Not for the sake of boarding per se, but if the right school for one of my children is too far away – and there aren’t many great schools in central London if your children aren’t highly academic – then I might consider it. I’m not anti-boarding in any way – I think there is a great place for it still. My wife and her sisters have an interesting take on the issue of boarding; they think they had a much better teen relationship with their mother as they could take out their teen angst on their housemistress so relations were better at home.

My children are seven and nine years old. I can’t bear the thought of them going to boarding school right now; I am definitely against sending them before they are 13, I want them at home with me.

What was your favourite activity at school?

I was obsessed with tennis and also loved going into the craft building as well, making stuff. I made an operating table for my dad who’s a vet – it had a pump and you could inflate it up and down. It was pretty terrible but I have strong memories of making it.

Where was your favourite hangout?

I have vivid summer memories of Dorset, lying on the grass under the big trees in the sun and I liked the grass tennis courts in front of the school. I was happy as long as I was outside.

What was your greatest achievement?

When I did my first assembly in front of the whole school. It was a comedy performance which I performed when I was about 15. I had such a sense of achievement afterwards, it was a really big deal for me as I was so shy.

How did Bryanston influence your life?

It gave me confidence. I think if I hadn’t been away at school I wouldn’t have been forced to make my own decisions; it helped improve my self esteem. Private school instills a confidence in you that I don’t think people necessarily get in the state sector – it instils the ability to be who you want to be. I think people commonly mistake it for arrogance. It’s not, it’s confidence.

Do you have any negative feelings about your school days?

I didn’t get any academic results from my schooldays (Fogle got C, D and N grades at A-Level) but that wasn’t the fault of the school. I developed confidence but that was in spite of the exam system.

What we have now is a system that rewards your ability to revise and cram information. I couldn’t retain information and then I’d crumple under the pressure, I could barely remember my own name, let alone anything else. I know I am dyslexic – I still get my bs and ds muddled. I was never diagnosed but it’s perfectly obvious to me. But I didn’t want the label, I didn’t want it to define who I am. But whenever I write books I always forewarn my editors!

How do you feel about the school system now?

I think the whole system is broken, both private and state. If I hadn’t been at Bryanston, with that level of support, I might have been dragged under. We need to reexamine our obsession with exams as a measure of whether you will succeed in life.

Who did you want to be at school?

I wanted to be someone who embraced life, who travelled, faced my fears- I think I’ve kind of done those things. It’s funny that I’m known as an explorer – at school I didn’t excel at sports at all. I left Bryanston wanting to be more brazen. Everything I have done since then, climbing Everest, rowing across the Atlantic, all of it has been my versions of exams – trying to rebuild my shattered confidence.

Where did you get your love of nature from?

My father is Canadian – we spent every summer as children in Canadian wilderness. And the Dorset countryside definitely helped. Now I am UN Patron of the Wilderness. I share my experiences, and talk to governments about the fragility of the wilderness. I am the voice for a fragile and voiceless environment.

What are you doing now?

I’m writing a new series of children’s books called Mr Dog. I have written lots of adults titles  but now I’m a father, children’s books obviously appeal.

I love dogs. And the British countryside and its animals so often get overlooked, so I wanted to include them. It was also a chance to put down on paper some of the chance encounters with animals that I’ve had over the years – it’s the perfect opportunity to share them.

How would you sum up your school days in five words?

Happy, idyllic, difficult, nostalgic, wild.

Mr Dog and the Rabbit Habit, £5.99, HarperCollins, out now.