Every year, dozens of (seemingly) rational people take the (some might say) not entirely rational decision to spend £28,545 – more, indeed, than the average British salary – on sending their children to school. Don't they, one wonders, realise that school is free in this country? Perhaps not. Either way, Harrow School can hardly be short of demand. It currently educates some 800 boys, all of whom, one presumes, enjoy a rather more privileged upbringing that the average British teen.
Along with the usual lot, though, two boys of more humble background are let in for free; well, paid for by Peter Beckwith, an old Harrovian who himself benefited from a scholarship to the school. Given the size of the fees (not to mention the old boys network) this is no small offering. Pupils leave with a hefty chance of getting into Oxbridge, and an even heftier chance of landing a job that allows their children to follow suit. "You are playing God, really, with a small 'g'," Beckwith reflected. He's right. Instead of 13 years of standard-issue carpets and school buses, whoever wins the scholarship is destined to a lifetime of dormitories and plummy accents. Whether this is a good thing or not is, of course, very much up for debate. What became clear last night, in Too Poor for Posh School, is that our wannabe Harrovians were desperate – completely, utterly, compellingly devoted – to get in.
At 10, Krishan was the youngest, though much of the time he seemed like the oldest; 10 going on 75. He wore a suit to exam day because, he explained, "It's a special day so I thought I would come all dandied up." On first encounter, he already seemed to be the plummy Harrovian he hoped to become. The reality, though, was very different: he may (almost) have the cut-glass vowels of the public schoolboy, but at home, in the tiny flat his parents occupy, he doesn't even have his own bedroom. Showing the TV crew around, he had the air of a moth-eaten butler: "Would you like to see my favourite books or my models?" he asked. You decide, they said; he went for books, whipping out "my Webster Dictionary and my library of Shakespeare". He wanted, he explained, to be a spy one day. Why? Because spys "are patriots in their own right" (75) and "they have lots of cool gadgets" (10).
Krishan was up against Numhan and Tumi, both just as determined to win their spot among the paying classes. All three applicants are incredibly talented, though their parents deserve considerable credit, too. Tumi's dad works nights while his mother gets to work at 5.30am in order to leave early enough to ferry Tumi between extra-curricular activities. Numhan's father, meanwhile, sets him extra homework... devotedly marking it every night.
On the day of their assessment, Krishan, Numhan and Tumi, and eight other "finalists" were put through seven gruelling hours of tests: a maths assessment, an English test, an IQ test, a debating session, an interview with the headmaster, a sports session and a music test. The school is under almost as much pressure as the pupils. Since Beckwith is forking out tens of thousands of pounds for it, they need to make sure the pupils they choose are right. Unfortunately for our three, there was another little boy, Alex, up for the scholarship who blew the others' musical abilities into the water. He got offered one of the scholarships and Krishan the other. Tumi had one created especially for him, but poor Numhan didn't make the grade. He'd gone to the local grammar instead. Will he fare worse, I wonder? Let's hope Channel 4 offers a follow-up in a few years' time.
In Michelin Stars – the Madness of Perfection, William Sitwell, the editor of Waitrose Food Illustrated, examined the pertinent question of Is Michelin Really As Daft As It Seems To Be? The answer? Yes.
You knew that already, of course. Michelin stars have come to represent everything that makes eating an ordeal rather than a pleasure, and the annual round of guide-bashing has become as regular a feature in the media as springtime predictions of a scorching summer. Still, watching Sitwell make the case all over again was fun. First, he spent time in Marcus Wareing's kitchen, chopping coriander (wrongly, said Wareing, before chucking it in the bin). "Would you kill for your third star?" he asked. "Well, not kill..." Wareing joked. I'm not sure I believe him; he has, after all, a more than healthy rivalry with Gordon Ramsay. Then Sitwell interviewed Raymond Blanc, who famously told the guide to eff off ("I veel ze zame," he reflected "zo wuzn't zay eet zee zame way").
Finally, he visited the Michelin headquarters. Michelin itself remained weirdly enigmatic throughout. It wouldn't let a camera into the offices to interview the boss in case one of its inspectors was caught on screen. Instead, it all took place in a basement. In fact, should Krishan ever fail in his ambitions of international espionage, perhaps he should look into Michelin inspecting; they aren't, as it turns out, a million miles apart.