School of hard knocks: From Ranulph Fiennes to Sir Cliff, even the famous have been bullied

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Sir Ranulph Fiennes 53, explorer, went to Eton.

I was bullied very badly. I was an attractive boy, and it was the norm for any boy considered a pretty boy to be wolf-whistled at by the others. They'd sit on their window ledges above, whistling and shouting "tart, tart". My father had died before I was born, and I'd been raised in an all-female family - such things were never explained. I had no idea why they were whistling at me or what a tart was. Such remorseless nastiness squeezed every last trace of self-confidence from me.

At one point, I stood on Windsor Bridge and contemplated throwing myself off. I didn't go through with it, but I can understand why some children feel so bad that they think about suicide.

By the end of the first term, I learned that one answer was to scowl the whole time, look at the pavement and make yourself part of the brickwork. I also took up boxing, which helped to give me a more macho reputation. But the bullying ruined chapel for me. The place was designed so that half the boys faced the other half across the centre aisle. No way could you concentrate on the service.

It lasted for about two years. Eventually, I must have told my mother, and she took it up with the masters. They dealt with the situation without exposing my identity. I think that's very important today in cases of bullying.

After that, things improved and I began to enjoy my time there. Looking back, I can see that Eton built individualism. You either conformed or realised there was no way you could conform. Once you realised you could not conform, it strengthened your ability to be an individual. I'd been reared by women. Perhaps I needed to toughen up.

Sir Cliff Richard 56, pop star and actor.

I looked different and I came from a different background, and as soon as people realised I came from India, the other young kids kept saying "when are you gonna go back to your wigwam?".

I used to get jumped on regularly and had to just fight back all the time. There were groups of kids that would gang up on me, and that happened a lot, to start with.

I remember rubbing one boy's hand raw to the bone on the ground, after being jumped on by four of them or something like that - it makes me cringe to think of it - but when you're in a situation like that, who knows what we could do? Could you shoot somebody if they were about to knife you? Could you shoot somebody or knife somebody who was about to kill your child? The answer is probably yes - it's a fact of life. But it's not something I think I'd want to whole-heartedly recommend.

Tessa Sanderson 41, Olympic champion javelin-thrower, went to a mixed comprehensive, "a good school with good teachers".

There was this boy who we used to call the cock of the school, who'd boss everyone around and push in front of the queue. The abuse was stuff like, "Hey, nigger! I'm talking to you, blacky."

Guys would call me things like "coon" and "golliwog". In those days, golliwogs were on the jam jars and we black kids hated them. There was pushing and prodding for you to respond, to make you get really aggravated.

I think the very worst thing about being a black kid at school is the names. Bullying is not just about the physical. I think the majority of black kids in my school were set upon a lot, mainly because, at the time, there was a lot of racism and people weren't mixing so closely. But I've always been 100 per cent proud to be West Indian, to be black. I could have built up a hate for the average white person. I'm glad I didn't.

Professor Laurie Taylor 60, is a sociologist and broadcaster.

At my schools, it was the teachers. Some cultivated an atmosphere of fear. When children bully other children, in many cases they take the lead from the teachers, who pick on a kid to get cheap laughs. All through my school career, there were teachers who put pupils down, and the boys who were bullies were never as bad as the teachers.

My parents sent me to a Catholic boarding school, when I was six or seven. I think they thought that I would find my vocation in the priesthood. I was a thin, gangly boy, and one of the teachers nicknamed me Boney - it was the Latin master. We were going through the forms of bonum, the word "good" in Latin. One of its forms is bone. The teacher said, "Now, boys, you'll never forget this: think `boni' and think of Laurie Taylor."

And there used to be what we called a tickling hierarchy. The attractive boys would be tickled and cuddled by one of the Fathers. But there was this unattractive crowd who never got a tickle or a cuddle. There was nothing avuncular about this tickling priest. The tickling probably had all sorts of unpleasant overtones, and I was probably very lucky not to be a favourite of the tickling priest, but, at the time, there you were, at boarding school, feeling homesick, thinking, "I wish I could have a cuddle." Some of the other boys and I formed an alliance of the weak. We'd meet before class and hope: "Perhaps he won't shout at me today ..." Afterwards, if you'd been picked on, the other unpopular boys would try to cheer you up.

At the age of 11, I went to secondary school in Liverpool. Although there was strapping and caning at this school, too, I recall I got myself adopted by a gang of working-class Liverpool boys, and they gave me some protection.

Of course, teachers can also be the victims of bullying by pupils, and it's often the libertarian teachers who come in for this. The teachers who didn't bully us and cared the most came off the worst because we kids saw them as a soft touch.

John Harvey Jones 73, TV troubleshooter.

I was a natural target for bullying. The school believed in corporal punishment - as well as the headmaster beating people, the prefects, who were aged about 11 and 12, were allowed to beat people. And the bullies beat people - everybody beat people.

I used to get my head ducked into basins of water. I would be beaten continuously with slippers and even sticks. I'd be held down and beaten.

At the time, I accepted that I was bullyable. I also accepted that I was the only person who was bullied. Years later, when I came to write my autobiography and recounted this, I got a number of letters from people who'd been at the same school. They shared with me that they had also been bullied. For three years, the bullying was more or less unabated. And three years at that age is a lifetime.

Martyn Lewis 52, author and newscaster, is chairman and founder of YouthNet UK, an interactive directory in the UK offering young people advice on drugs, education and bullying.

The fact that I was born in Wales may have played a part. Some people in Northern Ireland welcome people in from outside, but my tormentors were a clannish group. I didn't tell my family. For some reason, I felt ashamed that it should be happening to me. It lasted only a term. I developed a dreadful stammer, which, no doubt, alerted my parents to the fact that something was wrong. They found out from some other source that I was being bullied and moved me back to my former school. The stammer stopped.

Now, whenever I believe I'm right, I refuse to be put off. Whilst I would not liken my colleagues to bullies, it's almost as if for me the alternative to being in control is being bullied.

Craig Charles 33, actor and comedian.

When I was about 14 or 15, there was a gang called the Lawrence Road Loonies. They had LRL on the backs of their jackets and polished heads and big boots with buttons. They used to come to the local disco. I had to leave before the disco was over, because otherwise they all started piling out, wanting to jump up and down on me and my brother's head. So we'd leave about half an hour before it ended. As soon as the slowies [slow dances] were on, we'd nip over the wall. Many girls didn't wanna dance with black guys, so I never got any slowies anyway. Over the wall and away before the lights came up.

Wayne Sleep 49, dancer.

I was in the junior school and I had this little girlfriend who was from Hartlepool and she used to protect me. I used to rush into the girls' yard when they started ganging up on me. But my first real experience of almost hatred was when the kids at school found out that I was going to dancing classes. They started calling me sissy. This was when I was seven and eight.

I think the jealousy arose because I knew what I wanted to do at a very early age. These other kids didn't know what they wanted and their only view of dance was seeing it sent up by Benny Hill on the television in a pair of tights with floppy wrists.

Extracted from `Ha Bloody Ha' to be shown on 28 August as part of BBC2's Bully season of programmes

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