Alastair Stewart: 'I've had a degree of self-belief instilled in me'


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The Independent Online

Alastair Stewart, the newscaster who presents the ITV News at 6.30pm, attended Madras College in St Andrews, Scotland, the Salesian College prep school in Farnborough, and St Augustine's Abbey School in Ramsgate. He went on to read economics and politics at Bristol University.

"I started as a 13-year-old at St Augustine's in 1965 – making me just too young to actually get into the swinging Sixties, but old enough in the Seventies to pretend I was still stuck in them. Acts of violent protest for us were a little more low-key: they involved not cutting our hair, furtive smoking, and attempts to poke and prod the staff into punishing us.

Ramsgate was never going to be the Sorbonne mark two, and the nearest to sex'n'drugs was at the foreign language school across the road, which was populated by some beautiful French girls. I remember a particular Swiss girl as well. As we were at an all-male Roman Catholic boarding school, we were pleased to do our bit for international relations.

Aside from the language school, there were two other aspects of my school days I particularly enjoyed. The first was sailing: Ramsgate is on the coast, and I loved it. You'd worked your butt off Monday to Friday, and, come the weekend, it was a joy to go to the beach and sail with your friends.

The academic staff was divided between Benedictine monks and laymen. Some of the monks were teachers simply because they were senior monks, while several of the lay teachers were too good for the place. I went there because my father was in the [Royal] Air Force and he didn't have a lot of money, but he was keen my brother and I went to boarding school because he moved home every two and a half years. I felt desperately frustrated that some of the teachers weren't up to muster. There were one or two great ones: my fourth-form master was brilliant. He introduced us to Orwell and Hemingway and all the Sixties-ish literature that any teenage boy, even now, should read.

Because it was a monastic boarding school, there was a surfeit of chapel attendance. We had almost everything you can think of: morning prayers, benediction, holy mass. It seemed endless, and it was a slightly invidious atmosphere to have a lot of men in monastic garb who had sworn, among other things, to have nothing to do with women.

The school was fairly basic. Rationing finished in the Fifties, yet we were still eating powdered eggs and condensed milk, which were ghastly. I was invited back to hand out prizes because I'd become relatively famous as a newscaster, and, when I arrived, my history teacher came bounding up to me and said: "Ah, Stewart, how lovely to see you! Now, tell me what you're doing these days." I thought this was very funny, but whether he was making a joke or had genuinely never watched television, I shall never know.

I sent my children to boarding schools, too, but as I've got older I've begun to think that, while it is maybe an efficient way of educating people academically, it's much less effective for social and personal education.

Having gone to a private school, I've had a degree of self-belief instilled in me that I wouldn't have got from going to a state school. The emphasis on things like drama and public speaking have helped further my career. Private schools focus on the individual a lot more, which has been very helpful.

Over the years, people have taken pops at the numbers of white, middle-class males that dominate television. I'm sure that it is a weakness, and it does need to be rectified, but progress has been made since I started out in 1980, and it is much more of a meritocracy now."