Everyone wants to be a `tit'

Why do all the `new toffs' seek places at Eton for their sons, asks Rebecca Fowler

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For the once dissatisfied young man who sang one of the greatest anthems to disaffected youth, Eton seems an unlikely choice of school for his 11-year-old son. But Mick Jagger appears determined that Master James should concentrate his own voice on the Boating Song as part of the new hierarchy of British Toffery, where pop stars are the modern equivalent of dukes, and everyone still wants to be a tit.

The money may have changed hands, as dusty aristocrats fight to keep up their crumbling country seats while pop stars, lawyers, accountants and dentists buy them up. But a tit in the family - Etonspeak for a new boy - remains the surest sign of all of being part of the social elite of the day, the new hybrid of pop heirs, aspiring multi-millionaires and financially embarrassed viscounts.

At Eton, like nowhere else in the world, tits can still rub shoulders with royal tits, rich tits, clever tits and the tits of the future who will be leaders in their various fields. It is a start in life without comparison, and according to former pupils only the most sanctimonious or stupid could emerge without an inflated sense of their own superiority. At pounds 12,500 a year,it is still a mere snip for most toffs, old and new.

So last week Mr Jagger, a Dartford grammar school boy and son of a PE instructor, and Mrs Jagger, the Texan model Jerry Hall, joined a select group of parents to be taken on a tour of the Berkshire school, with a view to James taking one of 200 places. Here he would don the famous frock coat, leave the bottom button of his waistcoat undone, sit at a desk where Shelley, George Orwell, Ian Fleming and 18 prime ministers once sat, and learn to walk to the left of the statue of Henry VI, the founder, ready to draw a sword in his protection.

The Jaggers are understood to favour Manor House, where Prince William is reaching the end of his first year at Eton. Although the two boys do not obviously have much in common, a few clues to James's privileged life suggest that Jagger Junior is as suited to Eton as the heir to the throne. He has grown up in a mansion in Richmond, Surrey; he has travelled all over the world with his parents; and his education has included private tutoring in Mustique. It is also a tribute to the place his father holds in current toffery that pupils who have grown up among the most important and wealthiest families in the land were clamouring for his autograph.

Mr Jagger is not alone in seeking to educate his son among the elite of the day, although pop stars appear to be divided down the line on where they send their children to school.

David Bowie sent his son Zowie to Gordonstoun where the Prince of Wales had such a famously miserable time. Paul McCartney sent all his children to local state schools in East Sussex, although they received private tuition when they travelled abroad with their parents.

But what must James do to secure his place? Eton, founded in 1440, remains the largest public school in the land, and most parents scramble to add their sons to the waiting list even before the umbilical cord has been cut. Eleven years later the boys must then sit a common entrance exam, and perform to an increasingly high level, where questions range from asking in French if your bedroom is on the first floor to calculating the downward force of an engine in Newtons.

Since the current generation of hopefuls was spawned during the Thatcher years, a time of particularly acute aspiration and social climbing, competition is likely to be especially fierce. Among Prince William's class of 13- year-olds are the sons of lawyers, merchant bankers, civil servants, a landscape gardener, a dentist and a news presenter. While a number had fathers and grandfathers at Eton, many are first-generation.

Their attitudes to the school vary: "My father thinks it's the best school, but you are made to look down on other people," said William Bland, who wants to be a poet or a criminal barrister. "My sisters say I'll become snobbish and arrogant, but I don't have to become a snob," said Tom Ehrman, who wants to be a soldier. "Some people say it's stuffy, but dad says it'll look right on my CV," said Nigel De Grey, who is third-generation Eton.

How right Mr De Grey is. For this generation, when their time comes, they will still be part of the "best club in the world". The make-up of the Establishment may have changed, with music studios and dental surgeries now part of the backdrop. But the benefits will be the same, as they bump into each other through the rest of their lives, bonded by the old school tie, just as they have for five centuries.

Eton has, of course, produced some notable rascals who have ended up in prison, including Darius Guppy, incarcerated for a jewellery fraud; Lord Brockett, imprisoned for a classic cars insurance fraud; and the Marquess of Bristol, who also ended up in a cell for drug offences. But for the most part their old school pals stuck by them.

By the time Eric Anderson retired as headmaster he was anxious to stress that Eton was not filled with the rich, thick offspring of dim dukes. "That idea disappeared more than a quarter of a century ago," he said. "A fifth of the boys are on bursaries or scholarships and their parents could not possibly be described as toffs ... We've had one foreign prince, the Prince of Nepal, but to show how little we think about that, I can't tell you how many there are. But I should add that two of the very best boys in my time have been the sons of dukes."

There is little doubt that Master James will be at home, although even by Eton standards his father may attract more interest than most among the other boys. The old Establishment mixes surprisingly well with the new. Jerry Hall has weekended with the Marquess of Worcester in Badminton quite happily. But the idea of James singing of "the best of schools" in the Boating Song, and cheering "ra for house" along the river, remains as strange an image of the new toffs as there can be, only short of John Lydon sending his offspring to Harrow.

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