ELGIN, June 13 — Facilities at Gordonstoun School in northeast Scotland include a climbing wall, rifle range and a five-hole golf course, while pupils can even avail themselves of bagpipe lessons.

But there is another reason why the institution in the far north of Scotland is well-known: One of its former pupils happens to be King Charles III.

It is hard to get more isolated than Gordonstoun, which lies near the city of Elgin, on the North Sea coast some 66 miles (106 kilometres) northwest of Aberdeen.

Getting there involves driving along narrow country roads.


Behind its gates are peaceful grounds stretching over 220 acres (90 hectares), with majestic trees and lush grass well watered by the Scottish rain.

Some 500 children and teenagers from about 40 countries attend the school, including Amelia Lee, 17, from Hong Kong, who has Charles’ old rooms.

“It’s just kind of surreal,” she told AFP, pointing out the desk where the future king would have worked and a chest of drawers from the time.


“To be honest, I don’t really use this,” she added. “I do store my snacks there.”

Lee was allocated the room after being elected class captain, just as Charles had been in his schooldays after initially sleeping in a dormitory.

Amelia Lee poses in her bedroom, the same one where Britain's King Charles III used to live when he was pupil at the Gordonstoun School, in Elgin, in the Scottish Highlands, on May 22, 2024. — AFP pic
Amelia Lee poses in her bedroom, the same one where Britain's King Charles III used to live when he was pupil at the Gordonstoun School, in Elgin, in the Scottish Highlands, on May 22, 2024. — AFP pic

Charles, then known as the Prince of Wales, spent his teenage years from 13 to 18 at Gordonstoun between 1962 and 1967.

His school attendance was a first at the time for a future British monarch, who until that point had been educated by a tutor.

“He was treated just as any other student,” said Gordonstoun principal Lisa Kerr.

Lara Croft

At the end of May, the king, now 75, agreed to become an honorary patron of the Gordonstoun Association of former pupils.

It was the latest public relations coup for the school, which has been working hard to dispel the idea that the monarch hated his time there.

Charles has often been quoted as describing his time at the school as like “Colditz in kilts”, likening it to the World War II prisoner of war camp.

The hit TV series based on the British royal family, The Crown, gave the reported comments wider currency.

But Kerr said: “We spent many, many months trying to find the origin of (“Colditz in Kilts”). We were not able to find it, so we have to accept it is a myth.”

Kerr accepted that his days would have begun with a morning jog to get the circulation moving, then a hot shower followed by a cold one.

Gordonstoun still provides a “challenging and broad” education, guided by the motto “plus est en vous” — “there is more in you” — to encourage effort.

On one wall pupils are told: “We don’t grow when things are easy. We grow when we face challenges.”

The school was founded in 1934 by a German-Jewish educator, Kurt Hahn, who fled the Nazis.

Among its first pupils was Charles’ father Prince Philip, who was married to his late mother Queen Elizabeth II.

Charles’ younger brothers, Andrew and Edward, also attended it.

Other royal families also send their children to the school while Sean Connery’s son Jason and David Bowie’s son Duncan Jones both attended it.

The creators of Tomb Raider Lara Croft also imagined the adventurer as a former pupil after it opened its doors to girls in 1972.

Charles sent his two sons William and Harry to another elite school, Eton, near Windsor Castle, west of London.


Between classes, pupils wander around the Gordonstoun grounds in small groups in their sky blue and grey uniforms.

A third of the pupils are from Scotland, another third are other British with the remainder from overseas. Fees reach some £50,000 (US$64,000) a year. Some pupils are on scholarships.

“It’s not just about passing exams and getting good grades,” said Kerr. “It’s about becoming a better person.”

Fees go towards a range of activities, from cricket and swimming, to tennis, hockey and sailing, while those more interested in music can have private lessons, including on the bagpipes.

One teenager sings in front of her classmates on the same stage where Charles once played Macbeth in William Shakespeare’s Scottish play, watched by his mother in the audience.

All senior pupils must join one of the school’s nine community and rescue services. Amelia Lee is part of the Coastguard Rescue Team.

The pupils train with local coastguards on the cliffs above the sea.

“When it’s pouring down with rain... when it’s really cold, it teaches you about resilience,” Lee said. — AFP