How Dave the fruit thief was given six of the best…with a clothes brush

How Dave the fruit thief was given six of the best…with a clothes brush

By Glen Owen

Long before he urged people to “hug a hoodie”, David Cameron experienced a more old-fashioned approach to discipline — the wrong end of a clothes brush.

Mr Cameron suffered the punishment in the Seventies as a pupil at Heatherdown, an elite prep school in Ascot, Berkshire.

Now the Tory leader has spoken for the first time about the practice and, with true political skill, described it as “not appropriate” while managing to excuse his teachers of wrongdoing.

Mr Cameron, talking to a group of Tory supporters in his Oxfordshire constituency last week, said he was hit at least “a couple of times”, including once for stealing strawberries from the headmaster’s wife’s garden.


Describing the school as “incredibly old-fashioned” and “quite strict in terms of discipline”, Mr Cameron recalled the sting of the brush. “It would not be appropriate today,” he said during a public interview with former U.S Ambassador Peter Jay in the village of Chadlington. “Things have changed. But it is important for pupils to have boundaries.”

Heatherdown, which also educated Princes Andrew and Edward, closed in the Eighties. It was so elitist that on sports day three separate lavatories were provided — one for ladies, one for gentlemen and one for chauffeurs.

One school trip entailed the ten-year-old Cameron being flown by Concorde to stay with the family of billionaire John Paul Getty.

The headmaster who administered the punishment, James Edwards, now in his 80s, refused to discuss the matter but his daughter Sasha shed light on the intriguing choice of a clothes brush for punishment purposes.

“The use of a hand was deemed to be too ‘close’ a form of contact, and a cane was thought to be a bit too hard,” she said. “The clothes brush wasn’t used maliciously or even applied particularly hard.”

Corporal punishment was banned in 1986 in state schools but not until 1999 in the private sector.

Mr Cameron attended Heatherdown from 1974 until 1979, before proceeding at 13 to Eton, where the cane had been abolished several years earlier.

Rhidian Llewellyn, a former pupil at Heatherdown, remembers the brush.

He said: “The worst thing about it was that it was never done on the spot, it was scheduled for after breakfast the following morning.

“I was a pupil at the same time as Prince Andrew, and he was beaten regularly. But then he was fairly bumptious.”

Last July, Mr Cameron was accused by Tory Party traditionalists of being soft on discipline when he suggested that youths who wore hooded tops did so for “defensive” reasons.