Cornwall is obviously renowned for its pasties, cream teas and beaches, but what many people do not know is that quite a lot of celebrities went to school here too.
Musicians, actors, Olympic medallists and more went to school here before many of them moved away to pursue their careers.
Not all of them loved their experience here – actress Thandie Newton has spoken several times about being bullied at school in Penzance, while Olympic rower Ben Ainslie also admitted to having a bad time at Truro School.
Nick Darke was expelled for getting drunk on sports day, while John Nettles had an unusual nickname that he was desperate to get rid of.
But many loved growing up here and still spend a lot of time in Cornwall. These are the very famous people who went to school here and what they got up to…
1. Phillip Schofield
The much-loved This Morning presenter was born in Oldham in Lancashire but grew up in Newquay.
The Dancing on Ice star attended Trenance Infant School and Newquay Tretherras School, and first got in front of the mic at the tender age of 15 when he hosted a Sunday show on Hospital Radio Plymouth.
He now lives in Oxfordshire but visits Cornwall to see his mother.
A couple of years ago he pleaded with the people of Newquay for the recipe for a Matthews pasty, which were made in the town in the 1970s. He said he was trying to relive his favourite childhood memory.
He wrote: “Over the last few months, and trying to relive a childhood memory. I’ve been working with Waitrose and attempting to recreate a Matthews Pasty!
“Anyone of a certain age in Newquay will prob remember them. I think they sold up in the late 1970s. The pastry was unique!”
2. Thandie Newton
Actress Thandie Newton, star of American series Westworld and numerous films, including Crash, was born in London and lived in Zimbabwe for three years but her family then moved to Penzance.
She went to a school run by Catholic nuns where she was sadly bullied and taunted because of her race.
The British actress recalled in an interview several years ago: “It was a beautiful environment, but very backward when it came to racial politics. I was getting good grades, I was a really happy, sparkly child and she [Thandie’s mother] was aware that the more I was achieving, the more resentment there was from other people. But I didn’t understand, I was only little.”
In her first days at school, a teacher apparently told her mother: ‘”We’re very excited, we’ve never had one before.”
She added: ‘Moving from Zambia to Cornwall in the 1970s was an extraordinary experience. The story of living in Penzance as the only black family would make a fabulous sitcom if there had been a little more humour.”
3. Roger Taylor
The Queen drummer, who performed a solo show in Plymouth this week, moved to Truro with his mother Winifred, father Michael and younger sister Clare from Norfolk when he was seven years old.
He and some friends formed his first band, the Bubblingover Boys, in which he played the ukulele. He briefly attended Truro Cathedral School and then, at the age of 13, he joined Truro School as a day boy.
At the age of 15, Taylor became a member of The Reaction, a very busy semi-pro rock band formed mainly of boys from Truro School, who played all over the South West.
Roger told me about his time as a budding rock star while at the school: “I was in bands all through my teens. I must have played every town and village hall in Cornwall and some in Devon.
“It kept me sane really – while at school it was a way of earning money and, of course, Truro School was an all-boys’ school back then so it was also a way of meeting girls ….”
He added: “We played a lot of soul, a lot of covers of popular stuff at the time like Otis Redding and James Brown. I went on to Jimi Hendrix and Dylan, the sound got more progressive.
“The first serious band I had while at school was The Reaction. We played everywhere from the Blue Lagoon in Newquay, Liskeard and Bodmin Town Hall right down to St Just Town Hall and places in Hayle. I also remember early gigs at the Princess Pavilion in Falmouth and Truro City Hall and its annexe. A lot of strange people used to come to the City Hall.”
Leaving Cornwall he moved to London to study dentistry and there he met Brian May and Freddie Bulsara. Their first band Smile regularly performed in Cornwall and once they changed their name to Queen and Freddie became Mercury they continued to play their first shows in and around Truro.
He still has a house in Helford near Falmouth.
4. Morwenna Banks
The former head girl at Truro High School for Girls was a member of the Cambridge Footlights from 1981 to 1983 and has gone on to a successful comedy, acting and writing career.
She appeared in the Channel 4 comedy sketch show Absolutely, and wrote, produced, and appeared in the British ensemble film The Announcement. She voices Mummy Pig, Madame Gazelle and Dr Hamster in the children’s series Peppa Pig.
Morwenna returns regularly to Cornwall with husband David Baddiel to their home on the Lizard Peninsula.
5. Michael Grandage
Theatre director Michael Grandage was born in Yorkshire but his family moved to Penzance and he was educated at Humphry Davy School, where, aged 16, he formed his own theatre workshop, and at 17 he was made head boy.
He once told The Guardian he had wonderful teachers in music, art, English ‘and life’. He had a strong interest in music. He played the French horn for years (it now gathers dust in his attic).
Every morning, as a schoolboy, he would walk from Newlyn to Penzance: “I looked out to the ocean – the view changed every day. I’d think about what was out there, beyond Cornwall. And the sea invited my imagination to go to extraordinary places.”
He later trained as an actor at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. From 2002 to 2012 he was artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse in London. He is currently artistic director of the Michael Grandage Company.
Whenever he can, he comes back to Cornwall.
6. Robert Shaw
The actor is best known as playing the grizzly Quint in Jaws and played the villain in the James Bond film From Russia With Love .
He was born in Lancashire. His mother, Doreen (née Avery), was a former nurse born in Swaziland and his father, Thomas Shaw, was a doctor. When he was 12, his father, an alcoholic, took his own life. The family then moved to Cornwall, where he went to Truro School.
7. John Rhys-Davies
The renowned character John Rhys-Davies, who embodied the character of Gimli in all three Lord of the Rings films, also went to Truro School.
Born in Carmarthenshire in Wales, and known as HJ Davies at the time, he was sent to Truro School, where he became head boy in 1962-1963.
He has also acted in The Untouchables, Robin of Sherwood, The Living Daylights, and voiced characters in The Jungle Book 2, SpongeBob SquarePants and Justice League.
8. Sir Ben Ainslie
So celebrated is five-time Olympic medallist Sir Ben Ainslie at Truro School that they named their sports centre after him.
But the sailor, who trained at Restronguet, admitted in his autobiography in 2009 that he was bullied in school and it was the bullies that made him obsessed with winning.
Ainslie said he was picked on by his 10-year-old classmates when a skin photosensitivity, which he continues to suffer from, caused his face to blister and break out in a rash.
“It began at my first school and continued through to the main school as I stuck with the same pupils over a seven-year period and they never gave me a break,” he wrote in Close to the Wind. “It made me ferociously determined to be good at something to prove to myself that I could be a success and that there was more to life than school and being picked on.”
9. Richard James
Richard James, also known as electronic dance pioneer the Aphex Twin, grew up in Lanner and went to Redruth School.
He put out his first record, Analogue Bubblebath, in 1991, although he had actually been making music, building his own synthesisers and writing his own computer programmes, in his bedroom from the age of 14, hence the title of his debut album, Selected Ambient Works 85-92.
He once told The Guardian he was suspended from school for hacking, saying if he hadn’t got into music, he would have been a hacker.
“I’d have gone to jail for computer hacking,” he said. “I was already getting into loads of trouble for that. I got suspended from school for hacking. It’s so addictive, it’s like gambling. I’m a really good hacker, but I’m not a sensible person, so I’d have got caught if I’d gone down those lines.”
His sister Julie James is Wales’ Minister of Climate Change.
10. Sam Palladio
The star of Nashville and Humans was brought up in Penzance and went to Hummphry Davy School and then Truro College.
He said he planned to be a biologist and started at college doing biology and chemistry and photography and music. He got about three months into his college studies and realised he couldn’t understand the science and the maths and decided to drop it and take up drama.
“I didn’t do amateur dram. I was doing the dance stuff at that time. I performed at the Minack and those places with dance groups. I did the Bosdcastle Break A Leg Dance Competition and I won it but they put the wrong name on the cheque.”
11. Helen Glover
The Olympic rower was born in Truro in 1986 and grew up in Penzance, where she went to Heamoor Primary School and then Humphry Davy School before winning a scholarship to Millfield School in Somerset for her running and hockey prowess.
She participated in a variety of sports: as a junior she ran cross-country and middle distance track both for Cornwall and internationally for England, winning a junior international gold medal for England in cross-country running; she played tennis for Cornwall; she swam for Cornwall; she captained the Cornish hockey team; and by the age of 14 was part of the England Satellite Squad for hockey. Her best UK athletic rankings were 23rd for 800 metres, 9th for 1500 metres and 18th for 3000 metres.
Her former PE teacher Kate Finch said: “She always had this phenomenal all-round talent, totally committed and totally reliable. You knew if you had Helen in any team you were safe. She took part in everything. She excelled in hockey and cross country. Helen was so hard working and so coachable. If you asked her to do something, she would do it.”
Helen said “When I was at school I was quite strong-minded, I started up sports teams, I played in the boys’ football team. I wouldn’t let anyone tell me I couldn’t do anything.”
12. Susan Penhaligon
The actress was known for her role in the drama series Bouquet of Barbed Wire (1976) and for playing Helen Barker in the sitcom A Fine Romance, and was known as the “British Bardot” in the 1970s.
A second cousin of the late Liberal MP David Penhaligon, she was born in 1949 in the Philippines, where her father, who was from Cornwall and had gone to Truro Cathedral School, worked for Shell.
She moved to Cornwall aged 6 and when her parents’ marriage ended, her mother, an actor, took her to live in St Ives, among the St Ives school of artists.
“It was all very bohemian,” she recalls. “One of my earliest memories is the smell of oil paint and wine, because they would drink, paint, drink, paint.”
Susan went to primary school in Cornwall, but left aged 11 when she was sent to boarding school in Bristol.
“I’d failed my eleven plus and my mother being a little bit of a snob didn’t want me going to the local secondary modern school which she considered to be rough,” she added. “I suffered with terrible homesickness at boarding school. I use to imagine the sound of the trees outside the dormitory window was the sound of the sea in St Ives. But looking back, it was at The Collegiate School that my confidence in acting started.”
13. Nick Darke
Nick Darke was both a playwright and a lobster fisherman. He was born in Bodmin in 1948 and lived in Padstow and Porthcothan.
He was educated at St Merryn Primary School and Truro Cathedral School, from where he was expelled for getting drunk on sports day. He then attended Newquay Grammar School and subsequently trained as an actor in Kent.
His plays, often performed by Cornwall’s Kneehigh Theatre, have become modern classics. The Riot, Never Say Rabbit In A Boat, The King of Prussia and The Dead Monkey are among his best known works.
14. John Nettles
The Bergerac and Poldark actor was born in St Austell and attended St Austell Grammar School.
He once told The Express: “At school I was called Stinger. That quickly turned into Stinker, so I was at pains to get that excised from popular discourse!”
A Manchester born ‘war baby’, he’d moved with his adoptive parents, Eric and Elsie Nettles, to Cornwall.
“It was the making of me, they were a lovely couple. We were exquisitely poor, but because everyone else was too we never noticed it.
“Looking back at the photos of me and my peers in the mining district of Cornwall I was amazed by the poverty, the sheer grinding awfulness of it from the economic point of view, but of course from another point of view it was utterly wonderful. We had the beaches, we had the sea, we had the countryside and we had a thriving community, which didn’t depend on money but depended on good will and affection which doesn’t exist quite so much these days.”
One of his favourite teachers at St Austell County Grammar School was Frederick Farnham-Flower.
“He introduced us to all kinds of literature, wonderful, wonderful literature, and taught it very, very well. Some people who teach poetry or Shakespeare, take the heart out of it by analysing it too much and teaching it in a pedantic awful fashion, but he enthused us with a love of Shakespeare, he inspired a whole generation of people.”
15. Jack Nowell
The England and Exeter Chiefs rugby player went to Mount’s Bay School, Heamoor and then Truro College, where he took a BTEC in Sport Performance and Excellence. He originally played for the Cornish Pirates juniors before making his Premiership debut for Exeter Chiefs in November 2012 in a 27–23 win over London Irish.
16. John Curtice
Politics guru John Curtice, who was awarded a knighthood in the 2018 New Year’s Honours, grew up in St Austell where his mother Winifred was a councillor.
He has become a familiar figure to many thanks to regular television appearances explaining election results and why Britons voted the way they did.
John has said his mother was always very ambitious for him educationally and describes her fondly as having “a massive chip on her shoulder” because while she qualified to go to grammar school, as a girl she was prevented from doing so by her father, a widower, so she could stay at home and help care for the family.
John passed the entrance exams and qualified for a state-funded place at what he describes as a “minor public school”, Truro Wesleyan Middle Class College, then later Truro School.
He didn’t board and while he says there were various social divides at the school between those who were there because they could afford to pay and those that were there because they were bright, the biggest divide was between those that boarded and those that did not.
John won a school prize in 6th form, a book, ‘Butler and Stokes Political Change in Britain, Volume One’ and also remembers taking out A.J. Allan’s ‘The English Voter’ from the library which suggests an early interest in elections. He won a place at Magdalen College at Oxford to study politics.
17. Robert Duncan
Best known for his role as ridiculous TV news station manager Gus in classic 1990s comedy Drop The Dead Donkey, Robert was born and educated in St Austell.
He is currently back in Cornwall performing in the premiere of Fisherman’s Friends: The Musical at the newly reopened Hall for Cornwall alongside fellow St Austell (Roche) boy Edward “Kernow King” Rowe.
Robert has also appeared in Casualty and on radio, he appears in Old Harry’s Game (also written by Drop the Dead Donkey writer Andy Hamilton) as Satan’s sycophantic assistant Scumspawn.
18. Sir Patrick Vallance
The Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government has become a well-known face in the past 18 months when he has fronted televised Covid briefings alongside Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chief Medical Officer Chris Witty.
Educated at Truro School, from 1986 to 1995, Vallance taught at St George’s Hospital Medical School, where his research concentrated on vascular biology and endothelial cell physiology. In 1995 he was appointed Professor at UCL Medical School and in 2002 he became head of UCL’s Department of Medicine. From 2012 to 2018, he was President of Research and Development at global pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline.
19. George Eustice
Scion of the Trevaskis Farm family, Eustice was educated at Truro School and has been MP for Camborne and Redruth since 2010 and is currently Secretary for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Formerly a PR man, Eustice was David Cameron’s press secretary while the latter was leader of the opposition.
20. Zoie Palmer
Best known for her roles as Dr Lauren Lewis in the Showcase supernatural drama Lost Girl and as the Android in the SyFy science fiction series Dark Matter, Zoie was born and educated in Camborne before emigrating to Canada at the age of ten. She stars in this year’s Spiral: From the Book of Saw movie.
21. Ros Atkins
Truro School educated Atkins has become one of the key media figures during the Covid pandemic on his Outside Source programme on the BBC New Channel and World Service.
The show is renowned for its ‘state-of-the-art touch-screen technology’, making it seem as if cult ’90s comedy The Day Today has become a 21st century reality.
Atkins is the founder of the 50:50 Project, which aims to increase the representation of women in media content. He’s also possibly the only TV journalist to have been a DJ at the Womad festival.
22. Benjamin Luxon
One of the best known opera singers of his generation and proud Cornishman (who now lives in the States), Truro School educated Luxon was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1986 Queen’s Birthday Honours.
A member of Benjamin Britten’s English Opera Group, in 1971 Britten composed the title role of his television opera Owen Wingrave specifically for Luxon’s voice. Before retiring, he also had a long association with the English National Opera.
Another renowned opera singer, Alan Opie, attended Truro School. His performance in the title role of Verdi’s Falstaff earned Opie a nomination for the 1998 Laurence Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Opera. He was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2013 Birthday Honours for services to music
23. Nigel Terry
A member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, the late actor is best known for playing King Arthur in the 1981 film Excalibur.
Other notable film appearances included The Lion in Winter in 1968 with Katharine Hepburn, Peter O’Toole and Anthony Hopkins, and Derek Jarman’s Caravaggio in 1986, in which he played the title character.
After 30 years of living in London, Terry returned to reside in Cornwall in 1993. He died in Newquay of emphysema in 2015. In the absence of any surviving close family, his memorial service was organised by his friends, actors Maggie Steed and David Horovitch, in Truro in May 2015, attended by fellow actors and friends.
24. James Hawes
The TV director of such popular series as Doctor Who, Black Mirror, Snowpiercer, Penny Dreadful and many more says his successful career is down to his education at Truro School.
He told me: “I was really lucky at Truro School – partly because of drama teacher Watson Weeks, but I was also a chorister and I got on really well with the choir and music teacher Henry Doughty and Derek Burrell was an energetic, involved, musical head.
“I spoke at Watson’s funeral. I was able to say there were producers, actors, directors and drama teachers who couldn’t be there because they were working thanks to Watson.
“You look at the creative arts side of things and Truro School has done very well. You tend to think of Roger Taylor and Benjamin Luxon but there’s many, many more out there. John Rhys-Davies very much acknowledges his career to Watson. I owe the school a lot.”
The stand-up comedian was born in St Buryan and educated in West Cornwall. After leaving school, Geoff Rowe apprenticed as a carpenter and worked in the Levant tin mine. He joined the local operatic society in St Just, as a bass singer, and then started touring pubs and clubs in Cornwall, singing traditional songs and developing his comedy act.
His stage act crossed over to a national TV audience when he appeared on shows presented by Des O’Connor and Jim Davidson.
26. Paul Myners
The former chairman of the Guardian media group, Baron Myners CBE was the Financial Services Secretary (sometimes referred to as City Minister) in HM Treasury, the UK’s finance ministry, during the Labour Government of Gordon Brown.
Made a life peer, he now sits as a crossbencher in the House of Lords. He’s yet another ‘old boy’ of Truro School.
27. Laura Harper
Despite being a boys’ school until fairly recently in its history, let’s not forgot one of Truro School’s notable female pupils.
Harper is an English former international cricketer who played for the England women’s cricket team. At the time of her debut, she was the youngest player to have played for England.
28. Nigel Martyn
The former England goalkeeper was educated in the St Austell area and started playing amateur football for Cornish sides Heavy Transport FC, Bugle and St Blazey while working in a plastics factory and for a coal merchant, before beginning his professional career with Bristol Rovers in 1987 after he was apparently spotted by Rovers’ tea lady while she was on holiday.
He moved to Crystal Palace where he became the first £1 million goalkeeper in British football and was a member of the Palace side that lost the 1990 Cup Final and won the Full Members Cup in 1991. Subsequently, Martyn spent six seasons at Leeds United. Following three seasons at Everton, an ankle injury forced him to retire in 2006.
29. Rory McGrath
The comedian, television personality, and writer was educated at Redruth Grammar School before attending Emmanuel College, Cambridge.
He came to prominence in the comedy show Who Dares Wins and was for many years a regular panelist on the game show They Think It’s All Over. He acted in the sitcom Chelmsford 123 and appeared in the ITV reality show Sugar Free Farm.
30. Petroc Trelawny
The classical music radio and television broadcaster, who joined BBC Radio 3 in 1998, where he now presents the breakfast show, grew up on the Lizard Peninsula and attended Helston School.
In 2014, on the news that the Cornish were to be recognised as a national minority, Petroc wrote in the Daily Telegraph: “Abroad, when I explain where I am from, the inevitable response is: ‘So you are English.’ ‘No,’ I reply, ‘Cornish.’ I’ll accept British, or European, but being described as English is something that rankles with most Cornishmen.”
31. Phil Vickery
The son of a dairy farmer, Phil was born to Cornish parents in Barnstaple in Devon and was educated at Budehaven School in Bude, where he started his rugby career before moving to Redruth.
By the age of 16 he gained his first National Representative honour, being picked for the England Schools U16s group.
Given the nickname Raging Bull, he played in three Rugby World Cups, including as England captain in the 2007 tournament, and toured Australia and South Africa with the British & Irish Lions. He was a member of England’s World Cup winning squad in 2003, playing in all seven matches in the tournament, and is a former England captain.
32. Rick Rescorla
The hero of the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 was raised and educated in Hayle before leaving to join the Army.
He served as a British Army paratrooper during the Cyprus Emergency and a United States commissioned officer during the Vietnam War. He eventually rose to the rank of colonel in the United States Army.
As the director of security for the financial services firm Morgan Stanley at the World Trade Center, Rick anticipated attacks on the towers and implemented evacuation procedures credited with saving thousands of lives. He died while leading evacuees down the stairwells of the South Tower.
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Original posted at www.cornwalllive.com