“I remain sort of interested and slightly befuddled by my five years there. It’s such a rare existence. It feels a little bit like another time, another world.” – Damian Lewis, The Guardian, 2013
When we talked about Damian’s education, we talked about his early education at Ashdown House as well as his years at Guildhall School of Music and Drama. And we are now ready to dive into the five years, between ages 13-18, Damian spends at a school that has been around for almost six centuries and is very well-known for educating generations of aristocracy, prime ministers as well as the great George Orwell whose talking statue Damian voices 🙂
Yes, today, we give you Damian Lewis at Eton College.
Damian, in his own words, “a responsible young chap” at Ashdown House, follows the footsteps of his grandfather and his brother William to Eton College at the age 0f 13. He observes in an interview with Esquire in 2013:
“And suddenly all these little kingpins arrived from their own schools. You’re surrounded by the best of the best.”
And the stiff starched collar he needs to wear turns out to be his most terrifying experience. Awww. Damian shares at the New Yorker Festival:
“I went to a school I’m sure you heard of, Eton College… We wore tails and stiff collars. We no longer had to wear top hats…
It’s one of the terrifying things in your life when you’re 13 and you just start trying to tie your collar for the first time… Then someone comes along and gives you a tip… (he starts mimicking): ‘That’s what you do, Lewis. You take your collar, when it’s too starchy, you just have to do this, and then it will really soften up for you.’ Ok, great, thanks. This guy is 17.”
“It was happy days.”
Let me just jump into this story for a second. I obviously did not attend a private school in the UK. But wearing uniforms all my elementary and secondary school education in Turkey, I am very familiar with those starched collars; they can, in fact, get stiff to a point that they can cut your neck. But yeah my school days were happy days, too!
Damian tells us at the same event that he could attend his OBE Investiture ceremony in his school uniform (should he have fit into it!) but because he wore a black morning suit for five years at Eton, he now had a new one made in blue. So you may think of a slightly younger version of what you see below as Damian at Eton 🙂
Damian gets over the terrifying part of his new school quickly and stands out as a natural school boy especially in extracurricular activities:
“I was, if you like, a successful schoolboy in that I had a degree of talent in all the required things that make you a success at school. I suppose other boys would look at me and say, of course, he did great at school. He did this and he was captain of that…”
We find out in his New Yorker profile though that the school is not without its challenges.
“I was in many respects perfectly suited to these kinds of schools. But it wasn’t always the sort of happy-go-lucky experience which I chuntered through chortling and enjoying every moment of it. It was not without its challenges—just being in a very competitive environment, feeling constricted, feeling that, at any moment, you must try to create bubbles of time, where it just stands still and elasticates itself, so you could create space around you as you’re driven from A to B to C to D relentlessly through the day.”
We all know Damian’s confidence is his signature and I think it may be one of the things this kind of education in a very competitive environment gave him. The Telegraph asks him in an interview whether he was confident with girls when he was a teenager.
“God no! My face expanded in about 13 different directions when I was about 16. I looked quite odd and I also had red hair, of course. I relied on making girls laugh. Perhaps I appeared confident, but I was like a hamster on a wheel, endlessly scampering round and round to stay on the same spot.”
A friend of his from Eton, however, gives a different account to Daily Mail about Damian’s popularity with girls and that “he was ribbed mercilessly after inadvertently becoming a ‘Deb’s Delight’.”
“Somehow his address got passed around, and the next thing Damian’s parents’ house was being inundated with these invitations for debutante balls. There were an awful lot of nice girls from the shires who wanted him at their parties.”
😀 😀 😀
In the meantime, Damian seems to show some real interest in figuring out adult relationships. Lauren Collins talks to Charles Milne, Damian’s tutor at Eton, as she writes Damian’s profile for the New Yorker.
“Charles Milne, Lewis’s tutor, recalls him as a “very confident without being cocky young guy,” with “a natural easy informality in dealing with adults.” At the end of Lewis’s final year of school, his dormitory burned. He was billeted at Milne’s house. “Having him there made me aware that he had this sort of emotional maturity,” Milne recalled. “He would want to know about my love life, about whom I was going out with—at the stage of the relationship I’d got to, why wasn’t I doing this or that? It wasn’t just a schoolboy’s idle curiosity in order to find out information and then going to go share it with his mates. It was a real wanting to understand.” Milne saved a note that Lewis, per Eton tradition, sent him upon leaving school. “Sir/Charles/Mate/Nanny/Mummy, etc,” it read. “I’m beginning to piece you together, the Milney puzzle (which you’ll hate me claiming any knowledge to), but just remember . . . I’m working on you.”
He also has his first experience with feminism, too. Damian tells in a 2006 interview with The Independent:
“I remember feeling this overwhelming sense that one had to be sensitive to female preoccupations. Which is good and a natural part of one’s education, but there was a sense that we were all trying too hard to find out exactly how to be ‘new men’. Meanwhile, feminism was going through what many feminists would agree was a bit of a wrong turning: there was this idea that you had to behave like a man and be a ball-breaker to be empowered. Whereas today I think women realise they can use their own femininity, their own womanliness even, in a very powerful way.”
It seems he eventually figures out feminism and we are proud that he is married to a true feminist.
On the school front, he decides he does not want to follow the Eton tradition of going into the government, the law or the military. It is interesting that Damian, who would later brilliantly brought to life several soldiers on small and big screen, does not have any interest in joining the school cadet force. He explains it with his real interest in flawed characters:
“I rejected it because the last thing in the world I wanted to be was a soldier. You get to play the hero, which satisfies you on a purely egotistical level – but you get to play someone who is imperfect, which is real and so interesting. There are arenas in which that type of personality is elevated – the theatre of war being an obvious example.”
Then what does this young man want to do?
“I realised I just wanted to be acting and playing guitar and playing football and cricket. Academically, I slowed to an almost grinding standstill.”
Ah, don’t say that! As someone who has always been the Hermione of her class, it breaks my heart, Damian 😀 😀 😀 That said, it is not surprising at all that he stands out in cricket (see team picture below, is it me, or does Damian stand out? :D), football, and acting.
We have recently found out about Damian “Diego” Lewis playing football at Eton. When Damian appeared on the BBC’s The One Show along with Lee Mack to talk about Soccer Aid, Alex Jones and Matt Baker, the presenters of the show, surprised Damian with a 1986 copy of Eton College Chronicle talking about our guy’s talent in football! 😀
“There you go! And he became an actor. Who could have guessed it?”
Now, let us stop for a second and talk about Damian “Diego” Lewis! It is year 1986, and if you are a football fan and if you have lived long enough, you know which Diego we are talking about, don’t you? Diego Armando Maradona is one of the best football players that has ever played the game and the reason why I have been supporting Argentina in the World Cup since I was 10! The 1986 World Cup was the World Cup of Diego Maradona! The goal he scored against England in the quarterfinals is one of the most memorable moments of the World Cup, aptly named Hand of God! 😀 Maradona led Argentina to its Second World Cup that year and I do not think any football player has dominated the World Cup or any other Cup for that matter the way he did in 1986. So that is THE Diego Damian was named after! 🙂
At age 16, he forms his own theater company at Eton: The Chameleons. They put on a production of The Long And The Short And The Tall and Damian also plays Wackford Squeers, the headmaster of the Dotheboys School in a production of Nicholas Nickleby. He tells a funny anecdote about this production in an interview with Metro:
“I remember when I was doing Nicholas Nickleby, James Archer (Jeffrey Archer’s son) came to see me at the interval and said “my father would like to see you after the show.” It felt rather as if I had been summoned by the Queen and I was cocky enough to think, ‘Who the hell is he to summon me?’ But anyway, I went, of course, and he said, ‘You are going to be a star and I want front row seats to your first performance in the West End.’ And, of course, I did play him later on. It was rather weird.”
And he shares with The Guardian in 2002 that the production of Nicholas Nickleby at Eton was the moment he knew what he really wanted to do.
Damian talks to Lauren Collins for his New Yorker profile:
“Precocious or not, I had a sense that I had had an intensive engagement with the highest end of the educational system, and, unless I was going to go to Oxford or Cambridge, I was going to be at a university or a college that was going to be sort of less good, less interesting than where I’d been for the past five years.”
He tells a bit more to Esquire:
“Eton is an extraordinary place. And it’s interesting because unless you’re going to Oxford or Cambridge, you feel a bit like you’ve been to the best university already. Because the facilities are second to none. The history, the place, the sense of belonging to a tradition – you can’t beat it.”
He spends much of his last week at Eton just walking around.
“Soaking it all up, just thinking ‘God, it’s not going to get any better than this’..”
And when his mom says, “I’d rather you went to drama school to do something you love than go to university and get a second-rate degree in something you haven’t loved doing”, Damian skips university with his parents’ blessing, applies to drama schools and enters Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He talks about his parents supporting his choice of career in an interview with Channel 4:
“They were brilliant, and oddly supportive. They had seen me on stage at that point. A group of us put on a play at school, and my parents saw me, and I think they decided that it wasn’t going to be a complete waste of time. And so in the last two years, when I should have been working for my A levels, I decided that I wanted to go to drama school. I’d stopped working, and my shocking A level results reflected that. So I was only going to go off to a not very exciting university anyway, and so I went to drama school. My mum said “Go, with our blessing.” And what she really meant was “And that means you can stay at home with me for another three years.” I grew up in London, so I lived at home throughout drama school. It was a very un-studenty three years. I went back to a nice family house every night where, if I was lucky, mum had left out a fishcake.”
Final word goes to Damian: How would he describe his education over all? He shares in a recent interview with The Guardian:
“One thing that kind of education teaches you is community living: there’s little retreat. That’s why people come out of it and talk about lifelong friendships forged in the furnace. The cut and thrust of a successful school can be very bonding. I was always encouraged to be on teams at sport; I got a lot from that. Would I send my son to Eton? I might.”
Next week: Damian Lewis at Eton College – Part II