The castle where future queens give up the royal act
The leafy lawns of a 12th-century castle perched on a breezy stretch of the South Wales coast played host to not one but two kings of Europe last weekend.
The purpose of the visit to St. Donatus by the royal families of Spain and the Netherlands was to graduate their daughters from UWC Atlantic College, a high school in a remote castle once owned by the media mogul William Randolph Hearst.
Under unusually bright blue skies on Saturday, Princess Alexia of the Netherlands, 17, smiled in a white linen pantsuit flanked by her parents, Queen Maxima and King Willem-Alexander (a former student of the Atlantic College itself) in a photo posted to Instagram.
Princess Leonor of Asturias, who is also 17 and heiress to the Spanish throne, wore a scarlet red button-up blazer dress with slit sleeves as she posed for selfies with her parents and younger sister Princess Sofia, who should start there in September. .
The scene reflected how Atlantic College, part of the United World Colleges group, has become the school of choice for many young royals. It is attracting more and more students who may have attended better-known places like Eton College in the shadow of Windsor Castle or the Institut Le Rosey on the shores of Lake Geneva in Switzerland, considered the boarding school the most expensive in the world.
Other recent alumni of the school, which educates students for their final two years of high school, include Princess Elisabeth, Duchess of Brabant, who is the future Queen of Belgium. She graduated in 2021 and continued her studies at Oxford.
The British press has wondered if the British royal family could break with tradition and send their own young heirs to a school that has recently trained several future queens of Europe.
An immutable tradition: discretion
While UWC may have a more updated atmosphere and program than its more traditional counterparts, it seems to subscribe to at least one very old – and very regal – convention: the art of being understated. The school did not respond to numerous requests for comment for this article and mostly seems to avoid speaking to reporters.
Tori Cadogan, editor of British society magazine Tatler, said Atlantic College’s appeal was largely tied to an optimistic ideology rooted in “deliberate diversity” and world peace. The school welcomes many children from royalty and other wealthy families, but there are also a significant number of less privileged students.
Tuition is expensive: around $82,000 for the two-year International Baccalaureate program.
Many students receive financial aid, however, including a large cohort of war victims or refugees receiving full scholarships. Their applications are submitted to the UWC National Committee, which then assigns students to United World College campuses around the world, possibly in Thailand, Costa Rica, Norway, or the United States.
Last week, the Dutch royal family announced that Princess Ariane of the Netherlands, the third and youngest daughter of King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima, would attend the United World College Adriatic near Trieste, Italy.
Atlantic College opened in 1962 – at the height of the Cold War – and the idea of making a diverse student body a priority came from Kurt Hahn (who founded Gordonstoun, King’s alma mater Charles). He decided that a new form of education, which emphasizes responsibility, internationalism and democracy, was needed to avoid another world war.
A statement on the school’s website states that the school’s mission is “to bring together young people from around the world to help create an atmosphere of peaceful coexistence between cultures and nations.”
Leave the Rolex at home
So what does a teenage princess do with her days at the Atlantic? According to the “A Day in the Life” section of the school’s website, classes run from 8 a.m. until just after 1 p.m., with the afternoons left open for community service in hospitals and schools. locals, as well as activities like kayaking, archery, planting. in the greenhouse or working on the school farm, or even serving on the school’s own lifeboat service. (According to the BBC, the widely used rigid inflatable lifeboat was invented by pupils at the school in the early 1960s.)
Cell phone reception is said to be appalling (probably much to the delight of teachers and parents). “EDW” (excessive displays of wealth) are prohibited, meaning no expensive watches or designer gear.
Louise Callaghan, an alumnus who is a Middle East correspondent for The Sunday Times, wrote a column in 2018 about her time at the school. She said it has forced many students to “get used to being around and getting along with people who are nothing like you.”
These included, she wrote, “refugees from West Africa, Britons from all walks of life, Californian hippies, religious Malaysians.” Learning to interact with such a diverse group, she said, “is a useful skill in life — one, I imagine, that you don’t gain in a normal private school.”
She also had a lighter outlook on her time there. Atlantic College, she wrote, was a bit like “a hippie Hogwarts.”