Both Charles and Andrew were sent to Gordonstoun, a tough boarding school on the remote, windswept north coast of Scotland that their father, Prince Philip, had been to. For Charles, it was another attempt to toughen him up so that he would be fit to be heir to the throne.
There, the sensitive youth would have to endure freezing temperatures. The classrooms were unheated and, in the belief that fresh air was good for you, the dormitory windows were left wide open while the boys slept, winter and summer.
Charles was assigned to Windmill Lodge, a long, narrow, stone-and-timber building with an asbestos roof and bare wooden floors. It was a temporary building supplied by the RAF which had never been replaced. There were 14 hard wooden beds to a dorm and bare lightbulbs hung from the ceiling.
Charles’s bed was under a window and in winter, he often woke to find his bedcovers encrusted with frost or even snow. When it rained, he would have to gather up his bedding and sleep on the floor in the centre of the room. Each day there was a pre-dawn run through the countryside — shirtless and in shorts, even when it snowed — followed by an icy shower.
‘Charles was a very polite, sweet boy — always incredibly thoughtful and kind, interested in art and music,’ the Queen’s cousin and confidante Margaret Rhodes said. ‘But his father interpreted this as weakness, and the Queen believed he knew what was best.
Charles was assigned to Windmill Lodge, a long, narrow, stone-and-timber building with an asbestos roof and bare wooden floors. Pictured: Prince Phillip (left), Charles (centre) and family friend Captain Iain Tennant (right)
Charles’s bed was under a window and in winter, he often woke to find his bedcovers encrusted with frost or even snow. Pictured: Prince Charles and Iain Tennant on his first day at Gordonstoun
Each day there was a pre-dawn run through the countryside — shirtless and in shorts, even when it snowed – followed by an icy shower. Pictured: A Gordonstoun schoolroom
‘Gordonstoun was supposed to “make a man out of him”, although I never really understood what that meant.’
Charles himself had wanted to go to Charterhouse, where the few friends he made at Cheam were headed. But he did not have a say. Gordonstoun was supposed to draw him out of his shy and reticent disposition. He would become more self-assertive. And, of course, Philip had been happy there.
But Philip had been an obscure foreign prince, not heir to the throne, and anyone who befriended him would not be seen as a boot-licking sycophant. When Charles walked down corridors, he would be greeted with loud sucking sounds.
And there was bullying. Once, after taking a shower, the 13-year-old Prince was pounced on, tied up and shoved into a wicker laundry basket, which was hoisted on a hook on the wall and blasted with freezing water.
His tormentors left him hanging there, naked and shivering, for half an hour until a staff member heard his plaintive cries. At night he would be pummelled in the darkness with pillows, shoes and fists until he dreaded going to bed.
The headmaster was a sadist who encouraged the older boys to pick on the younger ones, extorting money and food from them. After the housemasters had gone to bed it was a free-for-all. The custom was to haze new boys by taking a pair of pliers to the flesh and twisting until the skin tore. The worst of it occurred at Windmill Lodge and Prince Charles got the worst of the worst. Having been told not to pick on him, the boys enjoyed it all the more.
It was also open season on the rugby field, with boys boasting that they had punched the future King of England. On one occasion he ended up with a broken nose. Despite what his father had tried to teach him, Charles did not put up a fight.
Nor did he complain about the bullying, for fear that it would get worse. He sought solace in long walks in the countryside or seeking refuge in the art room, but this hardly helped. He was shunned.
Gordonstoun (pictured) was supposed to draw him out of his shy and reticent disposition. He would become more self-assertive. And, of course, Philip had been happy there
The headmaster was a sadist who encouraged the older boys to pick on the younger ones, extorting money and food from them. Pictured: Prince Charles (centre) arrives with his father Prince Philip (left) and Iain Tennant (right) on his first day at Gordonstoun
Charles sought solace in long walks in the countryside or seeking refuge in the art room. Pictured: Prince Charles meets two of the school’s top students, head boy, Peter Paice (left) and head boy of Windmill Lodge, Dougal McKenzie (right)
One schoolmate said: ‘How can you treat a boy as just an ordinary chap when his mother’s portrait is on the coins you spend in the school shop, on the stamps you use to post your letters home, when a detective trails him wherever he goes?
‘Most boys tend to fight shy of friendship with Charles. The result is that he is very lonely. It is this loneliness, rather than the school’s toughness, which must be hardest on him.’ Another contemporary said: ‘Charles was crushingly lonely for most of his time there. The wonder is that he survived with his sanity intact.’
Getting off campus did not help either. On a school trip to the Isle of Lewis, he was spotted by a crowd and sought sanctuary in a bar. When asked what he wanted to drink, he remembered he once had a cherry brandy while out shooting at Sandringham and asked for one. He was 14.
The next day the Press was full of tales of his underage drinking. Charles was mortified, terrified he had embarrassed the Queen. In tears, he called her. But she was unruffled. ‘It will do him good,’ she said. ‘He learnt the hard way.’
But things got worse when his protection officer carried the can and was sacked. ‘I have never been able to forgive them for doing that,’ Charles said, ‘because he defended me and he was the most wonderful, loyal, splendid man. It was atrocious what they did.’
A family friend, Sir Iain Tennant, and his wife Lady Margaret had an estate near by and invited him over to play the cello, which he had been learning. He was fairly awful and it was embarrassing for all concerned, but these visits gave him some respite from the school. Even so, the Tennants heard him sobbing his heart out in his room at night.
Charles hated Gordonstoun even more than Cheam, calling it ‘Colditz in kilts’. But again, his letters home, begging to be released, fell on deaf ears. The Queen was now lavishing her affection on his younger siblings, leaving Charles feeling isolated and unwanted.
When Charles returned home for the holidays, he would rush to the nursery to spend time with Andrew, Edward and his beloved nanny, Mabel Anderson. Then, when it was time to return to school, he vanished. He would be found crying in his room or reading a bedtime story to Andrew, on whom he then doted.
Charles hated Gordonstoun even more than Cheam, calling it ‘Colditz in kilts’. Pictured: Prince Charles in his final year at Gordonstoun
There was nothing Charles could do to please his father. When, aged 13, Charles proudly announced that he had killed his first stag, Philip upbraided him in front of guests at lunch for some minor infraction
It was leaving Mabel that upset him most. ‘He said goodbye to his mother as a courtesy,’ said a footman, ‘if she gave him the time and wasn’t busy doing something more important. But he loved Mabel and when he said goodbye to her, he was genuinely sad.’
The stickler was, of course, Prince Philip, who was hell-bent on stiffening his son’s spine. He would hear none of his complaints about his treatment at school and urged him to be steadfast.
There was nothing Charles could do to please his father. When, aged 13, Charles proudly announced that he had killed his first stag, Philip upbraided him in front of guests at lunch for some minor infraction. One visitor remembered tears welled into his eyes with a whole table of people watching.
Another accused Philip of ‘belittling’ his son, perceiving that the Duke thought his son was ‘a bit of a wimp, and Charles realised what his father thought, and it hurt him deeply’. Asked how Charles felt about his father, a senior courtier said: ‘He was frightened of him.’
Then there was the size of his ears, about which he was ceaselessly teased at school. The Queen and Prince Philip would have nothing done about them, despite the urgings of Charles’s trusted mentor, Lord Mountbatten. But even he made it worse by once telling Charles: ‘You can’t possibly be king with ears like that.’
When the school put on a production of Henry V, Charles failed to get the title role he coveted. He did, though, get to play Macbeth, a role he saw as close to his heart. His father laughed during the performance and likened Charles’s acting to The Goon Show.
Philip was not impressed by his son’s interest in the arts, nor the comfort he got from religion. He must be toughened up at all costs.
So for six months, Charles was sent to Timbertop, the wilderness survival programme run by Geelong Church of England Grammar School in the hills near Melbourne. ‘It will put some steel in him,’ Philip said, ‘or I simply give up.’ Charles had no say in the matter.
Charles was sent to Timbertop, the wilderness survival programme run by Geelong Church of England Grammar School in the hills near Melbourne. Pictured: Prince Philip jokes with his son Prince Charles, 17, on the way to the plane which took the young prince on the first leg of his trip to Timbertop
When Charles returned from Australia, he was scarcely recognisable. He was fit, tanned and confident. Pictured: Prince Charles steps off plane after arriving at Sydney on his way to Timbertop
When Charles returned from Australia, he was scarcely recognisable. He was fit, tanned and confident. Much to Philip’s surprise, his son was now a far more formidable foe on the polo field, having practised with some of Australia’s leading players.
The Duke had given him his first polo pony before he went to Gordonstoun, though constantly criticised his performance. ‘He was just brutal,’ a teammate said, ‘singling Prince Charles out at every turn.’
But now Charles found himself on the winning side against a team captained by his father. ‘Was Prince Philip finally proud?’ a teammate was asked. ‘Hard to tell,’ he replied. ‘Never heard him say it if he was.’
After Timbertop, Charles found himself better suited to life back at Gordonstoun. He worked his way up to Guardian — the title the school gave head boy — though he proved inept at imposing the discipline on miscreants that was required. He was too kindly. He would leave Gordonstoun without a tinge of regret.
Andrew’s experience of Gordonstoun was very different from his older brother’s. He once said, comparing himself to Charles: ‘Because I haven’t been the centre of attention, I’ve been able to lead my own life.’
Like Charles, Andrew did not shine academically and said of his alma mater: ‘The beds are hard and it’s all straw mattresses, bread and water — just like a prison.’ But Andrew was made of sterner stuff. Besides, the regime had loosened considerably since Charles’s time. The early morning run was now more of a saunter and there were hot showers as well as cold.
The rooms were centrally heated and carpeted. Corporal punishment had been curtailed. Discipline was taken on trust. Punishment was measured in minutes — two minutes for talking after lights out, three for being late for assembly, ten for smoking behind the bike sheds.
At Gordonstoun, Andrew achieved a royal first. Joining the school’s Air Training Corps, he learnt to fly a glider at nearby RAF Milltown — something neither his father nor brother had done at school
Andrew was gifted with a thick skin. His sense of humour and easy charm soon made him friends
The accrued time had to be spent on cross-country walks thinking ‘pure’ thoughts, rather than on any preferred leisure activity. The punishment was not supervised and pupils were on their honour to do it. But it was understood that if you had any sense, you’d skive off.
Andrew got his fair share of stick. Other pupils called him ‘boastful’ and ‘big-headed’. One said: ‘He had a bit of the “I am the Prince” about him when he arrived. He soon had it knocked out of him. The ribbings he got were unmerciful. He soon caught on.’
Andrew was gifted with a thick skin. His sense of humour and easy charm soon made him friends. Rather than be a loner like Charles, he joined in and became the leader of the pack.
‘He has no time for sycophants and if anyone tries to take the mickey out of him, he fights back,’ said a master. ‘He’s just as good with the verbals as with his fists.’
Of the two brothers, it was Andrew who was the sportsman. He played hockey, cricket, football and rugby for the school team. His mother had also taught him to be a skilled card player and he excelled at backgammon.
During the holidays, he learnt to ski in Switzerland. His parents had learnt a lot since Charles first took to the slopes and was besieged by the Press. They smuggled Andrew out to the ski resorts in almost total secrecy.
He took a three-week school trip to France to brush up his French under the name Andrew Edwards. Charles would never have got away with such anonymity. Even Andrew’s tutor at a Jesuit College in Toulouse didn’t know who he was. Asked about his parents, he said: ‘My father’s a gentleman farmer and my mother does not work.’
At Gordonstoun, Andrew achieved a royal first. Joining the school’s Air Training Corps, he learnt to fly a glider at nearby RAF Milltown — something neither his father nor brother had done at school. To get his wings, he had to perform a solo circuit of the airfield. When he landed, he gave a thumbs-up to waiting photographers. He had got one up on his brother.
Another major change that Gordonstoun had undergone since Charles’s day was that it had become co-educational.
When Andrew arrived, aged 13 and tall for his age, he immediately made for a striking blonde, engaging her in conversation, to the evident envy of the other new boys.
The girl concerned was 16-year-old Amanda Knatchbull, granddaughter of Lord Mountbatten. That is, his cousin.
A woman’s magazine called her ‘gorgeous’, while the girls at school called him ‘dishy’. His popularity with the girls provoked jealousy among the other boys, who began to call him ‘bumptious’ and ‘something of a show-off’.
At 16, he went with his parents to the Montreal Olympics, where he stole the show. He was now as tall as his father and Charles had to concede that Andrew was the ‘one with the Robert Redford looks’. One Canadian newspaper called him ‘six foot of sex appeal’.
This boosted his already dizzying self-confidence. He flirted with the female competitors in the Olympic village and took a shine to a bubbly blonde named Sandi Jones, who was assigned to mind him. Charles could only look on awkwardly. Having lived a near monastic existence at school, he was still not at ease with women. At university, one girl dubbed the 18-year-old Charles ‘naive and old-fashioned’. He was 20 when another called him ‘a sweet virgin boy’.
Andrew returned to Canada at the beginning of 1977 to attend a school near Toronto. When he arrived, dozens of young girls turned out at the airport. They screamed, blew kisses and chanted: ‘We want Andy.’ But the Press took against him, calling him ‘boorish and a snob’ after he asked: ‘Do you do Shakespeare here?’
Lakefield was run much along the lines of Timbertop, with an emphasis on outdoor life. There were sports, canoeing, kayaking, rock climbing and cross-country skiing. This suited Andrew. But it was a single-sex school, which did not.
Nevertheless, when he played rugby, girls turned out on the touchline to cheer his every move, wearing sweatshirts emblazoned with the slogans ‘I’m an Andy Windsor girl’ and ‘Andy for King’. His popularity with girls earned him the sobriquet ‘Randy Andy’.
He met up with Sandi Jones again and she taught him to do the Bump, a dance craze which involved the couple bumping their hips together suggestively. She recalled: ‘He wiggled and squirmed on the dance floor like any other teenager.’ This did not go down well with the other girls, who complained: ‘It was unfair that he had one girl all the time. A lot of us wanted to dance with him.’
On the ski slopes, he managed to ditch his protection officer, a Mountie, so he could spend time alone with Sandi. She said: ‘We talked about seeing each other again and it was left that he should write first. He’s absolutely great and we get on together fabulously.’
She complained there wasn’t much romancing under the eye of his bodyguards, ‘but we managed to give them the slip on occasions. Andrew can be extremely resourceful. He’s just an ordinary guy who wants to have a fun time with his girlfriend.’
Sandi’s mother was quick to pour cold water on the idea that young love was blooming.
‘They are both only 16,’ she said, ‘so any talk of true love would be absolute nonsense.’
However, Sandi spent a few happy weekends with him at a remote log cabin in northern Ontario. On one summer’s evening, as they sat in the silence of the wilderness, he asked her to marry him and run away with him to Gretna Green. But in their hearts they both realised it was an impossible dream.
His memento of his time in Canada was an oil painting that went on display in a Jubilee exhibition of royal painting at Windsor Castle. One art critic said it revealed ‘an adventurous sense of abstraction and composition’. Charles, of course, was a devotee of the watercolour. They were oil and water.
Everywhere he went, Andrew was besieged by teenage girls. America’s People magazine put him in its list of the ten best-looking men, and the American Bachelor Women’s Society named him one of the world’s most eligible bachelors, alongside Warren Beatty, John Travolta, John McEnroe and Woody Allen — possibly a bad choice, in retrospect. The society’s president said: ‘He’s much better looking than Prince Charles.’
Both his father and elder brother had been head boy, or Guardian, at Gordonstoun. Andrew was pipped at the post by Georgina Houseman, the first girl to become Guardian. This failure bothered him.
However, he was still a resounding success with girls and those he took out became known as Andy’s Harem. ‘Whose turn is it on the royal rota today?’ girls would ask.
One said: ‘He’s a great dancer.’ Another said: ‘He knows how to make a girl feel special.’
Yet another noted that he also knew ‘how to spread himself around’. ‘One minute he’s making you feel that you’re the only one that matters. The next minute, just as you really think you’re getting somewhere, he’s off with someone else.’
Georgina Houseman’s sister Lulu reported: ‘He had several girlfriends at Gordonstoun, as well as many friends who happened to be girls. His girlfriends were quite good for him because he took them fairly seriously and serious relationships are a steadying influence.’
Before Andrew left school, there were exams to take. Few expected much from him. Lulu Houseman said: ‘He didn’t shine at anything. He loved having a good time. In fact, the story that went round the school was that he failed some O-levels because he spent all his time reading trashy magazines and comics.
‘Having started school in the top stream, he gradually slipped down the rankings in all subjects except French, which he was very good at. He gave up Latin and went down a set in maths. This was partly because he was very talkative. If there was laughter in the refectory, Prince Andrew was bound to be the centre of it.’
Nevertheless, he passed six O-levels and three A-levels — taken under an assumed name to avoid accusations of bias. One more than the ostensibly intellectual Charles.
n Adapted from War Of The Windsors: The Inside Story Of Charles, Andrew And The Rivalry That Has Defined The Royal Family, by Nigel Cawthorne (Welbeck Publishing Group, £20), to be published on August 31. © Nigel Cawthorne 2023. To order a copy for £18 (offer valid to September 3, 2023; UK P&P free on orders over £25) go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3176 2937.