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Prince Philip: School life in north-east at Gordonstoun laid foundations of Duke of Edinburgh Awards scheme

Prince Philip’s connection to the north-east stretches back before he met the Queen and laid the foundations to arguably his biggest legacy – the Duke of Edinburgh Awards.

As a boy, he went to school at Gordonstoun near Elgin, which instilled in him his strong character, sense of duty and his life-long passion for the open waves.

Prince Philip doing boat maintenance at Hopeman Harbour while a Gordonstoun pupil.
Prince Philip doing boat maintenance at Hopeman Harbour while a Gordonstoun pupil.

During his five-year spell there he received the Moray Badge, which rewarded physical achievements, volunteering and expeditions.

The accolade would later inspire Philip to establish the Duke of Edinburgh Awards with Gordonstoun’s founder Kurt Hahn, which has now spread to 140 countries across the world and shaped the lives and careers of millions.

Prince Philip learning to sail at Hopeman Harbour.

Outdoor pursuits were ‘additional classrooms’

The prince himself described the Gordonstoun’s proximity to the Moray Firth and Cairngorms as being the equivalent of having “additional classrooms”, there to “open the eyes of young people to the wider world beyond school and home”.

And Gordonstoun’s current principal, Lisa Kerr, believes the opportunity went on to benefit countless others across the country and world.

He said: “Prince Philip was enormously shaped by Gordonstoun in many ways, but he also went on to shape Gordonstoun too.

Prince Philip: ‘A born athlete’ was in his element at Gordonstoun

“He was an enormously successful athlete as captain of the cricket team, he played hockey and developed his love of sailing, which is prestigious Navy career can be traced back to.

“He actually sailed one of our boats to Norway, which our pupils still do to this day.

“Gordonstoun really instilled a sense of service in him, and I think we saw that element of the school in his later life.

Prince Philip, pictured second from left, takes part in a historical pageant at Gordonstoun.

“When Kurt Hahn came to him about expanding the Moray Badge through his patronage into the Duke of Edinburgh Award it was really to reach more children.

“That all-round nature while developing people of tremendous character can be seen in the award and really does shine through to this day at Gordonstoun.

“Through the Duke of Edinburgh Award millions of children around the world have now got a little taste of Prince Philip’s time at Gordonstoun.”

Prince Philip legacy continues at Gordonstoun

Prince Philip joined Gordonstoun as a 13-year-old in 1934 in the year the school was founded and was the oldest surviving pupil.

During his time in the north-east he developed his love of sailing with trips from Hopeman’s harbour.

However, he excelled in all areas and in his final year became guardian, or head boy, while previously being a watcher, a precursor to Gordonstoun’s own Coastguard service.

Prince Philip at the opening of Gordonstoun’s new Coastguard tower in 1955.

He continued to be a passionate supporter of the school during his royal duties and most recently visited in 2014 to celebrate its 80th anniversary – when he insisted on joining the lunch queue with pupils instead of having his meal brought to him.

Later three of his children, Prince Charles, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward, would also attend Gordonstoun as well as two of his grandchildren.

Today his daughter, Princess Anne, continues to be the school’s warden.

‘Unique sense of fun and infectious optimism’

Most recently he gave his name to the Prince Philip Gordonstoun Foundation, which is an endowment fund opening access to the school’s education to children of all backgrounds, just two years ago.

Ms Kerr said: “Students and staff remember the Duke of Edinburgh as someone who made students feel at ease in his presence and who shared their love of Gordonstoun.

Prince Philip during a private visit to Gordonstoun in2014 to mark the 80th anniversary of the school.

“He had an immensely strong character, combined with a unique sense of fun, infectious optimism and strong sense of duty.

“More than anything, he understood and was hugely supportive of Gordonstoun’s educational ethos, of not only fulfilling academic potential but also of developing life skills through experiences outside the classroom.

“We are immensely grateful for his support over the years and his presence and support in the school’s life will be sorely missed.”

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