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Meet the Old Portregians

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A few recollections from those who know Port Regis best - Old Portregians.

Sir Louis Blom-Cooper, QC, FKC (1935-39)

Sir Louis Jacques Blom-Cooper, QC, FKC (born 27 March 1926) is an author and lawyer specialising in public law and administrative law. He was educated at Port Regis, Seaford College, University of British Columbia, King's College London  the University of Amsterdam, and at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge.

Sir Louis was an academic at the University of London from 1962 to 1984. Prior to this he was a columnist for The Observer. He was Chair of the Mental Health Act Commission from 1987–1994 and a Judge in the Court of Appeal of Jersey and of Guernsey from 1988-1996.

He has chaired more than a dozen inquiries over the last decade including the Guns for Antigua scandal, and the Jasmine Beckford and Ashworth Inquiries. He sat as a Deputy High Court Judge on housing and judicial review cases until 1996. Sir Louis is well known for his regulatory work, particularly as Chair of the Press Council now the Press Complaints Commission.

In 1992 he was appointed by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland as the first Independent Commissioner for the Holding Centres. He held this appointment until April 1999. He was then called to the Bar of Northern Ireland and granted Silk in Northern Ireland. He was also counsel to the Saville Inquiry acting for the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association.

Sir Louis was involved in the foundation of Amnesty International in 1961, supporting Peter Benenson's idea for an appeal for amnesty for political prisoners. It was at his suggestion that Benenson wrote to David Astor, proprieter of the Observer to publicise the campaign. He also took part in a small committee of individuals who helped carry through the appeal which led to Amnesty International.

He is also a Patron of Prisoners Abroad a registered charity which supports Britons who are held overseas, and is a trustee of the Howard League for Penal Reform.

Daisy Lewis (1993–1998)

My time at Port Regis is something I want to have back. I want to do it again. And I want to appreciate it more than I did at the time. I can’t say that I found school easy- in fact Port Regis was probably the only school in the world that could have worked for me. I was not an ‘easy’ pupil, clever, insecure, and spiky, and school could have been a disaster for me- at Port Regis however I ended up a scholar and the winner of the Headmaster’s prize. What others might have seen as ‘difficult,’ the staff of Port Regis saw as unfulfilled potential. I cannot thank them enough.

I arrived at Port Regis in D form from London and was put through a year ahead of myself, eventually ending up in the scholars form Alpha; an idyllic intellectual environment of enquiry and free-thinking fostered by the magical Mr Holden. Throughout my education at the school I was stretched, inspired and disciplined in a perfect combination that kept me sharp but not pressured.  In the grounds of that school there was no potential talent or skill that I could have possessed that wasn’t encouraged, nurtured or refined. I won the Under 11 gymnastics championships because of the staff and facilities at the gym complex- a sport I didn’t even know existed previously. Indeed my back flips remain my trump card at parties!

The biggest effect on my life however was the discovery of drama at Port Regis. It was on the stage of Centenary Hall that I found my job/life/vocation/love/curse/calling . I cannot imagine anywhere else that I would have gained the confidence and stagecraft skills that I received there or seen my natural proclivities refined into something that was recognised nationally: I was encouraged to join The National Youth Theatre by Mrs Gordon the then drama head and from there find myself here. It all started because of Port Regis.

So thank you. Especially Mr Binnington, my long suffering tutor, Mr Holden ‘Oh Captain, my captain’, Mr Randall (for just getting it), Mrs Boarder for your icy cool and warm kindness, and Mrs Beaton for just being incredible, inspiring and an UTTER original. 

Rebecca Pudner (2003-2008)

I was at Port Regis from 2003-2008, before moving to Sherborne Girls and I am now reading Theology at Durham University. I am extremely proud to have gone to Port Regis and I see very clearly how it provided an incredible foundation for both my academic and sporting life.

I remember arriving from South Korea where my parents were living, aged 7, and the only full-border in my year, terrified. Yet within the hour, I had been swept up to join in games on the North lawn, typical of Port Regis, forgetting to ring my mother that evening. The school strongly encouraged us to get stuck in wherever possible, creating a tangible sense of community which transcended the separate school years. Alongside this was a healthy push to achieve your potential and this attitude is something that has (and will continue!) to remain with me. I am convinced that it is because of this vast array of sports and activities that I continue to play most sports, and as current Squash Captain at university I am extremely grateful! 

I think, for me, the best thing about Port Regis was the staff and the relationship they had with us. The high level of teaching was very clear, and I was very grateful to be so well-prepared for my scholarship exam in the A Form. It also provided an invaluable platform for when I arrived at Sherborne. More importantly though, I valued the atmosphere of care and encouragement which was shown - be it by the houseparents or the gap students - something which powerfully shapes your school life. I am so grateful to Port Regis for teaching me many important lessons and I am continuing to appreciate how invaluable these traits are today.

Verity Roberts (2001–2005)

I joined Port Regis as a day pupil in 2001, aged 9, but had already asked my parents if I could start boarding within the term. PR provided an incredibly rounded timetable of top quality teaching, great sports coaching and a myriad of extra-curricular clubs. Boarding life made PR more than a school – it was one huge family of friendly and motivated young people. I cannot overstate the quality of the academic teaching I received, and this provided an incredibly solid foundation for the full set of A*s I received at GCSE three years after leaving. In subjects like Latin, History and English, I had already been provided with so many of the crucial tools to succeed on an academic level at my next school, and it was the ambition PR had instilled in me that led me to apply for and attain an Honorary Sixth Form Scholarship at the Cheltenham Ladies’ College.

Surely the greatest tribute to our time at PR is the amazing adults my peers have now become. In my year-group in Alpha, the scholarship class, an astonishing percentage went to Oxbridge (I am grateful to live in the age of Facebook, which has made it easier to see everyone’s progress), and I myself am now reading for a Masters in Modern Languages at Oxford. Our secondary schools may have provided the direct platform to the universities and jobs we later went into, but we developed our love of learning and self-belief in our formative years at Port Regis, and this is what made us seize all sorts of exciting opportunities later on.

Today I still maintain my love of literature, gardening, team sports and instrumental music that defined my time at Port Regis.  Above all, it was a very happy place.

Amanda Seabrook nee Pearson (1981–1986)

I arrived at Port Regis in September 1981 aged 7, joining my brother Adam, who was two years older than me. There weren’t many girls when I started – only three in E form, but the numbers gradually increased as we moved up the school. We were all mad about gym, so spent most of our time in the newly opened Jowett Hall working hard on our splits and flick-flacks. We had great fun and freedom exploring the extensive school grounds, playing sport, music, drama, looking after our pet bunny rabbits/hamsters and were kept extremely busy at all times. 

My time at Port Regis was very formative. I learnt to be independent from an early age, to embrace challenges and get along with people. 30 years on and my oldest 2 children have just started at the school. While there are new impressive facilities, the school has not lost any of its charm. When I walk around the school I see children happily using the space in just the same way that we used to. Many traditions remain – letter-writing on a Tuesday morning, birthday tables, shadows, tutor groups, escaping bunny rabbits, to name a few – and new lovely traditions have sprung up. There is endless choice of activities, hobbies and entertainment ensuring that the children are kept busy and very happy. Being a parent is much easier than in our day – we are able to speak daily with the children (if they can spare the time), communication with staff, tutors and house parents is first class and advice is always available. We are even invited to come to assembly (in the Centenary Hall) and lunch before matches on a Saturday

William Wilson (2005-2010)

When I arrived at Port Regis, my parents were still living in Dubai with my younger brothers, who subsequently joined me at the school. I was at Port Regis from 2005-2010, moving on to Wellington College, and am currently in my second year reading History at Keble College, Oxford.

When I look back on my time at Port Regis it is one of overwhelming happiness. Generally exceptional academic teaching (I’m still amazed even English students at Oxford don’t know how to use a semi-colon Brian Holden-style), fantastic food and sport for hours every day, be it in games sessions or charging around in break times playing football, led to a perfect experience during the day for an active young boy who loved being challenged inside and outside the classroom.

However, one of the most valuable lessons I took from my time at PR was self-expression. I could get stuck into anything and everything I wanted and I was, somewhat remarkably in retrospect, always admired and encouraged for it. I remember I’d frequently go to games at the start of rec break and spend 45 minutes kicking on the rugby fields, as more and more of my friends turned up to join in!

These habits, and the confidence I was given as a result, undoubtedly helped me with an incredible year last year, in which I (somehow!) got into Oxford and won my first rugby Blue, won a national championship and captained Team England rugby sevens at the Commonwealth Youth Games. The moment when I came back to PR and found my picture on a new ‘OPR’ board was one of great pride, and an apt reminder that how I have grown up owes much to how this school grounded me. The lessons may take a while to bed in, but once you mature and really appreciate them, the value of schools such as Port Regis really begin to become more and more obvious!

Hilary Wells (née Dresser) 1976 - 1981

Hilary Wells (née Dresser) joined PR in September ’76, the first term girls were accepted.  

“I arrived at PR as the very first girl boarder. I had a room to myself and as a special privilege my older brother Guy, shared it with me for the first few weeks, to help settle me in. Life at PR was a lot of fun. At aged 8, I was a real tom boy and I loved nothing more than playing British bulldog, swinging in the trees and doing every sport available. We didn’t have any girls’ games in those days, as there weren’t enough of us even for a netball team, so I played football, hockey and cricket with the boys.  We had a lot of freedom but there were firm boundaries. We were taught to be polite and good manners were expected. 

My tutor was Chris Papps, known as 'Cecil’ and Mr Pritchard was the Headmaster. On Sundays, he would take us down by the stream for long walks with his dog Rex. I was taught piano by Mrs Watson and clarinet by Mr Stubbs – both of which I loved. Mr and Mrs Groves taught us gymnastics and Mr Pond athletics. At the weekends we’d run everywhere, back from church, around the school grounds and with so many boys to choose from, there was also the odd game of kiss chase! I left PR in 1981, having been made Head Girl, and was awarded a music and sports scholarship to Millfield School. 

When I left Millfield, I decided to try kayaking, it was my brother’s sport and by this time he was a junior international. I then chose my University, Kingston, due to its close proximity to The Royal Canoe Club in Teddington. Six years later, in 1992, I was selected to race for Great Britain at the Olympic Games in Barcelona where we made it through to the semi-finals in the K4 (4-women) 500m sprint event.  What an experience that was! I still, to this day, say that my proudest moment was walking out into the Olympic stadium, behind Sir Steve Redgrave, as part of the British team.  

 I graduated the same summer with a degree in Business Information Technology and then began my career working with large corporates, including IBM, SEEBOARD plc and Kingston University, in PR and Communications.    

I returned to PR just a month ago for a reunion.  We had so much reminiscing together and we are already planning to meet again. I would love to hear from anyone who remembers those few years when girls got on-board (’76 – 82).  

PR was my childhood and what a way to spend it! Competing against all the boys, as I did, I am still fiercely competitive and I believe I can achieve anything I set my mind to. As Mr Pritchard wrote in my diary, when I was aged 9… “As a woman thinks, so she is”.