EDEN CONFIDENTIAL: Justin Webb’s bully hits out in ‘torturous’ Quaker boarding school memoir row
His gripping memoir has been lavishly praised, not least for its unsparing portrayal of bullying at Sidcot, his Quaker boarding school, in 1970s Somerset.
But I can reveal that BBC star Justin Webb now finds himself under fire from some of his contemporaries.
In a letter to Webb’s publisher — which has been copied and sent to Sidcot’s current headmaster — they take issue with his description of the school as a ‘place of despair’ and ‘a wrecker of already damaged lives’ where children were ‘tortured’.
Insisting that it ‘is not [a portrayal] we recognise’, they then allege: ‘We find it incomprehensible that a renowned and experienced BBC journalist should make claims upon a school that are so grossly exaggerated, irresponsibly inaccurate and, in most cases, simply untrue.’
BBC Radio 4 star Justin Webb finds himself under fire from some of his contemporaries
The Radio 4 Today presenter, 61, is having none of it. In his book, The Gift Of A Radio, he recounts how older boys brutalised younger ones, overturning their beds at night, ‘half-drowning’ them in ‘uniquely disgusting’ lavatories in the basement, and punching them in the showers.
Now, he tells me: ‘I remember one of the signatories punching me in the mouth outside the Quaker meeting house in my first term. I would have been 11 or so. He was much older. I can’t remember his exact words but they were to the effect of “We can do what we like with you”. And here he is, writing a letter.’
Webb adds: ‘It’s defamatory, saying that I’ve lied about the school, which is demonstrably untrue.’
To prove the point, he provides me with one of many letters of support.
‘I found your observations to be spot on,’ its author writes.
Webb recently returned to Sidcot at the headmaster’s invitation and was delighted to find it transformed. Unlike some of his contemporaries, it would seem…
Butter wouldn’t melt in the mouth of Dan Walker, but the Channel 5 newsreader was once grilled by the police over a suspected robbery.
‘I was coming back from a student party at a house full of dentists, and the person who owned the house had a supply of new toothbrushes and she said, ‘Would you like some toothbrushes?’ ‘ explains the former Strictly star. ‘I was a poor student, so I put them in my coat pocket.’
When police saw a ‘very large bulky lump’ under his jacket, they said: ‘What’s that? We’re looking for somebody who has robbed a pharmacy.’
He adds: ‘They did find the perpetrator, so I escaped.’
Rejection of the week
Thelma & Louise star Geena Davis has revealed the technique she used to fend off an unwanted proposal from Hollywood icon Jack Nicholson.
She says a note was slipped under her door when she was a model and aspiring actress, urging her to phone The Shining star, now 85.
‘So I said, “Hello, Mr Nicholson. This is Geena, the model. You called me?” He said, “Hey Geena. When is it gonna happen?”‘
Thelma & Louise star Geena Davis has revealed the technique she used to fend off an unwanted proposal from Hollywood icon Jack Nicholson
The alleged inquiry is said to have taken her by surprise. ‘I was like, ‘Oh no, why didn’t I realise this is what it was going to be about?” the 66-year-old actress says.
‘But then it came into my head what to say: ‘Uh, Jack, I would love to. You’re very attractive. But I have a feeling we’re going to work together at some point in the future, and I would hate to have ruined the sexual tension between us.’
‘He was like, ‘Oh man, where’d you get that?’ So it worked.’
She says a note was slipped under her door when she was a model and aspiring actress, urging her to phone The Shining star, now 85
Jimmy’s poet love casts a spell on fans
It didn’t take much for Led Zeppelin star Jimmy Page to fall for Scarlett Sabet, a poet 45 years his junior. And she’s having a similarly bewitching effect on those who hear her perform.
‘Sometimes I’ve had people come to my poetry readings who say, ‘I don’t normally like poetry, but that was really great’, and I take that as such a compliment,’ the 33-year-old tells me.
She’s been going out with the guitarist, 78, for eight years and collaborated with him on a spoken-word album, Catalyst, which was released in 2019.
It didn’t take much for Led Zeppelin star Jimmy Page to fall for Scarlett Sabet, a poet 45 years his junior
‘I find such freedom in my work and reading books,’ she says. ‘Part of the magic of stories is that you go on a journey, walk in someone else’s shoes and forget who you are; forget you’re even a woman and lose yourself.’
- Queen drummer Roger Taylor does not appear likely to follow the example of Sir Rod Stewart and rent a home for refugees. ‘What a wonderful thing for him to do,’ Taylor tells me at a party in London’s Soho. ‘He’s got enough [money], ain’t he? If you can afford it, it’s a wonderful gesture.’ Asked if he had the means to do it himself, the musician, 73, replies: ‘I am a mere pauper compared to Rod.’ Taylor is said to have a fortune of about £166 million.
- David Dimbleby’s distinguished career saw him anchor the BBC’s coverage of national events for four decades, but he still has one reason for remorse ahead of turning 84 next week. ‘My only regret is not having done Strictly Come Dancing five years ago when I was asked,’ he admits. ‘Not now — too late. Anyway, Strictly’s changed,’ he says on Iain Dale’s Book Club podcast. He would win backing from former judge Dame Arlene Phillips, 79. She told me earlier this month that older contestants should be competing for the glitterball trophy. ‘People should be dancing, even when they’re 80. It is time we had an older Strictly champion.’
The smart set’s talking about… Laetitia’s eco-engagement
The Marchioness of Blandford, Camilla Spencer-Churchill, can look forward to moving into Blenheim Palace, Britain’s only non-royal palace, set on a 2,000-acre estate in Oxfordshire.
But her younger sister, Laetitia Thorp, can expect somewhere a little more modest, albeit with unbeatable green credentials.
I hear that interior designer Laetitia, 31, has accepted a proposal from eco-homes designer Christian Evans, 31, whose firm, Arks, creates luxury properties that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Laetitia Thorp, 31, has accepted a proposal from eco-homes designer Christian Evans, 31, whose firm, Arks, creates luxury properties that reduce greenhouse gas emissions
‘We’re delighted,’ her mother, Philippa, tells me.
She shared this picture of Laetitia, an alumna of the £43,000-a-year Millfield School in Somerset, showing off her sparkler with Christian. He’ll feel at home with his future in-laws, as Laetitia’s father is architect James Thorp, and her mother is an interior designer.
Camilla, 35, wed George, the Marquess of Blandford, heir to the 12th Duke of Marlborough, in 2018. The reception was held at Blenheim, where Sir Winston Churchill was born.
Heartthrob Major’s wife reveals health struggles
Thrust into the spotlight by his royal duties — both at the Queen’s funeral and at the Proclamation of King Charles — Major Jonathan ‘Johnny’ Thompson has no shortage of female admirers.
But his head won’t be turned: the King’s equerry, 39, has been happily married since 2010.
He and his wife, Caroline, who have a four-year-old son, are now in the seventh house of their married lives — an inevitable consequence of Johnny’s duties as an officer in the 5th Battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland.
Caroline Thompson, 44, has contended with ‘struggles of her own’, which led her to discover how physical exercise and horses can ‘greatly help mental health’
In that time, Caroline, 44, has contended with ‘struggles of her own’, which led her to discover how physical exercise and horses can ‘greatly help mental health’.
She now has a key role with Horses4Health, which raises money for a number of equestrian charities.
Its patron is the Queen Consort, Camilla — one of Major Johnny’s fans, perhaps?
Tilly refuses to get rich quick
She was a hit on Strictly Come Dancing last year, has hosted the popular children’s show Matilda And The Ramsay Bunch on CBBC, and boasts a huge following on social media, but TV chef Gordon Ramsay’s daughter is in no rush to become a business mogul.
There was much talk about how she could make more than £300,000 from a clothing line, book deal and other endorsements, but accounts filed this week disclose that the business she set up, Tilly Ramsay Ltd, has assets of just £431 and owes £3,405. A friend tells me the debt is not owed to external creditors.
She was a hit on Strictly Come Dancing last year but TV chef Gordon Ramsay’s daughter is in no rush to become a business mogul
There’s no time to waste for Tilly, 20, to make her fortune, as her fiery father has made it clear that his five children will have to make their own way in the world, despite him reputedly being worth more than £150 million.
Fox ‘denied access’ to son on birthday
Laurence Fox, who was dropped by his agent after making a string of social media comments that critics deemed racist, has said he’s been prevented from speaking to his teenage son, who turned 14 yesterday.
The actor, 44, who played DS Hathaway in the ITV detective series Lewis, took to Twitter to highlight his separation from son Winston. ‘Kids need both parents,’ he declared.
The political campaigner is understood to be involved in fresh court proceedings over the custody of his two sons with ex-wife, actress Billie Piper, 40, whom he divorced in 2016.
She also has a child with her musician boyfriend Johnny Lloyd. A spokesman for Piper refused to comment.
Quote of the week
‘I did all the work and my brother got all the credit’
Hollywood legend Shirley MacLaine joked that she had enjoyed an even more active love life than renowned lothario Warren Beatty, according to fellow Downton Abbey star Hugh Bonneville.
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