There has long been a tiny British contingent at the school, making up five per cent of its 400 pupils. Its intake hails from 63 countries, with no more than 10% of its students coming from any one country, to prevent a single nationality dominating.
Sir Roger Moore and Elizabeth Taylor sent their children there. John Lennon’s son Sean studied there too, as did the Duke of Kent and Winston Spencer Churchill, grandson of the wartime Prime Minister.
A science class at Le Rosey (Alamy)
But the days when it served an inter-continental upper-class elite are long gone.
“Le Rosey was different in the 1950s when I first came here, ” says Taki Theodoracopulos, the Spectator columnist who lives in Gstaad, home to one of Le Rosey’s two campuses. “Then all the kids were upper-class - Rainier and the Shah were looked down upon. It was mostly American. Then the Italians and the French came. And then, in the 1970s, the Arabs arrived.”
As the international mega-rich pour in, the school is losing its Euro-Anglo-American founding ethos.
“That’s why they’re recruiting the British, ” says Taki, whose son attended the school. “They want to get some Europeans, and the odd token Briton and American, but they can’t admit it.”
Some of that British sheen is supplied by Michael Gray, Le Rosey’s British headmaster, educated at a Liverpool grammar school.
Otherwise, the school is not only in another country, it might as well be on another planet as far as most people are concerned.
Institut Le Rosey Gstaad winter campus (Getty)
The winter term is spent in Gstaad, with lessons finishing by lunchtime so the children can hit the slopes for the afternoon. In spring, they head to the school’s Château du Rosey campus nestled on the site of a Gothic, 14th-century château in the village of Rolle on the shores of Lake Geneva.
The privately-owned institution is astonishingly well-equipped, with a shooting range, 1, 000-seat concert hall and an equestrian centre boasting 30 horses. Few other schools have their own 38-foot yacht on Lake Geneva, let alone a spa for stressed-out pupils to unwind in at the end of the long school day. Classes are in French and English, in a system called “à la carte bilingualism”. The teacher-pupil ratio is an enviable 1:5.
But for those who can afford the fees, perhaps none of this seems out of the ordinary.
“Seeing a helicopter land on the football pitches with a Russian pupil stepping out with his parents, I was somewhat shocked at the in-your-face parades of wealth, ” says Annabel, 25, who worked as a housemaster’s au pair at Le Rosey in 2008. “It is very different to a British boarding school - it is run like a business. One pupil had 'I AM RICH’ planted across his jumper. I felt the boys definitely wanted to prove their wealth in a more crass way than the girl pupils.”
Yet the school is at pains to deny that money is a divisive issue among its students.
“No one goes around, saying 'I’m richer than you’, ” Gray told the Times, “It’s completely unsnobbish. If people put on airs and graces they wouldn’t survive.”
Only those who can expect to get into university are offered a place (Alamy)
The school is also keen to stress it’s not just for those who have money but no brains. All the pupils sit official external examinations - the International Baccalaureate (IB) or the French baccalauréat. Only those who can expect to get into university are offered a place . And only one in three applicants is accepted.
“It’s certainly not academic, ” says Taki, “But the school does do its best to improve the kids. My son was happy there - and they are polite. My wife was going up in the ski lift the other day with three Le Rosey kids. One was Russian, one American, one Arab. They couldn’t have been nicer or more polite.”
Unsurprisingly, this rarefied elite ends up forming close bonds.
“I saw a lot of relationships, ” says Annabel, who now works in advertising in Australia. “Many of the boarding students were renting out pretty expensive hotel rooms in Gstaad for the weekend, where they could get up to mischief without adult or teacher supervision.”
Go to Le Rosey - or, even better, marry another Ancien Roséen, as Old Roseans are called - and you’re set up for life. There’s an Anciens Roséens alumni programme and a strictly private directory that lets you network with other super-rich old boys and girls.
With that exclusive alumni network, along with the school’s fabulous settings and eye-watering fees, it’s hard not to agree with F Scott Fitzgerald: the very rich “are different from you and me”. And they start being very different at a very young age.
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