Magoo Giles, Founder and Principal of Knightsbridge School, talks exclusively to School House about the Lord Mayor’s Show, the mental health charity Place2Be and the importance of protecting the mental welfare of pupils

Saturday 9 November was one of those rare occasions when the City of London was busier on the weekend than it would be on a weekday – even if there was an open event at all the banks and city institutions! The reason why? The 804th Lord Mayor’s Show, which this year celebrated the inauguration of William Russell as the 692nd Lord Mayor of the City of London.

Mental Health
Magoo Giles’ Place2be float that was in the Lord Mayor’s Parade, at The Independent School Show

On the other side of London I was at a completely different event, although no less busy, as this weekend was also the Independent Schools Show at Battersea Evolution. Here I caught up with Magoo Giles, founder and principal of Knightsbridge School, who took part in the Lord Mayor’s Parade.

I asked Magoo to tell me about his Lord Mayor’s Show: ‘We are very lucky because William Russell was Chairman of Knightsbridge School for the first twelve years of its existence and is also the Deputy Chairman of the Place2be, so obviously he has nominated Place2be as his charity of the year as mayor, which is brilliant.’

Place2be is a children’s mental health charity, providing emotional and therapeutic services to over 600 schools. As one of the first schools to install Place2be, Magoo is clearly a huge advocate: ‘We’ve had Place2be at Knightsbridge School for over five years – it’s absolutely brilliant!’ he says. ‘We have somebody who the children can go to and approach, either referring themselves or being referred. The parents can go and see the Place2be as well. What’s so good about it is that it brings in the expertise that is required to the school – it might be a bereavement counsellor, or an education counsellor of some kind, or somebody who just has that knowledge that the school perhaps doesn’t have. This is hugely helpful for the children, the parents, and also it brings training to the staff which has been brilliant for us, because Place2be can come in and update staff on how to deal with issues that perhaps might be out of their realm.’ 

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Knightsbridge was one of the first schools to install Place2be

Such an important initiative as Place2be had its deserved time in the limelight at The Lord Mayor’s Show in the form of a Place2be / Knightsbridge School boat. Magoo, an old friend of William, told me ‘everything to do with [William’s past] was in the parade. So in terms of his education, Eton College and Durham University did something. He’s actually on the board of Haberdashers, they did something. You know he co-founded Knightsbridge School with me and we wanted to do it because it’s something to do with children’s mental health which is the big thing at the moment. As a result you get an amazing group of people who put these floats together ‘

I was eagerly waiting for Magoo to mention the children’s mental health, because there can be no doubt that there is an epidemic among young people suffering with their mental health at the moment. I remembered something Magoo told me previously – that a big part of the mental health crisis is to do with the huge expectations on young children – and I ask him to tell me a little more about this theory: ‘Yes, you’re right! I do think there are huge expectations on children and young adults.’ Magoo continues, ‘the world is getting bigger and bigger, or smaller and smaller, whatever way you look at it, and I think that children are under pressure because they want to please the parents who are sending them to these amazing schools – but that in itself puts a lot of pressure on the children because of the high expectation. I think this puts pressure on children to achieve earlier and earlier and earlier. In our day we had a bit more time to have a childhood, but today, people are under so much pressure to be successful, they rush growing up properly. The key thing is everyone should slightly slow down, walk fast, not run and actually then when it happens for you, great; if it doesn’t happen for you, great as well! It can happen for you later. You can be somebody like me who waited until 29 to realise what I really wanted to do in the world – having been in the army and everything else. I didn’t waste too much time, and I used my time wisely. I think that’s another important thing. But the most important thing is to try and control yourself; to try and make sure you don’t suffer from that high expectation because otherwise it can really put a dampener on the rest of your life.’

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The Knightsbridge School Code – is this the key to happiness?

As a relatively new school (Knightsbridge School is 15 years old), I asked Magoo what’s next? ‘I can never say I’ve been going for 200 years like some of these amazing  other schools,’ he says, ‘but that’s a good thing; it means that we’re adaptable. We’re trying to keep Place2be going in terms of growing.’ Giles takes the chance here to tell me about an amazing fundraising event, a Place2be dinner, or ‘very special party which is going to raise a lot more money’ for the charity, but at the moment, mum’s the word!

Giles is obviously aware of the pressure on parents to commit to the huge school fees for independent schools, and the attacks on independent schools from the media and some parties in Westminster to comes with this: ‘I think for us at Knightsbridge School we need to make sure we provide more and more bursaries, because it’s getting tougher and tougher out there. We need to make sure we’re adaptable, make sure we keep being creative, and just really make sure these children – who are tomorrow’s leaders – get to, first of all, use their time wisely in and out of school, and then secondly, more importantly, to use the skills that they learn from all of the great role models around them to ensure that everybody they get to work with or lead benefits from them, and actually learns from them. And that’s what its all about – mental health!’

No doubt still pumped full of adrenaline from his journey in the Lord Mayor’s parade, it would be easy to forgive Magoo for getting where were are currently, at the Independent School Show. But Magoo is better than that, and he brings our talk to a full circle conclusion. ‘It’s not just children’s mental health, but parents’ and staff’s – the adults in schools – as well. Being the first private day school that has adopted Place2be has been brilliant for us. Obviously the reason it is here at the Independent School Show is to try and say to the other schools, “come on guys, you can have a Place2be as well”, or “you can get support into your schools, and have some fun like we have”.’

Mental Health
Magoo Giles, Founder and Principal of Knightsbridge School, at the helm of his Place2be float

Knightsbridge School is an independent, co-ed pre-prep and prep school for children aged three-16.  Pupils are encouraged to play hard, work hard, make the most of every opportunity and achieve their full potential. The school fosters a strong sense of community and provides a supportive and warm environment. Knightsbridge Schools’ School House listing can be found here.

Knightsbridge School

By Alex Bloom-Davis