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Hearing from Heseltine: grandee’s insights from the heart of British politics

Former Deputy Prime Minister Lord Michael Heseltine delivered a lunchtime lecture giving an insider’s view of the key characters and issues that have shaped modern British politics.

The Conservative politician, who worked directly with four Prime Ministers, spoke to a packed house drawn from all year groups in the Friends’ Recital Hall. The optional lecture, part of QE’s Flourish extra-curricular programme, was organised by Year 13 pupil Anish Kumar and the QE Politics Society.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “We are keen for the boys to hear from leaders and influential thinkers in their respective fields. Lord Heseltine is a towering figure in British politics: it was an honour to welcome him to the School and we are most grateful to him for taking the time to visit and deliver such an insightful lecture drawn from a political career spanning some 50 years.”

Mr Enright thanked Anish and the Politics Society for organising the visit and paid tribute to all who had worked to ensure it passed off smoothly.

Lord Heseltine, who is 90, began his career as a property developer, before becoming one of the founders of the Haymarket publishing house. He served as a Conservative Member of Parliament from 1966 to 2001, when he was created a life peer.

Having previously served Ted Heath, he entered the Cabinet in 1979 under Margaret Thatcher as Secretary of State for the Environment. He served as Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State within John Major’s  administration. Later, he fulfilled advisory roles when David Cameron was Prime Minister.

Lord Heseltine began his lecture after a welcome from Anish – who introduced him as “one of [his] political heroes” ­– and warm applause from the boys.

In his lecture, he covered topics ranging from industrial strategy (a particular interest and area of expertise of his) and the revitalisation of the city of Liverpool (with which he has a special, and perhaps unique, relationship as a Conservative politician), to devolution.  Famously a supporter of the European Union and opponent of Eurosceptics, he expressed his desire to see the UK return to the EU fold in the future.

In a Q & A session chaired by Anish, pupils then posed their own questions.

  • On the future of the Conservative Party, he opined that it will find power from the centre-ground – an answer that was especially topical, given the recent Government reshuffle and the return to government of David, now Lord, Cameron;
  • On the nature of a life in politics, Lord Heseltine said it was a privilege, but one that inescapably involved making unpopular decisions, often on “50:50” issues in which the side you support will think you reasonable and “a good, sensible bloke”, while those whose expectations are dashed will believe you don’t listen, don’t care and are in politics only for yourself!
  • When asked about his proudest moment, he referenced his 1981 party conference speech;
  • On whether he regrets not quite becoming Prime Minister, he answered in the affirmative and furthermore set out the approach he would take to transform the nation’s governance and economic strategy if he were in 10 Downing Street today.


From Kabul to Cambridge: former refugee, who is now a doctor and leader of two medical charities, urges boys to remember to give back

Former Afghan refugee Waheed Arian told Year 9 boys the remarkable story of his life, from arriving near-penniless in the UK aged 15 to becoming a doctor and the leader of medical charities that support both refugees in the UK and patients in conflict zones around the world.

Over the past 24 years, he has studied at Cambridge, Imperial and Harvard, qualified as a doctor, been recognised as a World Health Organisation digital health expert and won numerous awards.

Dr Arian recounted his astonishing life and career in his lecture – yet he concluded by instead focusing on the importance of community and of giving back.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “We are very grateful to Dr Arian for coming in to talk to Year 9.  His lecture was inspirational and it very much chimed with our mission to produce responsible young men who seek to change their world for the better.”

The assembly was led by Chris Butler, Head of Geography, who said: “His story is an important one: not only did Dr Arian highlight the need to be resilient and have ambition; he also outlined the importance of being kind to one another in our everyday lives and the strength that lies in community action and collaboration – values that the School holds dear. The refugee situation across Europe is increasingly becoming politicised, and it is important that QE boys have the opportunity to listen to those who have experienced life as a refugee and wish to re-tell their experience of the process.”

Dr Arian started his talk by outlining his own early years as a child fleeing from war. He was separated from his father and told Year 9 how he, his mother and his sisters would often cross Afghanistan to see his father in clandestine visits, explaining that this was necessary as his father had fled the army after being pressed into conscription.

Later, Dr Arian and his family fled to Pakistan to be together, with a journey that saw them having to avoid air strikes from Soviet forces who had mistaken the refugee column for Mujahideen rebels. Whilst safe in Pakistan, they were living in unimaginable poverty inside refugee camps and informal housing blocks. For most of the time they lived ten to a room, without basic sanitation or access to education. He largely taught himself, from textbooks bought from street-sellers, and learned English from the BBC World Service.

Reflecting on these experiences during the lecture, he emphasised the importance of compassion and empathy, revealing how it was often only the kindness of fellow refugees that allowed him and his family to get by. One example was when a local volunteer doctor treated his bout of tuberculosis – it was then that he determined to devote his life to healing others.

Arian’s family returned to Kabul following the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, but when the ensuing civil war intensified a decade later, his parents, wanting him to have better prospects in life, sent him to the UK.

The focus of the next portion of the talk was hope: alone, in a foreign country, and with just £60 – his parents’ meagre savings – in his pocket, he could have easily given up in despair at the dire hand life had dealt him. Yet instead he persevered. Working through anxiety and PTSD, he supported himself by taking jobs in shops and – disregarding the advice of those who suggested he set his sights on becoming a taxi driver – going to night school. After taking his A-levels, he was accepted into Trinity Hall, Cambridge, later finishing his clinical studies at Imperial.

He impressed upon the Year 9s the value of always holding on to hope, even in the toughest of times, explaining how his dream of becoming a doctor fuelled him during his studies, which culminated in him eventually getting a scholarship at Harvard Medical School. He now works as a Accident and Emergency doctor in North West England.

In the last part of the talk, Dr Arian focused on the importance of giving back to the community. He highlighted how his own experiences shaped his desire to start the charity, Arian Teleheal, in 2015. It links doctors in conflict zones such as Afghanistan with colleagues in the UK, helping to ensure that people living there can have a decent standard of healthcare, not least so that disease does not hold them back in their lives.

Dr Arian has risen to become one of the most influential medics in the NHS. In addition to working as an NHS doctor and running Arian Teleheal, in 2020 he also founded Arian Wellbeing, which aims to link psychologists, licensed therapists, personal trainers and nutritionists to offer unique, personalised holistic care for refugee trauma and PTSD patients.

He discussed his work with the two charities and took questions from the boys, declaring himself later to have been impressed with their eloquence and their understanding of the migration process.

Dr Arian was introduced to the Year 9 audience in the Friends’ Recital Hall by Saim Khan, a Year 12 geographer, who said afterwards: “It was an inspiring and insightful talk, and one which created much food for thought.”

A question of Economics: fun and games, with some serious thinking, too, in innovative subject festival

With events for all ages, QE’s Economics 450 Festival proved hugely popular with the boys.

The festival featured academic tutorials and a lecture from Old Elizabethans, board games, a quiz, a meeting of QE’s Gresham Society for Economics and a special edition of the department’s periodical, The Econobethan.

It was one of a series of innovative festivals being run by subject departments as part of QE’s new Flourish extra-curricular programme which are aimed at stimulating free-thinking scholarship among the boys. As QE celebrates its 450th anniversary, most have an anniversary theme.

Head of Economics Shamendra Uduwawala said: “Our events had huge turnouts and the festival may be regarded as a great success. I am grateful to everyone who contributed. The boys enjoyed the board games, the quiz and our visiting speakers, while our senior students have once again raised the bar with the festival edition of The Econobethan, which includes some really spectacular work.”

He also paid tribute to his Economics department colleagues, Krishna Shah, Celia Wallace, Abdoulaye Diallo and James Kane.

The festival’s biggest single event was the quiz for Years 7-11. Run in a similar style to the daily online Tradle Economics quiz, it involved boys answering questions delivered to their form groups as Microsoft Forms.

Staplyton, Underne and Harrisons’ tied for first place, with a score of 29, gaining them each 20 House points. Staplyton and Underne benefitted from particularly strong performances from Year 11, while Harrisons’ boys performed consistently across the year groups. The top form overall was 10H (Harrisons’), who scored 8 out of a possible 10 points.

Another highlight was a talk by economist and academic Sandeep Mazumder (OE 1993–2000), who is Dean of Hankamer School of Business at Baylor University, Texas.

Fellow alumnus Alistair Law (OE 2013–2020), who is in his final year at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), where he is reading Geography with Economics, held academic tutorials with a number of Year 12 and 13 economists.

The special session of the Gresham Society involved boys presenting articles they had written for The Econobethan PechaKucha-style – that is, 20 slides, with a maximum 20 seconds per slide.

The 450th anniversary edition of the publication itself includes articles on Economics and related subjects written by boys in Years 10 to 13, as well as an introduction by the Headmaster, Neil Enright.

He wrote: “As my predecessor, Dr John Marincowitz (Headmaster 1999-2011), explained at this year’s Senior Awards Ceremony, when discussing his new published history of the School, the fortunes of the School have repeatedly been shaped by the political, economic and social context of the time. He emphasised that much of the interest in the development of Queen Elizabeth’s, and its multiple reinventions over the centuries, can be found in considering not just the ‘what’, but in the ‘how’ and the ‘why’.

“These are questions and discussions that this special edition of The Econobethan takes up with great skill.”

Extending to 52 pages, the journal’s first article looks at the origins and political significance of the School’s Elizabethan Charter.

The widely varied contents also cover topics including:

  • How the British Empire Used Economics to Rule the World: A Game Theoretic Analysis
  • The History of Chemical Process Economics and Its Impact on the UK Economy
  • What Happens When Central Banks Lose Credibility?
  • Regal Ruler or Rigid System? The Pros and Cons of Monarchy Unveiled
  • The Revolutionary Effectiveness of Nudge Economics

In addition, there is a Languages section, in which Year 12’s Aayush Backory gave an overview of post-World War II economic policy in Britain – Il était une fois au Royaume-Uni. In Die Geschichte von Sir Thomas Gresham, Aditya Tiwary looked at the life of the 16th-century financier and merchant, Sir Thomas Gresham, who was among the School’s supporters at its foundation in 1573. The Gresham Society is named after him.

The Econobethan was edited by the Year 12 team of Aditya, Aston Daniel, Avinash Srivastava and Nishanth Bhasuru.







QE’s new role in reviving classics

Queen Elizabeth’s School is to work with the charity, Classics for All, as a ‘Hub’ for developing the study of classics across schools in North London.

Based at King’s College London, Classics for All was established to halt the decline of classics in state schools nationwide. As a Hub School, QE will host events such as  debates, symposia and lectures for other local schools on topics related to classics.

The School re-introduced Latin as a full curriculum subject in 2012, and all boys opting to study more than one language at GCSE are invited to take classes in Ancient Greek. The announcement follows QE’s inaugural Shakespeare and Latin Festival, which got under way towards the end of the Autumn Term.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “I welcome this announcement and congratulate our teachers on all the creative work they are doing to enrich our pupils’ appreciation of classics. Learning Latin and Greek not only gives the boys insights into the rich cultures of Ancient Greece and Rome, but also instils academic rigour generally and is of particular help in the learning of modern languages.”

The announcement of QE’s new role is one of a series of recent announcements from external organisations which have further underlined QE’s academic credentials. Earlier this month, the influential Sunday Times Parent Power survey confirmed that this year’s QE A-level results were the best of any state school in the country. Before that, Schools Minister Nick Gibb wrote to Mr Enright to congratulate the School on its “leadership in continuing to promote the teaching of languages”. All 191 boys in last year’s Year 11 were entered for at least one modern foreign language GCSE – a 100% rate which puts QE “amongst the top schools in England for the proportion of pupils studying a language at GCSE”, Mr Gibb wrote.

In addition to a School production of Julius Caesar (staged in School and at Finchley’s artsdepot as part of this year’s Shakespeare Schools Festival), the QE Shakespeare and Latin Festival has featured lectures by academics from UCL and King’s College London. Boys across the School have also been getting involved in mythology quizzes and recital competitions.

Crispin Bonham-Carter, Assistant Head (Pupil Involvement), said: “Since we are one of the few state schools to teach Latin to all, it’s not surprising that universities are keen to forge closer links.”

In her lecture delivered at the School, Dr Emily Pillinger, Senior Lecturer in Latin Language and Literature at King’s, looked at Decadence in New York and Ancient Rome. Her well-attended talk was open to senior Latinists and English Literature GCSE and A-level students. “Dr Pillinger drew out the links between Baz Luhrmann’s film of The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald’s novel and the ancient Latin text, The Feast of Trimalchio,” said Mr Bonham-Carter.

For her part, UCL Professor of Latin Gesine Manuwald lectured on the real-life characters of Julius Caesar, Mark Anthony and Cicero.

“Both academics were hugely impressed by how engaged and knowledgeable our young classicists are,” Mr Bonham-Carter added.




“Fall in love with the problem, not the solution”

Deloitte innovation specialist Ed Greig demonstrated robots on his visit to QE – but told the boys to focus on the nature of any problem, not the technology involved in the solution.

Mr Greig, who works for Deloitte Digital (part of the global Deloitte financial services and consultancy group) as its Chief Disruptor, made it through the snow to give a lunchtime lecture about his work, which involves working with new technologies to understand how they can benefit clients.

He told the boys: “The mantra of my team is to fall in love with the problem, not the solution.”

He stressed the importance of understanding the true nature of problems, suggesting that invariably they are really about cultural change rather than technology – even if technology might be involved in the solution.

He gave the real-life example of a prosthetic arm for a six-year-old girl, where the issue was not merely the functionality of the limb, but making sure the girl would actually wear it by ensuring its design was fashionable and appealing, so that she would want to put it on.

There were now so many more opportunities to create and replicate experiences than even ten years ago, he said.

He gave demonstrations of both AI-powered software robots and hardware robots: having brought along a robot dog, he made it climb the stairs leading to the stage in the hall in QE’s Main Building.

He also sent a robot around Deloitte’s offices looking for people to say ‘hello’ to members of his QE audience – a task complicated by the fact that, as a result of the snow, the offices were virtually empty!

Mr Greig, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, read Politics, Philosophy and Economics at the University of Warwick. After running his own web design business, he joined Deloitte in 2009 as a Technology, Creative and User Experience Consultant in 2009.

In his current role, his work involves demonstrating the benefits of new technologies in a tangible way by building proofs-of-concept and minimum viable products.

Break the bias! Marking International Women’s Day at an all-boys school

Businesswoman, author and coach Gifty Enright explained to sixth-formers how ‘gender bias traps’ blight the world of work – and set out ways in which men can act as allies and support women in escaping them.

Her virtual talk was one of a number of activities held at the School during the week of International Women’s Day (IWD), which this year had the theme of #BreakTheBias.

Several discussion societies run by pupils held IWD-inspired sessions, while tutors also covered IWD topics during boys’ Personal Development Time lessons.

Headmaster Neil Enright (no relation) said: “My huge thanks go to Gifty for her insightful and informative talk that highlighted exactly why International Women’s Day is both relevant and important in an all-boys’ school such as ours. Not only did she raise awareness of the issues that women continue to face routinely in society and the workplace, but she also had some very practical suggestions for how young men could make a positive contribution in challenging conscious and unconscious bias in a range of situations.

“Her talk and the other activities during the week complement the work we have been doing to encourage boys to adopt the stance of ‘active bystander’ and thus to oppose injustice and prejudice across society. Hearing from external expert speakers, with their different perspectives and experiences, is a very useful way for our boys to gain a deeper understanding, provoking both reflection and discussion.”

Born in Kumasi, the ancient capital of the Ashanti people in Ghana, Gifty Enright has lived in Hertfordshire for the past 35 years. Having trained as an accountant, she later moved into Information Technology and is today the managing director of a sports events company, and also provides IT consulting services on major transformation programmes to multi-national companies. She is married with two children.

In her Zoom lecture to Years 12 and 13, she outlined six gender bias traps that women face. In each case, she gave a scenario to explain how the trap might play out and then challenged the sixth-formers with a suggestion on what they could do to ameliorate the situation.

Under the topic of ‘attribution’, for example, she gave this scenario: “A female colleague says something in a meeting and is ignored but a male colleague says the same thing and everyone jumps on the idea.” The challenge she passed on was this: “Remind everyone that the idea originated from the female colleague.”

For ‘maternal’, the scenario imagined someone in a business setting discussing whether a particular woman should be entrusted with a major project in these words: “Do you think it is a good idea to burden her with such a big project straight out of maternity leave?” The challenge she gave was to respond in this way: “She still has the same skillset she did before her leave. How can we best support her?”

In a question-and-answer session afterwards, boys asked for advice on practical things such as their approach to what they read, what music they listen to and how that can impact upon their understanding of the issues facing women. Gifty replied that people should read and watch what they enjoy, but try to engage with material from a wide range of artists, including those of different genders, races and backgrounds.

Boys also asked about what she thought the impact of the war in Ukraine may have on women and on gender inequality. She responded that in such situations, gender inequality is usually exacerbated, whilst noting how dreadful the current situation is for everyone there.

Story of a genius: award-winning biographer tells sixth-formers about one of the world’s greatest minds

Author, scientist and QE parent Dr Ananyo Bhattacharya gave a talk to senior pupils on his book about John von Neumann, the brilliant Hungarian-American polymath who made breakthroughs in fields ranging from nuclear energy to economics.

Dr Bhattacharya’s book, entitled The Man from the Future: The Visionary Life of John von Neumann, was named a Financial Times and Times Literary Supplement Book of the Year in 2021.

His lunchtime talk to A-level Mathematics, Physics and Economics students explored how von Neumann’s advances in mathematics 70–80 years ago continue to inform the science of today.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “We are grateful to Dr Bhattacharya, as a QE parent, for coming in to School to share his expertise and to inspire our senior boys. It is great that we can draw upon different constituencies within the Elizabethan community, including parents and alumni, to enhance the educational experience offered here.”

Dr Bhattacharya, whose son, Callistus, is in Year 7, is a science writer who has worked for The Economist and Nature, the weekly multi-disciplinary scientific journal. Prior to that, he worked as a medical researcher at the Burnham Institute in San Diego. He has a degree in Physics from Oxford and a PhD, also in Physics, from Imperial College London.

The subject of his book, von Neumann, was born in 1903 to a wealthy Jewish family in Budapest. A child prodigy, he had published two major mathematical papers by the age of 19.

After an early career in German academia during the late 1920s, he took up an invitation to Princeton University in October 1929, becoming a naturalised citizen of the USA in 1937.

In a life of only 53 years – he died of cancer in February 1957 – he made major contributions in subjects including mathematics, physics, economics, computing and statistics.

During World War II, he worked on the Manhattan Project – the research and development that produced the first nuclear weapons – and after the war, he served on the General Advisory Committee of the United States Atomic Energy Commission.

In his talk, Dr Bhattacharya mentioned the Manhattan Project as well as, inter alia, von Neumann’s contributions to set theory, game theory and the development of the first programmable digital computer.

Head of Library Services Jenni Blackford said: “Dr Bhattacharya delivered a friendly, accessible and vastly informative talk about the life and accomplishments of von Neumann.”



It doesn’t have to be like this: boys find out how they can play their part in fighting global threats to nature and wildlife

In a special lecture assembly, QE’s younger boys learned the shocking truth about the loss of biodiversity and then discovered what they could do to support the natural environment.

Lesley Malpas, Founder and Chief Executive of not-for-profit organisation, Operation Future Hope, not only outlined problems around the world, but also examined environmental depredation close to home, explaining that Britain suffers some of the world’s worst biodiversity loss.

More positively, in keeping with the name of her organisation, she highlighted case studies of successful examples of rewilding, while setting out some suggestions for measures the boys could take locally, again with a particular focus on rewilding.

After the lecture, members of QE’s new Green Council took her on a tour of the site to consider what further steps the School might itself take to build on its current success in supporting nature.

Crispin Bonham-Carter, Assistant Head (Pupil Involvement) said: “I am grateful to Lesley for sharing her expertise and delivering such a motivating assembly: I know the boys were inspired by the concept of rewilding, both at a local level, including here at the School, and more broadly across the UK and the world.

“With next month’s COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow currently in everyone’s mind, we are finding boys throughout the School are highly engaged as we explore environmental issues and look at potential solutions through our enrichment programme and through normal lessons as well.”

Lesley related some stark statistics and shocking stories to convey the gravity of the problem. She stated that:

  • 200 species are lost globally every day
  • Drinks company Pepsico annually uses 457,200t of palm oil, while it provides no evidence that the oil’s production has been achieved without deforestation
  • Britain occupies an unenviable position as the 29th worst-performing country globally (out of 218) in terms of depleted biodiversity
  • Since 1980, 420 million birds have disappeared from the British countryside, together with 75% of invertebrates.

Her positive stories of rewilding included the reintroduction of beavers in Britain, the transformation of what was previously an intensive dairy farm into a wildlife haven that now boasts owls, bats and nightingales in abundance, and the steps taken by a number of schools to improve their sites.

On the tour of QE’s grounds following the assembly, five Green Council members from Year 8 (Zane Shah; Benjamin Newton; Jeevan Karthick Thiyagarajan; Jalal Ud-Din Farooq and Shashank Devaguptapu) showed her around, accompanied by Extra-curricular tutor Stephanie Tomlinson, who runs the School’s Eco-Network, Mr Bonham-Carter and Matthew Rose, Executive Assistant to the Headmaster and Head of Project Support Services.

Lesley explained to the party that in many cases, supporting nature better would be about doing less – allowing hedges to grow out a little, for example – and allowing nature to take its course in locations such as the periphery of fields where space is not being used.

“There seemed to be lots of scope for small initiatives that could have a positive impact and would allow interested students to get actively involved in the School’s stewardship of its grounds,” said Mr Bonham-Carter. “Generally, the site is already supporting nature quite well, she explained, so we are starting this project from a good place. We look forward to receiving her report and understanding further what would be achievable on our campus.”

The School’s new four-year development plan includes a commitment to “exercise good environmental stewardship” and to “instil a sense of responsibility for the environment in the boys”.

Harmful and hurtful: asking the hard questions about micro-aggressions

Old Elizabethan Bilal Harry Khan threw down a challenge when he took part in a video conversation about ‘micro-aggressions’ as part of a new series of bitesize discussions on vital issues such as race and discrimination.

Anyone accused of perpetrating micro-aggressions should overcome the natural instinct to go on the defensive and instead be open enough to “interrogate the ideas at the root of things that may be causing harm”, urged Bilal, a podcaster, workshop facilitator and event host.

His ten-minute conversation with Year 13 pupils Thomas Mgbor and Ayodimeji Ojelade was recorded so that the issues raised can be discussed in tutor groups. It is one of a series of Perspective discussions being arranged by the School’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Ambassadors. Last year, Ayodimeji and Thomas were instrumental in the founding of Perspective – a new forum set up in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests.

Michael Feven, Assistant Head (Pupil Development), said: “I am so pleased to see these short, accessible discussions taking place, and I thank especially Old Elizabethans such as Bilal who have agreed to take part. Thomas, Ayodimeji and the ambassadors’ team are to be congratulated on being so assiduous in ensuring that these important issues are both raised and discussed at QE.”

Other conversations in the series so far have included one with Natasha Devon MBE, an activist and researcher in the fields of mental health, body image, gender and social equality.

Bilal (OE 2003–2010) read Theology at Cambridge and then worked in youth engagement. He has designed and delivered hundreds of speeches and workshops in schools and youth settings on behalf of partners such as KPMG, Virgin Atlantic, Boots and Barclays. He is also frequently called upon to speak on issues of social justice, race and masculinity for news and current affairs programmes.

Bilal began the discussion by defining micro-aggressions: “They are statements, actions or incidents which are regarded as indirect, subtle or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalised group, such as a racial or ethnic minority. The key bit for me is the words ‘indirect, subtle or unintentional’…These are things which are unintentional, but are still harmful or hurtful, when somebody might say ‘ah, but I meant that in a nice way,’ or ‘that was just a bit of banter’ or ‘that was supposed to be a compliment’. “

He gave an example from his own experience: “That question: ‘Where are you from? No – where are you really from?’ Where you have said you are really from is never the right answer. They want to know where your grandparents or great-grandparents are from; when I say ‘north-west London’ that is not believed.”

Bilal continued: “It’s the cumulative impact of loads of micro-aggressions that really makes someone feel like ‘I don’t belong here’ or ‘I am angry’ or ‘I am ashamed’ or perhaps that there is ‘something about me that is not right’.”

He suggested that QE pupils should be a true “ally” by challenging micro-aggressions not only when someone who might be hurt or harmed by them is present, but also when they are absent. He urged boys to be “more confident and comfortable to challenge and question, and also just to own up and apologise when we have said and done these things”.

Thomas asked Bilal how he would respond to those who would suggest we are turning into a “snowflake community”.

“This is not about being ‘woke’ or hyper-sensitive or being ‘snowflakes’,” Bilal said. “It’s about recognising that these issues have actually been used as tools of oppression for centuries.”



To be the best: learning from an élite athlete

A world-class sprinter who has automatically qualified for the Tokyo Olympics explained to QE’s young sportsmen the long road he has to follow in order to achieve those explosive seconds of success in a few short metres on the track.

In a special virtual lecture, Antonio Infantino covered areas such as nutrition and sleep, outlined what he does in training, and spoke about the importance of the right mental approach.

Director of Sport Jonathan Hart said: “My thanks go to Antonio for a talk that gave a detailed picture of all the ingredients that lie behind élite-level sports success. It was great to hear his own story and I am grateful that he gave such thoughtful answers to the boys’ questions.”

QE’s now well-established lecture programme gives pupils of all ages the opportunity to learn from and question prominent individuals in their respective fields. It continued online through both lockdowns as part of the School’s work to ensure that boys did not miss out during the period of remote education.

Antonio, who will be 30 later this month, is a top 200m sprinter with a personal best of 20.41 seconds. Born to Italian parents but raised in Hertfordshire, he is based in London.

He is the three times British Indoor 200m Champion and has competed at European and World championships. He decided to switch nationality in his early 20s to follow his Italian heritage and represent Italy.

“If the Games go ahead, I hope to be in Tokyo later this year,” he said. His 2021 goals are to make the Olympic final in the 4x100m – he has already automatically qualified for the Games in this event – and the 200m. Following this, Antonio is hoping to ‘medal’ at the Mediterranean Games and European Championships 2022, before looking ahead to his second Olympic Games in Paris.

Antonio delivered his lecture in two lunchtime sessions. Both were open to all boys. “It all started for me when I was in secondary school,” he said. Inspired by Usain Bolt’s remarkable victory in the Beijing Olympics 100m in 2008, Antonio achieved a remarkable 100m time of 11.3s while in Year 8. At the age of 14, he achieved 10.9s, which, he said, was one of the fastest times of all time for that age group.

In his 20-minute talk, he spoke to the boys about nutrition, about diet and about the “often overlooked” importance of sleep, before giving them a taste of what he does in training. He then spent more than 10 minutes answering their questions.

Antonio paid tribute to the support of his parents, with his mother cooking healthy food and his father taxiing him around the country to various athletics events when he was younger.

In fact, when he went to university, the lack of such support – he had to cook for himself – coupled with some partying, led to a dip in his performances. “Through those bad years when I was not running well, I learned once again to be patient.”

In 2018, after a series of disappointments he nearly quit, but decided to carry on and has since achieved new levels of success. “That taught me that…you are going to fail [and] if you fail, you are going to learn. I have lost more races than I have won, but I think I have learned more from my failures than from the races I have won. So, keep patient and keep persevering and you can still achieve what you want to achieve.”

During the Q&A session, Antonio discussed the issue of ‘nature vs nurture’. Evidence suggested that through long hours of practice and expert training alone, anyone could reach élite levels in certain fields of endeavour. He pointed to the example of László Polgár, Hungarian chess teacher and educational psychologist, who trained his three daughters to play chess almost from the cradle. They went on to tremendous success, with one, Judit, widely considered to be the best female chess player ever.

Yet Antonio said it was not true that anyone could reach the very top in athletics, since in sport, genetics were also important: “You do need to pick your parents carefully if you want to be a top sprinter!”

Nevertheless, for aspiring athletes to achieve success, mindset is very important, he said. “Really believe you can do something,” he advised the boys. “Mindset is hugely important in my sport. I had a lot of naysayers…self-belief is really important.”

Asked about how he is paid, he spoke of his financial dependence on sponsorship and said that he must wear sports clothing made by his sponsor, rather than by other manufacturers.

He had some specific advice when asked about his approach to a race by one of the School’s sprinters, saying that he maps out in his mind how the race will go. He advised sprinters to try to ‘explode’ out of the blocks and then to take long strides in the early stages of the race, rather than going at a fast cadence, in order to conserve energy.

He urged a “multisports” approach for the boys. “I think that everyone should try a bunch of sports, and that’s the best way to find one you are good at.” Antonio himself had played a number of sports during his school years, reaching academy level with Watford FC. He dropped this involvement in order to focus on athletics, but still enjoys playing various sports informally, stating that the general fitness they develop in some ways makes his specialised athletics training easier.