Inside the Welsh 'hippy Hogwarts' where the future Spanish Queen will go to school

Rebecca Taylor
·Royal Correspondent
·7-min read
The school has been dubbed a hippy Hogwarts and pupils have lessons in this castle. (UWC)
The school has been dubbed a hippy Hogwarts and pupils have lessons in this castle. (UWC)

A college in Wales is not a place you'd expect to find a future Spanish Queen.

But a 12th Century castle in the Welsh Valleys is the ideal spot for educating a future monarch - and it's where the future Queen of Spain will be going to school for the next few years.

Princess Leonor, 15, is joining the Atlantic outpost of the international school United World College (UWC), in the Vale of Glamorgan.

The school describes itself as fostering changemakers and wants to be known for having a "radical and experimental spirit".

It was dubbed a hippie Hogwarts by former pupil, now Times journalist Louise Callaghan, who said it was "full of oddballs who think they are fighting the forces of darkness."

She added: "There are also ghosts. Lady Stradling haunts the history tower, and the smell of lavender and a lilac mist precedes her apparition."

After the princess's attendance was confirmed, the school posted a welcome message to her, saying they were "delighted" she had been nominated.

But the message sparked backlash and concern that the princess would be treated differently to other pupils. College staff had to clarify they "will be treating Leonor as just another UWC student when she arrives. That is what she will want too".

Queen Noor of Jordan is the current president of UWC, but the network has previously had British links - Prince Charles has been president, and his "honorary grandfather" Lord Mountbatten was also a former president.

UWC Atlantic is the founding college of the network and was established in 1962.

There are 350 students there, aged between 15 and 19.

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 27: In this handout provide by Casa de S.M. el Rey Spanish Royal Household, Princess Leonor of Spain takes a minute of silence for the COVID 19 victims at the Zarzuela Palace on May 27, 2020 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Casa de S.M. el Rey Spanish Royal Household via Getty Images)
Princess Leonor of Spain during a minute of silence for the COVID-19 victims at the Zarzuela Palace in May 2020 in Madrid, Spain. (Casa de S.M. el Rey Spanish Royal Household)

The royals of UWC - and other notable alumni

While he is the former president, Prince Charles is not one of the former royal alumni of UWC.

However, UWC was founded by Kurt Hahn, who also founded Gordonstaun, the Scottish school Charles attended, following in the footsteps of his father Prince Philip.

Charles is said to have dubbed Gordonstaun "Colditz in kilts".

Helen Pankhurst, activist and the great-granddaughter of suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, attended UWC Atlantic in the early 1980s.

King Willem-Alexander of The Netherlands also went to UWC Atlantic from 1983 until 1985.

Princess Elisabeth, heir apparent to the Belgian throne, also attended, finishing her studies in May 2020.

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BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - OCTOBER 08: Princess Elisabeth of Belgium poses for an official photograph at the Royal Military School on October 08, 2020 in Brussels, Belgium. Princess Elisabeth of Belgium participated at the inauguration ceremony of the new academic year of the Royal Military School at the Esplanade of the Cinquantenaire. (Photo by Olivier Matthys/Getty Images)
Princess Elisabeth of Belgium before starting at Royal Military School in 2020 in Brussels. She went to UWC Atlantic. (Olivier Matthys/Getty Images)

Callaghan, the Sunday Times Middle East correspondent, said of it "people from all over the world can get along if you throw them together in a castle".

How did Princess Leonor get a place?

King Felipe and Queen Letizia explained in a press release that their daughter had undergone an "initial pre-selection phase, developed anonymously by each candidate, and a final phase, carried out electronically with different tests".

There are two ways to apply for a place at UWC Atlantic, based on whether you need financial assistance or not.

As the royals have said they will pay for the princess's fees, she will have gone through the second option, which means she applied through the Global Selection Programme.

She will have been assessed against the college's core criteria and have proved her affinity to the college's mission.

The college's mission involves being "innovators in education" and for education to "take place in a unique and exceptional setting where the entire campus is the classroom".

Prince Philip visiting Wales. Rear Admiral D J Hoare the headmaster of the Atlantic College points out features of the South Wales coastline to the Duke of Edinburgh. Behind them battlements of St Donat's Castle, with boys. November 1963. (Photo by Staff/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)
Prince Philip with Rear Admiral D J Hoare the headmaster of the Atlantic College in November 1963. (Mirrorpix/Getty Images)

According to the Spanish royals, the core values include "international and intercultural understanding, respect and appreciation of diversity, responsibility personal and integrity, mutual respect, spirit of service, respect for the environment, sense of idealism, action, challenge and personal example".

The royal household were at pains to point out the school is "characterised by its open and critical spirit. It does not have any religious, political or any other sign of conditioning. Its only ideology is that of its own ideals and pedagogical foundations: an education for peace that believes in intercultural coexistence".

What will Princess Leonor learn?

Students at UWC colleges take the International Baccalaureate (IB), a programme which sees them tackle six subjects including at least one language. UWC was a founding partner in developing the IB.

At Atlantic, students can choose subjects like Spanish literature, social and cultural anthropology, visual arts and global politics.

Other colleges have a different spread of topics, including marine science, Korean literature and film.

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Lessons begin at 8am and finish by 1.10pm, with afternoon and weekends for creative activities and exercise.

While lessons inside the classroom are the main part of the daily study for students, there are also things to be learnt outside the four walls.

The UWC website explains that students have the choice between four "experiential faculties" that "allow students to engage in discovery, determine their own pathways, confront risk and overcome the possibility of failure in order to know their own strengths and fallibilities as well as their role in the common cause".

On the UWC Atlantic Instagram page, the college offers another insight into the daily tasks and life of the students.

In one task, students investigated the flood defences in front of the castle, and then wrote a report on their preferred management strategies for protecting the area.

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There's also time to relax, and the college shared their "HideOut" initiative on social media, explaining it offered pupils the chance to play games, watch films or sing karaoke.

They also held a cake decorating challenge dubbed the Great Gwynedd Bake Off.

Media production students held an event called Hispanicon, two days of workshops, dancing, food, music, poems and stories, in early February, while Tai Chi and Calisthenics has been practiced throughout the campus grounds.

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Where will Princess Leonor live?

While royalty and castles seem to go hand in hand, the boarding at UWC Atlantic is said to be comfortable but not over the top.

Leonor will be placed in one of seven houses, Pentti Kouri, Morgannwg, Powys, Whitaker, Gwynedd, Tice or Sunley, which are named after Welsh kingdoms or a benefactor of the college.

Boys and girls are housed in separate wings and she will share with two to three other girls.

The college doesn't house people with anyone from their own country, so she will meet people from different cultures straight away.

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Atlantic College.
Middle Eastern Conference
Pic Gareth Iwan Jones
At Atlantic College, people share dorms with others from different nationalitiies. (Gareth Iwan Jones/UWC)

Each house has its own houseparents, who the college encourages students to form a good relationship with.

Meals are going increasingly meat-free, with the college recognised for its work on vegetarian and vegan offerings.

Social media posts show the international ethics continue to meals too, with the college marking Thanksgiving in November.

How much does it all cost?

UWC is a private school, and it comes with a hefty price tag.

It's £67,000 for two years.

However, the high price tag doesn't mean it's only a college of the wealthy. As many as 60% of the students receive some form of financial aid, through a partial or even full scholarship.

But Princess Leonor's parents, King Felipe and Queen Letizia, will be paying the royal's fees themselves.

The dining hall of the castle is not a common school lunch hall. (UWC)
The dining hall of the castle is not a common school lunch hall. (UWC)

There is a different selection process for those who need to have their fees either fully or part covered.

The process for those applicants is via the UWC National Committees which are made up of alumni and parents of alumni as well as educational professionals.

That route "may offer the chance for you to receive scholarship funding for your UWC experience, ensuring socio-economic diversity on all UWC campuses".

Potential students can only apply via one route.

Princess Leonor's time at UWC Atlantic will begin in September 2021.

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