The elite of St. Andrews

July, 17, 2010

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- Hope Street is a short, crescent-shaped lane. Town houses crowd the sidewalk. One end of the road comes out right at the Raisin Pub, and the other over toward the Old Course. It's where the richest and most connected students live.

"It's a bit like Chelsea," says Digby Don.

Don lives here, two doors down from the flat Prince William shared with friends. A Hope Street address is a status symbol in a school that is known for status symbols. Lots of wealthy kids go here; overheard snippets of conversation are littered with references to ski trips, yachts and Christian Louboutins. Girls like boys who live on Hope Street, enough so that when they found the flat, Don and his friend joked they should get cards made to hand out at the female dorms. (He immediately tells me he was kidding ... he has a girlfriend, which I felt obliged to mention, so as not to cause him domestic problems.)

He's from a little town southwest of London and is the press officer of the exclusive, all-male Kate Kennedy Club -- think Scotland's version of Skull & Bones -- that has only 31 members (the University of St Andrews has nearly 7,000 undergraduates). I arranged to meet him to discuss the society, which has lost its university recognition because it won't admit women. Part of me wondered -- hoped? -- if he'd be a little snot with a house in London and one in Aspen, a Learjet sitting out at the airport. Sadly, for the sake of easy jokes, he's a sharp, funny guy who wants to teach English literature. I don't know enough about the club or its members to say whether they're good dudes or complete toolboxes -- though exclusive all-male clubs usually produce the latter -- but he's somebody with whom I'd have a beer.

He asks how fraternities in America pick members, then tells me how they do it at Kate Kennedy: a series of interviews (the first is about club history, and the second, in front of the entire club, is more esoteric: i.e., pretend you're Field Marshal Haig and address your troops). The club raises an enormous amount of money for various charities and throws great parties -- from big balls to small dinners. I ask if coeds fancy invitations to the various soirees.

He smiles.

"They do," he says.

Don bounds down the stairs to their door. The apartment is filled with friends in town for the Open; they're even sleeping in the kitchen, which has a gigantic Union Jack hanging on a wall. They're talking about the bets they've placed, the free golf gear they've scored. One of them stands at the stove cooking food.

I walk down the long narrow hall with rooms on either side, back toward Hope Street. Don says he'll text to let me know if his mates win their bets.

Postscript: I pass No. 13 Hope Street. This is where Prince William lived when he was a college student here. A man stands on the stoop and I ask if the windows are still bulletproof.

"They've still got the big doors and everything," he says.

"You should throw golf balls against the windows for fun," I say.

He laughs.

"People do," he says.

Wright Thompson is a senior writer for ESPN and is executive producer of TrueSouth and co-executive producer of Backstory. He is the author of New York Times bestselling The Cost of These Dreams.



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