Interview with OO David Howlett, the sailing coach to the stars!

David Howlett, an accomplished sailor himself, competing in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal and Barcelona 1992, went on to coach amongst others, GB’s most successful Olympic sailor yet, Sir Ben Ainslie. Down-to-earth, approachable and inordinately modest, David (or Sid after his love of punk rock music!) has spent a life-time on the sea including eight years in the Royal Navy and his experience and expertise has proved a winning combination time after time.

Rewinding the clock back to his formative school days, David tells us what he remembers about his time at Oakham.

Did you have a favourite teacher at Oakham?

I can’t pick out a favourite, but my lasting memory is that all the teachers at Oakham were incredibly professional - seemingly all from Oxbridge and so dedicated, being ‘on duty’ from 7am – 10pm. They were all so giving of their time, not just in the classroom but also for sporting events and during the weekends and half-term holidays for extra-curricular activities such as CCF and various camping trips.

Your favourite memories of life at Oakham?

Looking back I fondly remember the teaching staff embracing the Oakham way of life whole- heartedly which was infectious to pupils. We were encouraged to grasp every opportunity and try as many new things as possible to see where our strengths and enjoyments may lie. In the 1960s, of course, Oakham was solely boys – 450 of us and I distinctly remember the joy I felt when we all got together and sung enthusiastically for Congregational practice on a Saturday and again for Morning and Evening Song on a Sunday and this experience is now repeated at the Emirates Stadium cheering on Arsenal. We were always kept busy and were occupied from the moment we woke, to when we returned to our House each night – no doubt the best way to exhaust a large cohort of boys!

What did sport mean to you at Oakham?

remember that there were so many sporting activities on offer for the boys so you had a chance to try anything from all the traditional school sports such as rugby, cricket, athletics, to the more unusual Fives or Shooting, so there was always plenty of choice. I was a late developer physically and having arrived at Oakham into Hodge Wing at just 10 years old, a year earlier than most, and then left School a year early – so was only 16 when I departed Oakham in 1968. This meant I was small in comparison to my contemporaries, but I was happy and did well at Oakham – was Head Boy at Hodge Wing under Mike Rees, the Housemaster, before moving to Wharflands with John Barber as my Housemaster.

What changes have you noticed when returning to Oakham?

Oakham School is now almost unrecognisable from my day – firstly there are girls! And an equal number of them – making up an impressive School of over 1,000 pupils. The beautiful old buildings I remember like School House and the Chapel remain, alongside some truly high-spec, modern facilities on the campus. It’s clear the School is constantly evolving to move with the times and provide that much talked about all-round education.

Have you attended many OO Events since leaving School?

I came back to a 50-year reunion this year that my contemporary Peter Hewlett helped to organise. It was marvellous to meet up with my fellow peer group and see what amazing condition the School is in. I was particularly impressed with BAFS Pavilion which overlooks both the cricket wickets and rugby pitches and was ideal for the reunion.

Any advice you would give an Oakhamian on leaving the familiarity of Oakham School?

Work hard, stick at it whilst enjoying the whole experience and you will be better equipped to deal with life on leaving School and facing the big wide world.

Advice you might now have given yourself at Oakham?

Carpe Diem! Try everything on offer - and to have perhaps worked harder!

To catch up with other OO News please read the latest issue of the Old Oakhamian