Celebrities at Dubai education summit share stories of detention and school bullying

Sports champions, film stars and politicians speak at the Global Education and Skills Forum

Dubai, UAE. March18, 2018.
 GESF Education Forum - Day 1 - Lewis Hamilton during the forum at the Coffee House.
Victor Besa / The National
Reporter:  Roberta Pennington

This year’s Global Education and Skills Forum delivered an array of inspiring world leaders, sports champions and celebrities.

Among those attending the two-day event at the Atlantis on the Palm, Dubai, on Saturday and Sunday were stars from film, television, literature, social media and politics.

British impersonator and comedian Rory Bremner hosted the event in a TV-style chat show format, and it was a chance for those from the world of entertainment to show their more serious side.

They included rising stars like Taron Egerton, known from the comedy action film series Kingsman. Egerton, 28, plays an action hero in the style of James Bond, but revealed he had been bullied at school in the UK.

“It was awful,” he said. I was really terrified. I didn’t want to go to school.”

He was helped, the young actor said, by a teacher who was “like a superhero.”

Egerton spoke on an informal panel discussion, sharing a platform with fellow British actor Nicholas Hoult, who shot to fame at the age of 11 in the Hugh Grant comedy About a Boy.

Since then he has stared in Mad Max: Fury Road and as Beast in the X-Men franchise. Recalling his childhood break into showbusiness, Hoult, now 28, said he split his life "into two different worlds".

“I imagined it as my alter ego and my real life. So school was the real world and then I'd go off and be like a superhero or something, and shoot a movie and then I would go back to school.

“It was weird because you would have a very adult side of life where you would turn up to work... and then you would go back to school and run around the playground.”


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Actors at the Dubai summit also revealed how they dealt with issues created by social media, not just for themselves but for their children.

Gina Torres, one of the stars of the American TV legal drama Suits - whose cast included royal bride-to-be Meghan Markle - revealed that she did not use it at all.

“I made a choice not to participate in any social media what so ever,“ she said.  “We are in such an age of celebrity and people are so hungry for more information, and the more they get the more they want.

“When I was becoming an actor it was essential that we maintained a kind of mystique about ourselves so when you saw us on stage or on screen inhabiting a character you didn’t have the baggage of who we were.

“That sounds to have gone by the wayside. I am protecting my character and protecting myself, my world my family,” she added.

Sarah Rafferty, another star from the series, said she worried about the effects of social media and technology on her two young daughters.

“They are growing up behind-screen”, Rafferty said.

“I guess my biggest concern with social media and having girls is the effects that it has on their self-esteem and the different type of problems that come with it.

"I am concerned about the connectivity of that generation, of building empathy, of the bullying, anonymous, that can occur."

Four-time and reigning Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton also recalled his school days, revealing that he missed to much time beginning his racing career that he was always in trouble.

“I was always behind at school and trying to catch up,” he said, adding that the school was “not very supportive. I was in detention constantly.”

His parents hired a tutor to give him extra lessons “which I hated” Hamilton said, although adding that he appreciated it now, and the efforts of his favourite teacher, a woman he named as Miss McEwan.

He also spoke of his concerns about the pressures of racing on young drivers, many of who drop out of school to compete.

“Ninety five per cent of them don’t make it,” he said. “And then they have no qualifications and no opportunities afterwards.”

It was one of his goals, Hamilton said, to help prevent this in the future for other young aspiring drivers.

Actress Priyanka Chopra listens during a presentation on the Parkland High School shooting during the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Saturday, March 17, 2018. Student survivors of a Florida high school shooting took their message calling for greater gun safety measures abroad for the first time on Saturday, sharing with educational professionals from around the world their frightening experience. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

Among the other famous names attending the Global Education and Skills Forum were Oscar-winning actor and social activist Charlize Theron;Olympic long-distance champion Sir Mo Farah; Priyanka Chopra, a former Miss World and a star of Bollywood and Hollywood; and the Merrell twins, whose YouTube channel has four million followers and who have just completed their first feature for Netflix.

From the world of politics, speakers included United States vice president and environmental campaigner Al Gore; former British prime minister and Middle East peace envoy Tony Blair; and Julia Gillard, the former prime minister of Australia.