I taught Hamlet to killer prince

15th June 2001 at 01:00
Then in the aftermath of the Nepalese massacre former royal tutor Martin Spice and staff at his school guided grieving pupils through international exams.

CROWN Prince Dipendra, or King Dipendra as he was for two days, was at Eton by the time I arrived in Nepal in 1989. During the holidays I was his English literature tutor. One of the works we studied was Hamlet.

Two afternoons a week, for several weeks, a royal car took me to the Narayanhity palace in Kathmandu. There, Dipendra and I would pore over the text together.

Twelve years later, on Friday, June 1 this year, it was in this same palace that 10 members of the royal family were shot dead. Dipendra had apparently gunned down his father the King, the Queen, his younger brother, Nirajan, and his sister, as well as other family members, before finally turning the gun on himself.

The bitter irony of having taught the bloodbath of Hamlet's Act 5 to the man seemingly responsible for wiping out his entire family has not escaped me. Like the rest of the country, I sat stunned, glued to the international news channels.

But it was more than just horrified curiosity that kept me there. I had also taught Nirajan at Budhanilkantha school where I worked for five years until 1994. I remembered the friendly, lopsided grin of this young boy who slept in a cold, concrete dormitory along with his classmates.

Even though we were numb from the news of the massacre, staff at The British School, where I now teach, had to concentrate on how to run the final international GCSE exams.

Although the 260-pupil international school was closed for mourning, our four candidates had to sit the exams or wait until November. Not an easy decision, given that two of the four were close to the royal family; one of them very close. In spite of the nightmare this girl was living through, she opted to si the exams.

With riots following the royal cremations, Kathmandu was distinctly on edge and daily curfews were imposed. With the agreement of Cambridge, all exams were rescheduled to avoid curfew hours, except the French paper on June 5, due to be taken by just one candidate.

Curfew was at 12 noon; the exam was due to finish at 12.20. The candidate's parents arranged a police escort across town after the exam.

With an eerie silence settling over the city, the principal, the director of studies and I were left to walk home. Like gunslingers out of High Noon we walked down the middle of the road. Later that day, two people died, dozens suffered bullet wounds and hundreds were arrested for breaking the curfew.

However, the royal massacre was not the only event of the year to have the director of studies reaching for the exam boards' special consideration forms. First there was the earthquake tremor which forced students sitting their Nepali exam briefly to abandon their papers and line up outside. Then came the three-day bandh, a protest which aimed to force the resignation of the prime minister.

Its last day coincided with the English literature exam. On that occasion, the British ambassador came to the rescue, letting our candidates use a room within the embassy compound.

Three senior members of staff and one student were whisked through deserted streets in an official car; an escort crammed with policemen with staves led the way. At least one had a rifle barrel poking out of the window.

But all this earlier drama has paled into insignificance compared with the royal tragedy. Now, at least, the city is calmer and the last exam papers are on their way back to England.

Accompanying them is a thin pile of special consideration forms that can only hint at the extraordinary story of the past few weeks.

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