Old Bedalian 1995-2002

Peter Cabrera’s early school days contained something of everything. Born in Bahrain, the son of a father who was an expert in Islamic finance, Peter was one of a number of expatriates forced to return to the UK literally overnight in the immediate aftermath of the outbreak of the first Gulf War.

“We came over and lived with my grandparents in Old Windsor for a while, which is where I went to school for a couple of terms,” Peter recalls. “The family then moved to Grayshott, largely because some great friends of ours from Bahrain were based in Haslemere, and I started off with a couple of terms at the local comprehensive before moving to The Heights, a prep school that closed a couple of years ago. I was there for a few years at a time when the Head was a man named Cecil Morrison. He was very good at encouraging The Arts and the school rather took on his personality; after he had left I don’t think it was ever quite the same again.”

With the family set to move back to a more tranquil Middle East in 1995, this time in Saudi Arabia, the moment had arrived for Peter to be found a suitable boarding school. “We all did a tour of almost every place in the area, from Charterhouse to Frensham Heights, but of them all, it was Dunhurst that I found most warm and welcoming,” Peter reflects. “It had a completely different feel from the rest – I think that I was keen anyway but dad gave me some excellent advice as well, which was to think about the pupils that had shown me round the various schools and then decide which had made the greatest impact on me. Dunhurst still came out well ahead on that basis.”

Two weeks of homesickness in his new school were quickly dispelled for Peter. “Even through my sadness, I was aware that it wasn’t anything to do with the school but a natural reaction to being separated from my parents,” he says. “I’d been at so many different schools by then that making friends was never a problem, particularly as I found Bedales to be so refreshingly relaxed and free from cliques.”

We all did a tour of almost every place in the area, from Charterhouse to Frensham Heights, but of them all, it was Dunhurst that I found most warm and welcoming

 

Once thoroughly acclimatised, Peter was able to ease himself into a wide variety of activities, of which two retained particular significance through most of his time at Bedales. “I enjoyed the way that Bedales organised sport but as far as fresh air was concerned, I particularly loved Outdoor Work,” he says. “Peter Coates ran that and he was as much a friend as he was a teacher, totally encouraging towards students who wanted to get involved and supportive of the idea that we should be developing new skills. That encouragement was how the Outdoor Work committee came about, which I eventually chaired. There was always something meaningful to do – a few of us built the path outside the geography block, for example – and there was so much variety. You might be chopping wood one day or looking after sheep the next and at one point, we decided to get a horse, which Peter allowed us to feel was entirely our decision.”

Drama was Peter’s other abiding passion at Bedales. “I’d been involved in Drama while I was at The Heights but there, it was always the same old favourites who were picked for the big roles in productions,” he says. “Paul Kennedy, a fabulous teacher of my pet subject at the time, English, was much more discerning than that. He would explain to each person why they would be ideal for a particular part and as a result, my confidence grew and I appeared in quite a few productions. One was The Rivals, which, years later I re-visited again as part of an amateur dramatic group, which brought back a lot of memories.”

Academically, Peter took A Levels in Theatre Studies, English and Philosophy. “There were a lot of positive influences on me but Chris Hamilton, who was briefly Head of Philosophy, was one of the main ones,” Peter observes. “He only taught me for a year – by instinct, he was an academic and he’s now teaching at King’s College, London – but he was a brilliant, inspiring teacher, as well as an excellent form tutor, and by the time he had left, I couldn’t conceive of doing anything else other than Philosophy as a degree. I still meet Chris for a drink occasionally and it’s always good to see him.”

His departure from Bedales before taking up a place at York University was an event for Peter that verged on the traumatic. “Leaving Bedales was awful,” he recalls. “There was a time when I would have given anything to go back and spend another day in the Sixth Form and be able once again to wander around, exploring those beautiful grounds. Leaving it behind was really painful and when I got to York, I did feel somewhat disconnected from my new peers for a while. It was probably only in my third year at university, when I moved back onto campus, that I started to connect properly with the place.”

Peter would go on to take his Master’s at York in Aesthetics but he was still unsure about what sort of career might appeal to him. “I toyed with the idea of law but ultimately decided that I didn’t fancy it,” he admits. “Interestingly, I once met a Circuit judge who told me that he would always recognise the CV of an Old Bedalian! Business or professional services still interested me, though, and eventually, I became a Research Analyst for a company in London. This was the world of head-hunting – it hadn’t been an ambition of mine to become a part of it originally but it ticked enough boxes for me and I hopped around in the industry for the next ten years. I’ve interviewed a lot of people over that period from many different industry sectors and I’ve always found grilling them and finding out about them and their different worlds to be fascinating. I’m sure that it was Bedales that gave me enough confidence not to be afraid of calling up CEOs and Chairmen and convincing them that it was worthwhile continuing the conversation! Most Bedalians, certainly the ones that I’m closest to, have that natural gregariousness, which has always come in handy in that line of work.”

Last year, Peter decided that the moment had come for an overseas adventure. “I met my girlfriend Juliette when we were doing AmDram in London and she’s in the Foreign Office,” he explains. “Over the course of a year or so we talked about going abroad – something we both wanted to do – and possible postings and by the time the news came through that she was going to be sent to Kenya, my bags were already packed! I’d been in the head-hunting business for ten years, I’d made Consultant and I was ready for a radical change of scene.” 

I still feel very Bedalian in lots of ways - most of my housemates in London were Bedalians and the majority of my closest friends today are OBs as well

 

At first, Peter remained within the recruitment industry, working as a Partner at a Kenyan executive search firm. Although it was not quite destined to work out to his satisfaction, Peter’s six-month spell there proved to be a springboard to a completely different opportunity. “Well, I made a lot of contacts, as you do when you’re a head-hunter, one thing led to another and the chance came up for me to become head of Commercial Partnerships at Mdundo.com, which is basically the African equivalent of Spotify, although it isn’t a part of that organisation,” Peter relates. “Mdundo makes its money through advertising, direct partnerships with various brands and partnerships with telcos and my job is all about business development in those areas. Across Africa, there has been this huge explosion in smart phone ownership, everyone wants content and Mdundo offers the continent’s largest music library with music from thousands of African musicians. We’re very much an African content solution for getting African music out there to the African population, one that is quick, cheap, easy to use and obviously of a far better quality than the musical piracy that used to be the only available resource for so many people.”

Twelve months into the job, Peter is clearly having the time of his life. “I really believe in this platform, which is why I’m so enthusiastic about it,” he says. “Working with the artists, although it’s not the core part of my role, is such a huge pleasure, not least because they’ve generally been so supportive of what we’re doing. Juliette and I have talked about staying in Kenya for longer – if this is the huge success that we all hope and think it will be two or three years from now, staying here to see out the role would certainly make sense.”

It’s a fair bet that Peter’s Bedalian self would have approved of where Peter has landed today. “He’d have thought that what I was doing now was pretty cool,” Peter laughs. “He’d definitely have been thrilled that I was working abroad and involved in a creative industry – I was never the best painter or actor but I always loved the creative arts, which was something that Bedales always allowed us to nurture when we were at the school.”

“I still feel very Bedalian in lots of ways,” Peter continues. “Most of my housemates in London were Bedalians and the majority of my closest friends today are OBs as well. No one ever thinks that their old school can ever be quite as good as it was in their day but other than the fact that it has obviously changed physically a bit since I was there, Bedales seems to have the same sort of feel about it. We were taking a walk in Steep not that long ago and I still felt an amazingly strong emotional connection to the school.”