Paul Williams Named Tatler's Unsung Hero of 2024 | Epsom College
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Paul Williams Named Tatler’s Unsung Hero of 2024

The Tatler School Awards are the glitziest, glitteriest ceremony in the calendar - and Epsom's Second Master was named their Hero of 2024.

Pupils, staff, Old Epsomians, and parents alike rejoiced at the news that legendary Second Master, Mr Paul Williams, has been named Tatler Schools’ Unsung Hero of 2024.

Mr Williams, accompanied by his wife, Sarah, and Epsom College Head, Sir Anthony Seldon, attended the award ceremony in the Ballroom of Park Lane’s Dorchester Hotel in London to accept the award.

On receiving the award, Mr Williams said, “I am truly honoured, and humbled, to have been given this award by Tatler and was deeply moved. However, I do feel this award is for the whole Epsom community – pupils, parents, staff, Governors and Old Epsomians – who have all been so amazing since those tragic events back in February. Everyone has shown such astonishing resilience, courage and community spirit. I would pay particular tribute to our former Chair of Governors, Dr Alastair Wells, who is sadly unwell at the moment. He was a real tower of strength during those difficult days, not only to us here at the College, but also to Emma’s family”.

Paul was thrust into the limelight earlier this year, following the tragic death of Emma Pattison. Though he had never desired to take the reins at Epsom, and certainly not in such difficult circumstances, he assumed the role of Acting Head with great skill and a steady hand. In the College’s darkest months, Paul’s infinite wisdom, pragmatism and understanding of Epsom College, ensured pupils, staff, parents and the school itself endured, pulled together and ultimately emerged stronger than ever.

However, the reason for Paul being rightly recognised as an ‘Unsung Hero’ of UK education, goes back much further than the past few months. Here we speak to Mr Williams about his (almost) four decades of shaping young lives at the College.

You started at Epsom College in 1984 (just shy of 40 years!) – what are the main roles you’ve held across the years?

I was fortunate to be appointed as Housemaster of Fayrer in 1993 (when it was a boys’ boarding house) and carried out that role for 15 years until 2008. I was then the first ‘Head of Transition’ (i.e. Head of Year for M4), before being appointed to my current role in 2010. I was also Master (as it was called in those days!) i/c Cricket (a huge love of mine) from 1999-2003.

Outside of the classroom and boarding house, what other areas of school life have you been involved in?

I would have to say mainly sport! I have coached many of the main sports here: rugby, cricket, football, hockey (both boys and girls) and Cross Country, another great love of mine. One of the main reasons I came into teaching, and Epsom in particular, was so that I could involve myself in two of my great interests – maths and sport.

What has been the highlight of your time at the College?

From a purely personal point of view, it has to be meeting my wife, Sarah, here at Epsom and getting married in the College Chapel over 30 years ago! Schoolwise, there are so many great moments. If I could pick one, it would probably be the 150th Celebrations at the Albert Hall where the whole College was bussed up there for an evening of great entertainment. That and the 15 years I spent as a Housemaster – surely one of the hardest, but certainly the most rewarding, in education.

In your opinion, what makes Epsom College so special?

It’s difficult to answer this in just a few words, but one that keeps springing to mind is “community”.

The whole community is so special – pupils, staff, parents, OEs and their parents, and Governors. We all work together for the common good. Allied to that, are the really special relationships which build at Epsom between all parts of the community. The lovely grounds we are in also make Epsom a really special place to live and work. At Epsom, whether you are a day pupil or a boarder, you have the time and opportunities to excel at any number of things, without having to specialise in just one, be it academic, sport, music, drama etc. You really can do it all.

Your two boys went through Epsom, how do you think it has shaped them as adults?

Academically, the boys were very different, but both ended up achieving their potential and going on to where they wanted to get to. Epsom enabled them to do that.

Epsom is all about learning to work in teams, not just sports teams, but in music, drama and, probably most importantly, in the Houses. Learning how to work with, and appreciate other people, has certainly helped to shape them into the people they are today. Friendships made on the sports field, or in the House, have held true as they have moved on with their lives and careers. Our elder son always swears that learning how to manage his time so he could participate in all areas of life successfully was learnt here at Epsom.

How has the College changed over the years?

Hugely, and very much for the better. When I arrived back in 1984 there were two female teachers in the College and the rest were men, now I suspect the ratio is about 50:50 making for a much more balanced environment to work and learn in.

There were 60 Sixth Form girls in the White House and the rest were boys. The move to coeducation in 1996 was a defining moment for the College and, although everything is not yet perfect, there is no doubt that the girls have transformed the College.

Facilities have, of course, improved massively and continue to do so. The College is also a much friendlier place now, in my opinion.

What are your plans for the future?

Umm… I’m not sure to be honest! When I retire, I intend to improve my golf handicap considerably, and I suspect Sarah and I will look forward to travelling a bit before we are too old. Strangely, I have always wanted to be groundsman, so who knows……I might end up rolling wickets and cutting the outfield…