October 29 2009
Twenty-four hours after Lucinda Mason finished her English A-level she took an EasyJet to Magaluf with her “bessy” friends from Tudor Abbey. It took a week of binge drinking and sunbathing at the Majorcan resort – which they soon took to calling “Shagaluf” – for the clutch of public-school girls to chill out after an upper-sixth-form year of hard graft and half-bottles of vodka.
They returned to school one more time for the Leavers’ Ball and the following day, after taps of farewell tears at the £29,000-a-year Gloucestershire boarding school (which Lucinda had spent her life vilifying), the 18-year-old flew to Corfu to spend three weeks with her parents at the family’s luxury villa. After that she intended to start her gap year proper.
Lucinda had been accepted by Leeds University to read History of Art – provided she got an “A” and two “B”s in her A-levels. She had deferred her place and intended to spend three months tending the bar at her local pub to earn the money to circle the globe with her closest school friend Georgia, who, coincidentally, also had a deferred place at Leeds.
The girls had decided to winter in New Zealand (“their summer!”) and tour South America, including a month of volunteer work at a school in Lima, Peru. It would, she told her mother, be a chance for them to give something back to a nation that was so much worse off than her own. In return, her father had promised to pay for a “round-the-world” ticket.
Unfortunately, the first step of the gap year did not go quite as planned. Lucinda immediately found that working behind the bar of The Red Lion was unsuited to her artistic talents. Not only did she lack the common touch but she found it embarrassing being “in service”. She started taking days off and, by the end of the second week, she told her parents that the alcohol fumes were making her ill… and would they mind if she chucked in the job and borrowed the money for her upcoming odyssey. Her indulgent father agreed to the “loan” and Lucinda spent the following weeks having jabs, shopping and partying with her old school chums.
Finally, with the required A-level results under her designer belt, she and Georgia set off for Australia in October and spent the first weeks down under clubbing in Cairns and snorkelling off the Great Barrier Reef. Then they flew to Queenstown, New Zealand, which, as Lucinda said in her first e-mail to her parents, was “awesome”. “There’s some really great stuff to do like parabungying and jetboating,” she wrote. “At night we all meet up at a place called the World Club that has a barman called Teddy who serves cocktails in teapots. He went to Eton! He knows everybody at Tudor Abbey.”
From there, Lucinda and Georgia flew to Los Angeles and roomed for two weeks with a movie producer’s daughter who had been in a different house from them at school. The two girls then jetted down to Lima where, after spending the morning in an internet café, they discovered from a couple of gap-yearers from Wycombe Abbey that hanging out at the backpackers’ hostel where they had been staying was, “like, so uncool”. Everyone, said their new friends, was meeting up in Argentina. And through Facebook they managed to link up with a group of boys from Stowe School who had been travelling through Ecuador and were now in Buenos Aires.
Lucinda and Georgia took the bus to the place where they were supposed to do voluntary work to tell them that, unfortunately, they wouldn’t be able to help educate the poor of Peru after all, and then jumped on a flight to Buenos Aires and checked into the Hostel Clan.
That night they went out for a kosher McDonald’s (the only one outside Israel) in the Abasto Shopping Centre, where they tucked into a Big Mac without cheese and – you won’t believe this – met up with James Boothby, who Georgia had been introduced to at a polo match in Cirencester Park earlier in the year. He suggested that the girls move to the Milhouse Hostel. It was downtown, known for partying (with its own Monday-night DJ session) and had salsa and tango lessons. And everyone slept in dorms. “It’s really cool,” said James. “It’s just like… being back at school.”