By JR on Wednesday, September 28, 2011
The child star of the Labour conference and the truth behind his 'life of poverty'
At just 16, Rory Weal was being feted yesterday as the ‘hero’ of the Labour conference for an impassioned speech telling how the welfare state saved his family from ruin.
The schoolboy tugged at delegates’ heartstrings with a tale of his home being repossessed and the family having ‘nothing, no money, no savings’, and only the benefits system to fall back on.
But Labour leader Ed Miliband may be surprised to know he was not so hard-up after all.
For it turns out he is the privileged son of a millionaire property developer who sent Rory to a private school until his business went bust. Even now he goes to a selective grammar school, which Labour policy opposes.
Rory’s father Jonathan Weal, 53, owned homes worth an estimated £2.25million in some of the most sought-after addresses in the land. He had a luxury penthouse apartment in leafy Blackheath, South London, valued at £1.3million, but it was repossessed and sold for £359,000 – which is still more valuable than the average British home. Then the banks sold Mr Weal’s £950,000 Grade II listed lodge house in Chislehurst, Kent, for ‘only’ half a million pounds.
In the good times, Mr Weal gave Rory an advantage over ordinary families by sending him to £13,788-a-year Colfe’s School in Blackheath. But when his business ventures failed, his son was lucky enough to be accepted by Oakwood Park Grammar School in Maidstone, Kent.
On Monday, Rory electrified the conference with his tub-thumping speech, giving Labour a ‘William Hague moment’ – a reference to 1977 when a teenage Hague wowed the Conservative Party conference.
Attacking the ‘vicious and Right-wing’ Government, Rory conjured up an image of his destitute family as he told Labour delegates: ‘Two and a half years ago, the home I had lived in since birth was repossessed. We had nothing, no money, no savings.
‘I owe my entire well-being and that of my family to the welfare state. That is why I joined the Labour Party, but that very same welfare state is being ruthlessly ripped apart by a vicious and Right-wing Tory-led government.
‘I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for that system, that safety net. So I take this opportunity to plead with the Government to reconsider their measures.’
Yesterday Rory’s own grandmother described the budding politician as an accomplished actor.
At her home in Stockbridge, Hampshire, Sandra Weal said: ‘He used to do a lot of acting and I think that’s why he was so confident in front of an audience.
After the banks repossessed the family’s homes in 2008, Rory’s parents split up. In a Sunday Times interview about his financial downfall, published earlier this year, Mr Weal said: ‘For my wife, Elaine, the humiliation was unendurable.’
He went on: ‘My father and sister are both architects. She went to Cambridge. I came last in everything at school and I’ve spent my life making up for that. It was so important to me that Rory had the best education.’ Colfe’s School is steeped in history as one of the oldest schools in London.
Rory’s mother was a director of a number of her husband’s companies before they went bust, and she, Rory and her eight-year-old daughter now live in a four-bedroom £300,000 semi-detached house in Allington, Maidstone.
There are only 164 grammar schools left in the country, 32 of them in Kent, where Rory lives.