Ncuti Gatwa Doctor Who: Edinburgh head teacher reveals pride as former pupil becomes famous Time-Lord

It's safe to say staff and pupils at one Edinburgh high school are buzzing at the news that one of their own. Ncuti Gatwa, is to be the new Doctor Who, none more so than Head Teacher, David C Dempster.

By Liam Rudden
Monday, 9th May 2022, 4:01 pm

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With undisguised pride Mr Dempster declares, “As Head Teacher of Boroughmuir High School I am absolutely delighted to have a Time Lord as one of our alumni. It’s a first for us and perhaps any school in this solar system.“I’m pleased to say that long before I was Head Teacher I was in fact Ncuti’s science teacher. I’m not sure that I can take any credit for his ascension to Time Lord status but I can remember his incredible smile and infectious personality. I knew that he’d go far in life beyond Boroughmuir.“I and all in Boroughmuir High School are incredibly proud of Ncuti’s career and his new role as Doctor Who. We can’t wait to welcome him back - at any time (present, future or past) that’s convenient to him!”

​Born in Rwanda, Gatwa was just a toddler when his family were forced to leave their war-torn homeland for Scotland, refugees fleeing the genocide in 1994. Arriving in the Capital, the family settled in Oxgangs, “ of like three black families in the whole of Edinburgh” as he once recalled. It made him an easy target.

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Ncuti Gatwa at the Virgin Media British Academy Television Awards, held at the Royal Festival Hall, Sunday 8 May, 2022 Photo by Scott Garfitt/Shutterstock for BAFTA

He remembered, “I grew up in a working-class area, and I stood out – for my voice, my appearance, I did dance and things like that. But I always had faith in my charm. I always had faith in my charisma. I was like, ‘If I can go around each group and befriend them all, then I’m all powerful.’ Divide and conquer... It did work. I was all powerful!”

It certainly worked when the family moved to Fife. In the past Gatwa has admitted experiencing a sense of isolation growing up, revealing in one TV documentary that he was bullied at secondary when fellow pupils at his school in Dunfermline targeted him by setting up a racist Facebook focused on him. However, once again, his natural charm won them over and made them address their attitudes and actions.

He went on the record, saying, “It wasn’t pleasant, but it wasn’t actually horrendous… it didn’t really bother me that much because I was like, 'You can’t know me and not like me.' I was actually quite confused. I was like, 'What? These people don’t like me?' I was like, 'That’s never happened before.' So I was like, 'OK, fine. I’m just going to carry on being myself and they’re going to fall in love with me sooner or later.' And they did.”Befriending the bullies he turned the situation around.

“It was really a good lesson to me about the difference between hate and ignorance. Obviously their behaviour was inexcusable. But at the same time, I was the first black person that they probably saw in real life.

Asa Butterfield and Ncuti Gatwa in Sex Education

“They apologised profusely. Sorry is only a word, isn’t it, but their actions spoke more than that. It wasn’t that horrendous. My mum really toughened me up, as well. I grew up watching her move to this country with three kids on her back. She couldn’t speak the language, didn’t know the culture, no money, no nothing – and she raised all three of us. As cheesy as it sounds, I’ve been watching strength from young.”

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It was two teachers who spotted his potential in drama class and pushed him towards applying to go to drama school, Glasgow's Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, a move that ultimately led to his casting in the Netflix series Sex Education, which brought his break-through role, that of Eric Effiong.

Gatwa is now based in London, where his accent, a unique blend of Scottish, West African and English has almost got him into a fight on more than one occasion.

Boroughmuir High School Head Teacher, David C Dempster

“People have tried to fight me,” he has revealed. “There’ve been times when I’ve been on a night out and people ask me where I’m from; You get chatting, like, 'Oh mate, where are you from?’‘Oh, I’m from Scotland.’‘No, where are you actually from?’'Scotland.'‘Why are you taking the piss?’‘I’m not taking the piss...’“People think you’re being a dick... but it’s booked me a lot of jobs. I’m not complaining.”

As well as becoming the fourteenth Doctor Who, Gatwa is also the fourth Scottish actor to play​ ​the Time-Lord - Sylvester McCoy, David Tennant and Peter Capaldi all preceded him. At 29 years old he is the same age Peter Davision was when he became the fifth Doctor and, at the time, the youngest actor to play the role. A good omen perhaps but the Scottish connections don't stop there; the fifth Doctor and tenth Doctor are now family, Davison becoming Tennant's father-in-law after the Bathgate actor married Georgia Moffett, his daughter and, just to add to any confusion, she also played the Doctor's daughter in the TV series.

Speaking after the announcement of his casting on Sunday, Gatwa said of his new challenge, “So as much as it’s daunting, I’m aware I’m joining a really supportive family. Unlike the Doctor, I may only have one heart but I am giving it all to this show.”

He may only have one heart but when it comes to home, it’s clearly shared between his love of Rwanda and of Scotland. After a recent trip back to the country of his birth, his first in many years, Gatwa admitted he was blown away by its beauty, explaining, “I didn’t feel like I was looking at real life”, adding, “It’s just so nice to be able to fly that flag. That flag and my Scottish flag. I love that I come from both those places.”

Ncuti Gatwa and Russell T Davies at the Virgin Media British Academy Television Awards Photo by Scott Garfitt/Shutterstock for BAFTA

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