Hanging Out With Emily Maitlis's Sister
Updated: Jul 6
I only became aware of broadcaster Emily Maitlis as a celebrity during 2019, and I realised that I recognised the surname from somewhere. Back when I was a teenager I had attended a music summer school at Downe House School near Newbury in Berkshire, and one of the girls I shared a room with both the years I went was a fellow ‘cellist called Sally Maitlis.
Sally told us that she was born in Canada and spent the first seven years of her life there. Her parents were from Germany and Poland, with their surname originally being Meitlis. The family lived in Sheffield. From correspondence with her I gathered that she had a younger sister called Emily. I asked her if she had any pets, proceeding to tell her about our two family cats – she replied, “My sister Emily has a pet gerbil which I detest – well you did ask.”
Emily Maitlis’ Wikipedia entry doesn’t mention any siblings but the family background is strikingly similar, so I’m pretty sure I can boast of having known Emily Maitlis’s older sister. I was quite taken with Sally - this is what I wrote about her in my diary entry reminiscing of the week I had spent at the Downe House youth orchestras summer school in August 1980:
“I think this girl must be one of the most magnetic and eccentric people I have ever met. The first thing that struck me about her when I first saw her was that she was such a contrast with Bea [Belinda Lewis, another room-mate], and had such a low voice.
Bea, I must mention, had short, streaked blonde hair with grey-green eyes, whereas Sally had a long mane on dark hair, about the same colour as mine, brown eyes, and a noticeably darker complexion than Bea’s. Unlike Bea she seemed to have no anxieties about talking to strangers. She said hi to me as soon as I walked in the door.
"She was a real extrovert, and at first could not understand why not everybody would return her amicable gestures. In the end she put it down to most people (like the other three of us) being shy, but still continued to try to get to know as many people as possible. At the end of the week she complained that she only knew nine people well, which I would have thought for one week was sufficient. I must admit I still marvel at her undaunting amicability, and perhaps am rather jealous of her for it.
“I started to think of her as eccentric when, on the first day, she brought out a packet of incense sticks, and started burning one, sticking it in a crack in the towel rack." In her first letter to me Sally enclosed a banana scented incense stick. I had a few other things in common with her – our birthdays were only a few days apart, making us both Aquarians, we both liked the Beatles and had the same blue floral pyjamas!
My other room-mates that summer were Bea Lewis, mentioned above and a rather shy trumpeter from Bath, and Janet Mountford who played viola and spent much of her time with her older sister Christine, a percussionist. The sisters were from Newcastle-under-Lyme – Janet was somewhat reserved but Christine was as mad as a hatter with a crazy sense of humour, and referred to her friends as crettins.
Another person at the summer school that I was drawn to was a lad named Simon Coombs. He was six days older than me but had been put up a year at school and had already taken his ‘O’ levels at 15. He attracted a lot of attention for having probably one of the first Rubiks Cubes in the country, and I sensed a mutual attraction between him and Sally as she was always borrowing the cube. At some point during the week he put up a notice giving the details of the cube, known then as the Hungarian Magic Cube manufactured by Optikos. Simon was a violinist and a local, hailing from a village near Newbury, and, like Sally, attended the summer school both the years I went.
One of the people I got on quite well with was Olinto Pacozzi, a German speaking Swiss lad who played the violin. He smoked like a chimney and had a great sense of humour. When I returned to Downe House in 1981, he was one of the first people to greet me, along with Sally. Sally had attended a chamber music course the week before and had made some new friends who I didn’t quite fit in with, so we drifted apart.
I was glad to have the company of new room-mate Rachel Black, who was the best friend of Janet from the previous year. Rachel played the clarinet and was naturally kind and friendly. We wrote to each other on and off until we left home for college. The other room-mate that year was Eleanor Fane, a pupil of Downe House School who played the violin. I think she was the first vegetarian I ever met, she said she didn’t like the taste of meat.
Oh, and we played some classical music, which included Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8, Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony, Moldau's Vltava, the William Tell Overture and Brahms’ Tragic Overture. We also visited Newbury and had barn dances two of the nights we were there. Here’s a photo taken in August 1981: