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Alistair Macdonald, class of 1997

Alistair Macdonald, class of 1997

From an international family which establish residence in Brazil, getting totally involved with St. Paul’s School, Alistair Macdonald and his brothers attended the school from the first to the last scholar years. His father was also very much involved with the school, and acted as a member of the Board of the Governors at the time his children were at school.

Being a former actor, Ali discovered his acting passion right on our theatre stage, exploring his talent in the school plays and learning about Drama. Now, he lives in the UK with his family, but kept many fond memories from his pupil’s years.

What brought you and your family to St. Paul’s? 

My British father met my mother in Buenos Aires and eventually moved to Sao Paulo in the seventies. He worked in the cotton industry, and he had already lived in many different countries around the world, but he settled in São Paulo and that became their forever home and the school had a lot to do with that. My brothers Malcolm, Ian, and I all attended the school from start to finish.  My late father Andrew was involved with the school in some capacity or other for over 40 years including being chairman of the Board of Governors. He loved the school and dedicated a lot of time and energy to it.

Tell us more about your experience as a St. Paul’s pupil. 

I spent 14 years at St. Paul’s (1983 to 1997), I had a very happy time at school. I was always very involved with school life and hardly spend any time away from those famous grounds. I was very involved with theatre and sports from an early age. It was certainly the extracurricular activities that kept me going (at least to being with) when I look back at my memories of the school, it does involve loads of laughter, a bit of mischief and a lot of good friends.

What made St. Paul’s special? What is your fondest memory of the school? 

Where do I start… the facilities were always amazing. I was at the school during a time of serious long term structural change and building work, but I was lucky enough to enjoy all those new facilities, classrooms and air conditioning! (That was a welcome addition during the Brazilian summer!)  The teachers were amazing and inspirational people both British and Brazilian. Mr. Nichols, Mr. Hubuc, Dr. Hallinan, Mr. Rob Ager and in early years Mrs. Jezzi, Mrs. Delgado, Mrs. Philips, Mrs. Lindsay… I could go on and on. They were all brilliant teachers (I think you appreciate all their efforts even more later in life). Special mention of course has to go to the wonderful Mr. Casey McCann, our Headmaster who was an inspiration, he was a very special man and was so supportive even after I had left school. I have various fond memories especially up on stage in various plays, playing football in the varsity team, two ranchos (one that we won!). The visit of Princess Diana was also a very memorable moment.

Did you have a teacher at St. Paul’s who was particularly impactful?

I was lucky enough to have had a very special teacher, mentor and lifelong friend in Mrs. Cristina Pentreath. I had a passion for Drama and acting and Cristina was a big part of that. She nurtured and encouraged my acting path and was absolutely instrumental in my career. Alongside Cristina was later my 6th form tutor (during IB) and in those two years my academic results were totally turned around. She had a lot to do with that. I remember a pivotal and fairly heated bit of advice she gave me along the lines of “get a grip” and “get to work”!

I was lucky enough to come over to the school from London to make a speech at her farewell lunch in December 2018. It was a huge honour, I will never forget.  What an incredible amount she did for the school.

How did your studies lead you to your career choice? 

I have certainly pursued a different (or more unusual) career path to lots of other Old Pauleans. The opportunities to play meaningful acting roles in the school plays gave me the confidence to give the very difficult and “economically scary” path to being an actor a go. I went on to study a BA in Drama and Theatre studies at Royal Holloway, University of London and following that I gained a place at one of the best Drama schools in the UK, The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts (LAMDA). I was an actor for a further 8 years with various highs and lows. It is a tough industry but I don’t regret a minute of it… mostly because I met my wife Emily doing a Shakespeare production in Cambridge. The School gave me the confidence to go for it even if it was an unusual career path.   

The last 13 years I have been in the events industry in London as Head of Operations for an event company. We run very exciting events, mostly VIP Hospitality for big concerts (Rolling Stones, Adele, and Bruce Springsteen to name a few) and Film Premieres in London.

What are some skills you learned at St. Paul’s that apply to your professional life? 

I would say the most important skill is drive and work ethic. It is something that is so valuable and not a tangible subject you can teach at school. I think those things can only be taught as part of a bigger culture and it’s something the school delivers very well. There is a healthy striving for results, of course, but outside of this there was always a respectful sense of competition, not only academically but between houses (York and Lancaster in my days). I left St. Paul’s confident and well prepared for anything I needed to tackle professionally with a “can do” attitude.

What advice would you give to St. Paul’s pupils? 

Firstly, you are very lucky to be at St Paul’s…. it is a huge privilege to be part of this community so take full advantage of this opportunity.

Sometimes it’s not easy to focus on the academics but you will find out that some of the most important things you will take away from school are the things alongside it. Get involved, try new things, make lots of friends, push your boundaries and have fun.. these are the best years of your life!

Do you still remain in close contact with your friends from St. Paul’s? 

The Class of 97 are a great bunch… we are in touch with each other quite often but we could still do better! We have a class WhatsApp group. I stay in touch with three friends in particular: George Kerr, Rodrigo Sancovsky and Raoni Leonard. They all have kids at the School so I do manage to stay in the loop and hear about what’s happening.

I have always been and remain a very committed Old Paulean even though I live in the UK. I took two theatre productions and workshops to St. Paul’s from the UK in 2002 and 2004 and have also helped organise two London Old Pauleans’ events in the last few years, they were very well attended. We are sure to have another one very soon. So if you live in the UK keep your eye out for more news!


Alistair and his former teacher, Mrs. Cristina Pentreath.

Alistair during his pupil years. 

Alistair nowadays, living in the UK.

Alistair performing in one of the school plays. 

The memorable visit of Princess Diana, one of the remarkable moments which Alistair lived in St. Paul's School. 

Alistair's beautiful family.