Hollywood icon Tom Hiddleston, who spent his formative years at Eton, on how the renowned Windsor institution inspired him to dream big

During his formative years boarding at Eton, Tom Hiddleston was simply known by his surname. A singular, emphatic moniker. ‘It was always “Hiddleston this, Hiddleston that. Hiddleston, are you coming to class. Hiddleston, quit daydreaming”. The teachers, the other boys. It’s so odd now, I don’t think anyone has called me anything else other than Tom since then. It’s a strangely odd phenomenon that we all go through, particularly boys I guess. You become so conditioned to it and then you leave, go to university, make your way in life and suddenly, that all ends.’

The 34-year-old son of a pharmaceutical executive attended the renowned Windsor institution during the mid to late 90s, finding the experience far from the pre-conceived, ‘starchy’ notions. ‘I thoroughly enjoyed my time [at Eton],’ the Avengers superstar, best known for his portrayal of cosmic villain Loki, cheerfully explains. ‘There’s this idea of immovable structure and tradition, where rules remain in place from hundreds of years back, but instead there’s a freedom and an encouragement for self-exploration. I like dispelling the generally-held beliefs because, more often than not, they are totally inaccurate. I discovered who I wanted to be while I went there.’

Tom Hiddleston: from Eton to Hollywood

Hiddleston praises Eton for developing a love for giving something a go

While the actor didn’t officially pursue his passion till he read Classics at Cambridge, he certainly caught the bug while at Eton, participating in productions of Foster’s A Passage to India [alongside chum and Oscar-winner, Eddie Redmayne] and Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia. ‘You were encouraged to try everything, to see where your interests lay,’ he recollects. ‘I loved sport and I thoroughly enjoyed my time on stage, performing. It was liberating and eye-opening, it felt right.’

Since a breakthrough in BBC’s Scandinavian series, Wallander, Hiddleston (sorry Tom) used his connections with co-star Kenneth Branagh, who directed Marvel’s incarnation of Thor, to land the hotly contested part of Loki. The fan favourite performance fed into a headlining role in The Avengers, one of the highest grossing movies of all time, while on the side, he balanced work with Steven Spielberg [War Horse], Terence Davies [The Deep Blue Sea] and Woody Allen [Midnight in Paris].

Now, rumours revolve around Academy Award recognition for a forthcoming stellar turn as tragic country music sensation Hank Williams in I Saw The Light. Naturally, Hiddleston bats away any notion of such success. ‘That kind of stuff is lovely to mention and I’m certainly not complaining about the association, but it all feels rather fantastical right now. If the film gets recognised in that way, fantastic for everyone involved.’

Tom Hiddleston as Loki, the role that brought the actor fame in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Tom Hiddleston as Loki, the role that brought the actor fame in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

The Marc Abraham directed biopic focuses on Williams years before his untimely death at just 29. ‘He was one of the pre-eminent songwriters to ever come out of America, inspiring people like Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash. But he was also deeply flawed, deeply human, plagued by human demons and yet incredibly charismatic, incredibly authentic. He was such a huge star largely because people knew he was for real. And that’s rare in this day and age.’

Meanwhile, fans are giddy with anticipation for Hiddleston’s latest Thor instalment, Ragnarok. Though he’s giving little away – largely because he knows so little. ‘There’s no director, there’s no script, there’s no timeframe, so it’s one of those things where there’s very little to tell. I don’t want to be dishonest when I don’t have any details.’

That will surely come as a disappointment to Hiddlestoners, the official name for his devoted disciples. But while good friend, Benedict Cumberbatch lays zero claim to the title of his followers, Cumberbitches, did he have anything to do with his? ‘I certainly didn’t come up with it,’ he laughs at the notion that times haven’t changed all that much since Eton name-wise. ‘I think I would have come up with something a little more flattering for them. But it makes me laugh when someone mentions it. It’s pretty amazing all the same.’

WORDS Stephen Milton