David Cameron’s office has declined to comment on the allegation, from a new biography, that the British prime minister once inserted his member into the mouth of a dead pig at an initiation ceremony for Oxford University’s secretive Piers Gaveston Society. With Cameron keeping mum, we’re left to ask: What is “Piers Gav”? And is sticking their genitals into the orifices of dead livestock the kind of thing Oxford students usually do?
Oxford, the Harvard of England, is densely populated with drinking clubs: Two years ago the society magazine Tatler counted “a stonking 48” of them. These institutions are comparable to fraternities at a big U.S. college: an emphasis on libatious excess with a mild overlay of ironic traditionalism—which, this being the oldest university in the English-speaking world, might mean drinking from 18th-century silver (as the men of the Loder do) or wearing brown tailcoats (the Phoenix).
Among these august bodies, Piers Gav is known for embodying the English boarding-school tradition of winking, semi-ironic camp: It’s named for a supposed lover of King Edward II, and the club’s Latin motto translates to: “None remember hearing of a man enjoying another man so much.” Former members include Hugh Grant and London mayor Boris Johnson, but not, apparently, Cameron himself—a detail that casts some doubt on the story. (Although maybe he failed to put his penis in the pig’s mouth convincingly enough to secure membership.)
The club is limited to twelve members, all men, and is famous in Oxford for its huge summer ball. Tatler quoted an alum as saying, “Everyone secretly longs to be invited to the Piers Gav … It’s basically a very well-organized orgy.” But there’s some disagreement as to just how shocking the event is: The 1995 party was described by one attendee as “not-terribly-debauched public schoolboys’ idea of debauchery”; another apparently resembled “a lot of posh people having a bit of a rave.”
Cameron is more closely associated with a much older society, the Bullingdon Club. (Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne and London Mayor Boris Johnson, who was in more than one club, also belonged.) Bullingdon is known for an ethos of entitled destructiveness: After members demolished the doors and windows of Christ Church College in 1894, the club was barred from meeting within 15 miles of Oxford. During the Cameron era, Johnson biographer Andrew Gimson told the BBC, “I don’t think an evening would have ended without a restaurant being trashed and being paid for in full, very often in cash.” In 2013, the Mirror reported that new members prove themselves by burning a £50 note in front of a beggar.
Does the pig’s head story pass the smell test? On the one hand, British writer Toby Young avers that “I wrote about the Piers Gaveston Society for Vanity Fair in 1995 … The Gaveston members I spoke to weren’t particularly discreet about what they and their friends had got up to, but none of them mentioned this or anything like it.” On the other, in 1989, the year after Cameron graduated Oxford with a first-class honors degree, pig’s heads were on display at the Oxford Covered Market.