Charles: a king in waiting

When Prince Charles, who turns 70 next week, becomes king on the death of his mother Queen Elizabeth, he will have waited longer than any of his predecessors to head a royal family that dates back 1 000 years.

Some monarchists fear, and republicans hope, he will be a poor king.

His admirers believe his wisdom, thoughtfulness and concerns for conservation and the environment will win him the public support he deserves.

Overshadowing it all is his late first wife, Princes Diana, the acrimonious end to their marriage, and the enduring hostility in some quarters to his second wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall.

“You are accused of being controversial just because you are trying to draw attention to things that aren’t necessarily part of the conventional viewpoint,” Charles said in an interview with GQ magazine in September. “My problem is I find there are too many things that need doing.”

Charles Philip Arthur George, Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Rothesay, Earl of Carrick, Baron of Renfrew, Earl of Chester, Lord of the Isles and Prince and Great Steward of Scotland, was born at Buckingham Palace on November 14, 1948.

He was four when his grandfather George VI died and his mother ascended to the throne at the age of 25. The following year, he watched with his grandmother and aunt, the late Princess Margaret, as Elizabeth was crowned queen of 16 realms.

He despised his remote Scottish school, Gordonstoun, which his father also attended, but was the first royal heir to get a degree after studying at Cambridge University.

Charles was made Prince of Wales at a grand ceremony in 1969.

But at 92 his mother remains in good health with no plans to abdicate, so his wait goes on. For his critics, and even some monarchists who think he will bring disaster upon the House of Windsor, that is no bad thing.

“Frankly we’re very lucky he hasn’t been king, because whereas the queen has been the most exemplary monarch and has kept the monarchy much in people’s esteem, I think Charles would undermine it,” said Tom Bower, author of Rebel Prince, an unauthorised biography.

Such unflattering biographies portray Charles as an arrogant, weak man who enjoys the trappings of luxury – he has his own royal harpist – is intolerant of criticism and is a devotee of oddball theories. Charles declined to be interviewed for this article.

His supporters say he is easy quarry, with every action and utterance scrutinised by an often unsympathetic media.

“When you’re in his very exposed public position, loyalty and disloyalty is a quite complex situation,” said a former senior aide who worked with the prince for many years.

The aide said Charles’ detractors simply chose to view his characteristics in a bad light.

“There’s a whole load of stuff that is just not true,” the former aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said. “Bower’s only spoken to people with a grievance.”

What is he really like?

“He’s complicated. I’ve rarely met anyone so curious about the world as him and eager to know what’s going on and why. More than anything, he’s got this drive, he’s phenomenally hard-working,” the ex-aide said.

Simon Lewis, the queen’s communications secretary from 1998 to 2001, described Charles as full of enthusiasm, committed, with a “wicked sense of humour”.

“If you are a public figure … if you put your head above the parapet, then you get criticism.”

Friends and foes speak of his devotion to duty. The prince’s working day starts at breakfast – he doesn’t have lunch – and finishes near midnight.

The ex-aide said he got a work-related call from Charles on Christmas Day.

In private, Charles is passionate about arts, culture, theatre, literature, opera and pop – he’s also a big fan of Leonard Cohen.

Happiest in his garden, he loves William Shakespeare, paints watercolours and has written children’s books. He can be fun but also short-tempered and demanding, the former aide said.

Although Charles is loath to talk about becoming monarch, as it will mean the death of his mother, behind the scenes well-prepared plans for the occasion – codenamed Operation London Bridge – are ready.

Reuters

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