A KING FOR OUR TIME
KING CHARLES III did not waste his time as Prince of Wales, as a king in waiting – unlike the Duke of Windsor or Edward VII who both, when heir to the throne, abused their position to indulge in the pleasures of the flesh or racetrack. King Charles is an authority on architecture, horticulture, organic farming and history; he can fly a plane, sail, is an expert rider, climber, fisherman and shot, and a fine watercolourist. The only sports he is pretty useless at are those with bat or ball. Prince Charles was in many ways ill-suited to his role in life, but adjusted. He is sensitive, sometimes prickly, and private; so the spotlight has not always been welcome. Princess Diana thought the ‘top job’ would suffocate him, that he wouldn’t cope with the limitations to freedom it imposed. But his extraordinary range of talents and skills, and his grasp of the reality of constitutional monarchy, make him in fact ideally suited. Not least because he has watched his mother’s perfectly judged reign, and grasped, as she did, the need for gentle evolution.
His life has been gilded, but troubled. Born to be king one day, he had his every gurgle, every childhood event or wobble, splashed on the news. When he went to Gordonstoun in Scotland (‘Colditz with kilts’ as he called it) a minor blip with a cherry brandy was on the front page.
Charles was an able student and survived Gordonstoun to go to Cambridge, where he is remembered for his Goonish humour; but he was not like other students who could concentrate on serious partying, and table footy. Charles was distracted by his official ‘red boxes’ and the need for discretion. He had, before marriage to Lady Diana Spencer, a number of girlfriends of whom Camilla Shand was the most serious; but he dithered over proposing (he can be indecisive) so she married an army officer. Camilla later became his mistress, and second wife – a more suitable consort than the tragic Diana, whose style of empathy, love of fashion and celebrity was not shared by her bookish and cerebral husband. He is strangely reserved for a great giggler.
The influences on Charles have been varied. Spiritual men like the Dalai Lama and Laurens van der Post. And family. He revered his mother for her selflessness and passion for duty, and Lord Mountbatten, for his devotion to family, the forces and his country. It was ‘Dickie’, as much as Prince Philip, who guided the Windsors through tricky times. Charles’s relationship with his father was one of enormous respect if not demonstrable affection. Philip was not fluffy. He did not hug trees. But he dictated how the ’firm’ would be seen – it was he who decided the monarchy must modernise, that the Queen’s coronation should be televised, and that their private life would be exposed in a TV documentary (Royal Family, 1969, the year of Charles’s investiture), possibly a mistake as it destroyed mystique. Philip had insisted Charles go to Gordonstoun, which the Duke, then a stateless prince, had loved. It was wholly unsuited to Charles.
Charles’s marriage to Diana came unstuck. In a mawkish BBC interview, she blamed Camilla. Charles (unwisely) admitted adultery – but only after his marriage had collapsed. Their two children suffered through a battle waged by their parents’ press offices. The Queen stepped in and said ‘Enough! Get divorced.’ They did. So Charles made his relationship with Camilla official, and married her in 2005.
Lord Mountbatten said the country was very lucky to have Prince Charles. We can agree. His interventions are on the side of the angels: for good architecture and traditional materials (see the model Dorset town he inspired, Poundberry); for traditional crafts, for preservation of landscape and all that’s finest of England’s culture and arts. There is no rancour in him, no snobbery, no prejudice (whatever Meghan alleges). He has taken more blows than most and maintained dignity. Not many know of his countless acts of quiet generosity. His kindness towards the bereaved of the 7/7 outrage, for example. He is the Defender of the Faith but would like to be a defender of faiths. He is a king for our time, a monarch for all. Long may he reign over us.