At 38, he is one of Europe’s most politically concerned royals. But Britain’s Prince Charles appears to many observers a sad, lonely, some-what misunderstood figure—trapped in the unenviable position of having to wait years, perhaps even decades, before taking over the job for which he has been trained since birth. As understudy to Queen Elizabeth II, the Prince has immersed himself in such laudable causes as rural conservation and the revitalization of Britain’s inner cities. But his mother is a healthy 61 and has given no indication that she is about to abdicate the throne in order to give her son meaningful work.
As a result, Charles remains, as Penny Junor puts it in a new biography of the Prince of Wales called Charles,
“plagued by the belief that he has no role.”
Crazed: According to some royal-watchers, despite his assured manner in public, Prince Charles suffers from a shortage of self-confidence. If so, it is a problem that Fleet Street has done nothing to alleviate. In contrast to promoting the image of his wife, Diana, as a glamorous member of the jet set, Britain’s sensation-seeking tabloids tend to ridicule the prince-in-waiting either as a wimp, a crazed eccentric or a hermit. As a result, Prince Charles’s highly publicized interest in holistic medicine, Buddhism and organic farming is seen by his detractors as evidence of possible mental insecurity. Indeed, the man who would be king is frequently portrayed on Spitting Image, a satirical puppet show broadcast on Britain’s Independent Television network, as a middle-aged hippie, chanting mantras and singing to potted flowers. Said Charles, in a 1985 interview with ITV anchorman Sir Alastair Burnet: “I’m becoming more eccentric as I get older.”
As someone who has spent his entire life in the glare of the media spotlight, Prince Charles is well aware of Fleet Street’s insatiable appetite for stories about the Royal Family. But even he must have been surprised by the reac-
tion to his decision last May to spend three quiet days alone, planting potatoes, mending fences and rounding up sheep on a sparsely populated island off the northwest coast of Scotland. Britain’s best-selling daily, The Sun (circulation: four million), splashed the story across its front page under the headline “A loon again.” The newspaper then described the visit as “the potty Prince’s strange quest for inner satisfaction.” In fact, a spokesman for the Royal Family said later that the heir apparent had simply wanted to experience for himself the day-to-day life of a Scottish farmer. The spokesman added, “One day he is going to be king, and before then he wants to find out how his subjects really live—to see life through their eyes.”
Fleet Street also relished Charles’s visit to Africa in April, when he stopped by Gaborone, Botswana, to see his close friend Sir Laurens van der Post, an 80year-old South African writer who has produced several books and television films about the lives of the Kalahari Desert bushmen. One British newspaper mockingly suggested that Sir Laurens planned to invite the prince “to howl out loud and wail to the skies while shuffling in a sacred dance with bushmen” in an attempt to “come to terms with his troubled soul.” But that seemed unlikely in view of Charles’s well-known concern for the plight of the bushmen, who are being driven toward extinction by advancing technology. In a more sympathetic account, the London Evening Standard commented, “Charles projects an inner anguish and introspection, a terrible, hopeless decency.”
In his search for a more significant and fulfilling role, Charles has taken an active interest in conservation, modern architecture and housing. He has strongly espoused the need to safeguard the environment, and says that he is appalled by the conditions in some of Britain’s decaying urban areas.
Militant: But even his Í attempts to do something u useful occasionally land him in controversy. In a speech in London last year Prince Charles said ï that Britain’s construc! tion industry was “crazy” x to go ahead with new S suburban housing projI ects at a time when the country’s inner cities were badly in need of redevelopment. In response, one developer accused the prince of being “hijacked by the loony Green brigade,” referring to a militant group of environmentalists.
Many observers have criticized Charles for making bald pronouncements that are apparently based on very little research. But some have conceded that his overall views come together in a consistent, sound political philosophy—one that embraces the classic tenets of social democracy. If, as it is said, the British public likes its royals to speak their minds, Charles may alienate certain sectors merely because he speaks more from the heart.
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