A business prince waiting to be king
It’s the sixth week on the road, the fourth country, and the fourth stop in Canada. This time the city is Toronto, the airport, Malton. The converted RAF VC-10 arrives exactly on time as usual. The press is waiting behind the proper barriers. The distinguished welcoming party is holding onto hats in a blustering wind. The red carpet keeps flapping up and red-coated Mounties are dispatched to hold it down. Unperturbed, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall and Rothesay, Earl of Chester and Carrick, Lord of the Isles and Great Steward of Scotland walks nimbly and quickly down the ramp. He is wearing the appropriate military uniform—this time, the green, gold braided one of the Canadian Armed Forces. In the plane, he has brought with him about 50 pieces of luggage, 30 choices of clothing including a parka for the Arctic and a complete set of mourning clothes. He’s backed up by a ubiquitous staff of nine including his private secretary, a press secretary, equerry, valet, detective, baggage mas-
ter and (while in Canada) an Armed Forces doctor.
Once on the ground, HRH, as the itineraries call him, gets quickly down to business. First, a quick run through the expectant welcoming party, then a smart review of the nervous volunteer regiment, the royal salute and another row of dignitaries. With great interest he meets the mayor of Mississauga. “Ah, Mississauga?” With concentrated concern he asks Metro Toronto Chairman Paul Godfrey if the city has a housing shortage. The answer, whatever it is, must be brief because soon he is asking Mayor John Sewell why he isn’t wearing a mayor’s chain of office. Explains Sewell, the airport is in Mississauga. Ah, Mississauga. It all takes a standard 15 minutes, and soon the Prince is whisked off, one more welcoming ceremony dispatched on time and in style. Burbles Godfrey: “We all found him very charming.”
When Prince Charles slipped smoothly in and out of Canada last week, his visit, billed semi-private and coming at the tail-end of a globe-trotting tour of Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore, had all the markings of a well-run business trip. Whether he was inspecting gaggles of nervous military volunteers in Winnipeg* and Toronto, showing exaggerated interest in winter combat gear (“You’re not squashed in the tent?”), or giving the royal nod to the new Governor-General at a glittering dinner in Ottawa, Charles was the perfect young executive. A trim fivefoot 10 xk-inch 30-year-old, with a possible 30 years to go before he succeeds his mother to the throne, he is crisply stepping into a new phase in his long career of King-in-Waiting. Gone is the student prince, the dashing bearded naval officer. Almost gone, except for stray kisses from cunning young ladies, is the eligible bachelor-prince as the pressures to marry mount and the choices narrow. Ever concerned that he should be taken seriously, he has become Charles the professional, at times the royal ambassador for the United Kingdom, more and more a full-fledged partner in the “family firm” that is the
HRH retired to the Hotel Fort Garry’s Canterbury Suite Wednesday night; Pierre Trudeau graced the same bedstead 24 hours later.
premier monarchy in the world. “In these times the monarchy is called into question,” he has said. “It is not to be taken for granted. One has to be far more professional than one used to be.” Certainly Charles has proven that he can be a good salesman. Last year, during a South American tour, he landed a $2-million export deal for British industry and the Japanese were so entranced by him that they took up his suggestion to build a Sony plant in Wales. He is not about to take a $115,000-a-year job as a high-class U.K. industry rep abroad as one Fleet Street tabloid roguishly suggested last year much to his chagrin. That smacks too much of “trade.” But he is adamant that he will not be a papier-mâché prince and has embarked on a much publicized program to learn all he can about Britain’s industry, labor and agriculture. Although he “patronizes” about 170 organizations (a relatively small number compared to the Queen’s 600), he has narrowed down his main concerns to about half a dozen including programs for alienated youths, protection of Welsh environment and, his favorite, the United World Colleges — three private, international schools set up to further world peace and understanding. In Victoria, where he visited the Lester B.
Pearson College of the Pacific, he managed to impart a tone of personal, private interest as he submerged himself for two days in the school’s activities. “The thing I find the most disarming about him,” says someone who works with him daily, “is that he faces every administrative decision with the question ‘How can I be useful and what good does it do’?”
Figuring out how Charles can be useful now that he has settled in for the long wait has posed Buckingham Palace with a public relations conundrum. On the one hand Charles wants to “get things done” and the Queen has made him privy to the “red boxes,” the leather cases that contain matters of the British state (something Queen Victoria never allowed her heir). On the other hand, he must maintain that “mystical gap,” that semi-divine image the Queen has perfected. The great nervousness in royal circles about a lengthy apprenticeship is caused by the example set by two previous Princes of Wales, one of whom ended up a gambling, drinking womanizer before he became Edward VII at 59 years of age and the other who treated matters of state casually, had numerous brazen affairs and eventually abdicated for the woman he loved. As Charles himself has admitted:
“I’m a bit of an awkward problem. There is no set-out role for me. It depends entirely what I make of it.” Nor is the palace charmed by the numerous public suggestions from British journalists who have made a career of dogging royalty about what the Prince should do. Says James Whitaker of the Star in London who has written a biography on the Prince: “He’s a totally tragic figure. He needs a job and a woman and he has neither. He could be an old-age pensioner before he succeeds to the title.”
But if Charles has had a mid-life crisis partly fabricated and solved for him by the press, the spotlight is something he’s used to. Since birth, his every quirk, every move has been duly recorded: his jitterbug of nervous tics, the way he licks his lips, rubs his knuckles, twists the gold ring on his little finger, shoves his usually errant hands into his pockets to keep them still. His every like and dislike is chronicled. He doesn’t like smokers, people who remind him of his balding crown, and, of all things, suspenders. That, according to someone who has travelled with him widely, is why his $500 suits bag at the knees. He loves scrambled eggs and smoked salmon, white wine, dry martinis and (he once said and now can’t escape from it) the music of Berlioz actually reduces him to tears. His girl-friends do call
him “Sir” and he does write his own speeches. His bathroom at Buckingham Palace, part of his third-floor suite overlooking St. James’s Park, is plastered with cartoons which lampoon him.
Charles, who is not overly fond of the media, has nonetheless learned how to exploit his value as a news commodity. Recently in Hong Kong while visiting a jungle survival school, he tried curried snake, underlining the moment with: “Boy, the things I do for England.”
He was not always so insouciant. When he was only four and parading down London’s stately Mall, it was his sister, Princess Anne, who waved gaily at the crowds while Charles skulked back. When he was named Prince of Wales at the age of nine, Charles remembers being “acutely embarrassed” by the cheer from the crowd in Cardiff. When his parents decided to get him out of the rarefied drawing-room atmosphere and into the public-school system along with the sons of the upper class— an educational progress charted with the help of prime ministers—Charles found it difficult to forge a new tradition. Friends have said that in his first term at Gordonstoun, his father’s old school in Scotland renowned for its cold
showers and rough regimen, Charles was so miserable he asked to leave.
But the public attention has exacted its price, and may have been partly responsible for making him, in his own words “slightly late in developing.” Giving an answer to the inevitable question “does he or doesn’t he?” became a delicate PR operation for the Palace. Yes he does, the Palace confirmed, but dripping with discretion, officials told reporters not to use the phrase “normal sex life.” Certainly publicity stunted one budding relationship—with 27-year-old Lady Jane Wellesley, the daughter of the eighth Duke of Wellington—after she was hounded into tearful seclusion.
By the accounts of his ever-anonymous friends, the person shaped by the grinding scrutiny is kind, loves babies, especially his sister’s, and has retained a keen sense of humor. “I would probably have been committed to an institution long ago were it not for my ability to see the funny side of life,” he once said. He is reputedly the one who gave Princess Anne’s husband the nickname of “Fog” because he is “thick and wet.” Arthur Edwards, a photographer for the British tabloid, The Sun, remembers a visit Charles paid to a Shropshire hospital. Encountering a patient in a wheelchair, Charles asked: “Lost a leg have you?” The old man replied: “No sir, I lost them both.” To which Charles replied, “Well then you don’t have a leg to stand on, have you?” After a stunned silence, says Edwards, the patient just “broke up.” Recently in Australia, during a three-day outback safari, Charles startled reporters when he complained of the flies: “They go up through your nose and out your mouth. If they had salt on them they would taste better.” And later when he was drinking tea from a boiling billy, someone wished him “cheers.” To which the Prince replied: “No you don’t say cheers. You say Christ, the flies.”
But despite the ready verbal gamesmanship, Charles is essentially a conservative (“I’m happy to be thought square”), a traditionalist who believes in the value of ritual and a stickler for protocol. Once, when asked to give the Loyal Toast after the soup so that smokers could get on with smoking, Charles, an aggressive non-smoker, refused flatly saying: “We will have the Loyal Toast after the sweet—at the right time.” Mindful that he should get the respect due him, he freezes out anyone who calls him Charles to his face. He was Prince Charles even as a boy to his teachers and only the occasional sporting buddy gets away with “Wales.”
While he puts up with bikini-clad girls rushing up in the surf to plant kisses on his cheek (he has said he would rather be kissed than slapped), he once stalked out angrily from a fund-raising dinner in a northern English town when a local dignitary insisted that he dance with his daughter. Nor does he like anyone to make a profit by exploiting his position and so he quickly let it be known last week, via his press secretary, John Dauth, that he was miffed by a London photographer who had set up his girlfriend to kiss him in Victoria.
The need to protect privacy, almost an obsession with the royal family, has meant that Charles lives largely within the protective circle of his staff. Anthony Holden, formerly a columnist with The Sunday Times and now chief U.S. correspondent for The Observer, spent the last year preparing a biography of the Prince. After travelling extensively with him, he found that the protective cocoon was self-defeating. “I think he lives on his nerves mostly—in public and private. He always feels a lot of apprehension about what could go wrong. Even with trusted friends he has to be reasonably careful.”
But despite the strictures of his life, which Charles says “compared to other people’s lives, is more lonely,” Holden found the Prince happy in his role. “For a while I just felt sorry for him, especially on his foreign trips. He has such a heavy schedule that is mostly boring, talking to tedious locals, and there is absolutely no escape from it. But there are a lot of perks and there is the whole ego trip of it which he clearly enjoys.” The perks, in fact, are stunning. From the Duchy of Cornwall alone he earns an estimated $600,000 a year, half of which he returns to the state. He owns for his own use, and for that of his future bride, a 3,000-acre estate in Kent, called Chevening House, which he is
now in the process of renovating extensively. In England he zips around in an Aston-Martin and can afford to play the expensive game of polo well. But unlike the Queen, royal routine can make him visibly irritable at times. While following the Prince around on a farm in Brazil last year, Holden, casually dressed in blue jeans and a T-shirt, was mistaken for an on-looker and brusquely pushed aside by a security agent. The Prince, who noticed the incident, turned to the dignitary escorting him and said: “Believe it or not, that is a British journalist.” When Holden’s annoyance got back to the Prince, he quickly apologized the next day, explaining: “I was hot and I was tired.”
Perhaps the worst paradox Charles has to contend with is that while he hobnobs with the powers of the world, he is completely gagged by his symbolic role. When he criticized divisions amongst Christians on “doctrinal matters” (significantly after his cousin Prince Michael of Kent was refused permission to marry in a Catholic church), an English archbishop reprimanded him for espousing a “woolly type of Christianity.” He was similarly put in his place after telling a group of toplevel industrialists that “unions are not impossible to deal with.”
Almost as a reaction to the limits of his symbolic role, the Prince seems to revel in daredevil exploits which his staff is ever pleased to enumerate. He can pilot a jet fighter or helicopter (and often flies himself to engagements), and has skippered a navy minesweeper through the North Atlantic. He is a good skier, amateur cellist and scuba diver. He has, in fact, scuba-dived under the Canadian arctic ice and, to his mother’s great worry, learned the art of parachute jumping.
But ultimately the Prince takes his cue from the Queen. “Duty” is the operative word. Even marriage, and the choice of a bride—about which the continual speculations titillate throngs throughout the world—will spell another phase of a lifelong duty. A selfavowed “incurable romantic,” he will nonetheless marry a person who can be Queen, not necessarily someone who inspires infatuation. And the fun-loving Prince will then dedicate himself to marital fidelity according to his religious beliefs. But he isn’t suffering. Asked in Singapore what it felt like being Crown Prince, he replied: “I don’t know. I’ve never been anything else.” And on another occasion he assured everyone: “I do enjoy myself. It’s important to remember it is a job. Who could have a better job?”