Sometimes your public reputation precedes and defines you. For four decades now, no doubt fuelled by my willingness to believe the ever-more outlandish press stories published about him, Prince Charles has struck me as being a prat of the first order.
Down the years a host of impressionists and satirists have taken the all-too-easy opportunity to hit a ‘fish in a barrel’ target by portraying the heir to the throne as an ‘out of touch’ loony (which of us can fail to raise a smile at Private Eye’s occasional Heir of Sorrows columns, with its Mills & Boon penny-novel-style ramblings, as written by Sylvie Krin?) who has underlings specifically assigned to squeezing toothpaste onto his toothbrush and ironing his newspapers, continually finds aspects of the modern world “absolutely appalling” and relaxes by talking to his trees and plants.
Nothing one reads or hears about the real Prince Charles does much to dispel the comforting perception that Heir of Sorrows is factual biography rather than mischievous spoof.
One of my lasting enjoyments is the irregular email correspondence I conduct with my venerable academic godfather, who emigrated to Australia over sixty years ago. In it, probably fifteen or twenty years ago now (at my age time flies too fast to count), the subject of the monarchy came up and he offered the blunt view that, whilst the Down Under public retained a deep respect for the Queen, once she shuffled off this mortal coil, that was it. Barring anything extraordinary – such as perhaps the Crown jumping a generation – Australia would become a republic within five years. They just didn’t want anything to do with Prince Charles and his nonsense.
Nor do I.
Last Sunday, according to media reports, a Radio Four documentary was broadcast in several Labour politicians talked about their contacts with Prince Charles, thus shedding further light on his cack-handed attempts to influence public policy – the one thing, according to our ‘unwritten constitution’, that a modern British monarch should never do. This emerged as the result of an informal understanding, prompted by a rash of monarchy-abolitions or assassinations in the early 20th Century that, going forward, the British people would just about tolerate the continuation of the monarchy as a titular ‘head’ as long as it promised to keep its mouth shut.
The one that has hit the headlines is David Blunkett’s revelation that Prince Charles approached him in an attempt to persuade the Labour Government of the time to revive the grammar school concept, on the basis that it assisted able kids in escaping their deprived backgrounds. According to his account, Blunkett had explained to Prince Charles that this would never be a Labour policy (“He didn’t like that”) because Labour was more interested in changing deprived backgrounds altogether than they were in enabling people to escape them.
Prince Charles comes in for enough flak as it is, but he’s getting more than his fair share this week because of this documentary.
The reaction that I found most apposite and amusing was that of broadcaster Julia Hartley-Brewer who, according to The Independent, tweeted:
“Surprised that Prince Charles wanted more grammar schools. You’d think that selection based on ability and merit wasn’t really his thing.”