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Curb your impatience and stop fretting about never being King – we need you now
07:39 GMT, 27 November 2012
Prince Charles has once again revealed how impatient he is to become king.
Speaking at Dumfries House, the superb architectural masterpiece by Robert Adam which the Prince saved for the nation with money from the Duchy of Cornwall, he quipped: ‘Impatient Me What a thing to suggest! Yes, of course I am.’
He added: ‘I’ll run out of time soon. I shall have snuffed it if I’m not careful.’
Running out of time: The Prince of Wales has once again revealed how impatient he is to become king
His position is a remarkable one. Nearly everyone else in the world who has just passed their 64th birthday is thinking of winding down from their life’s work.
Yet Prince Charles, albeit half-jokingly, spoke as though he were still waiting for his working life to begin.
I know that I have written some disrespectful things about the Prince in the past, and he has sometimes been upset by this.
I have noted his innate tendency to self-pity and self-absorption, and remarked that it detracts from his virtues. In a ‘round-robin’ letter to friends, for instance, he complained about being seated in club class on a plane travelling to China for the Hong Kong handover in 1997, saying tetchily that his seat was ‘uncomfortable’.
As Jeremy Paxman noted about the Prince in his book on the monarchy, there is ‘an Eeyoreish quality to him, this awful sense of being beleaguered, unloved and misunderstood. You want to tell him to snap out of it’.
A people's man: Prince Charles, pictured with staff and pupils of Carshalton Boys Sports College, is a force for good in modern Britain
But despite these criticisms, I’d be the first to say that, on the whole, the Prince of Wales is a force for good in modern Britain. And that is why he is so wrong to be impatient for the throne.
For nearly half a century, he has been a sort of one-man Opposition to many of the idiotic or ugly things going on in our country. He has stuck his neck out, and so it is not surprising that journalists such as me have been rude about him. That is what happens when you are brave enough to enter the public forum of debate.
He has been criticised for the number of letters he has written to government ministers in his infamous ‘black spider’ handwriting.
He is bursting with ideas and opinions on subjects as varied as agriculture and the environment, architecture, town planning, youth employment opportunities, fox-hunting, education, Shakespeare . . . you name it, Prince Charles will have made a speech about it, or written a long letter to some government department about it.
The Prince’s Trust has done superb work for young people, seemingly bringing more of them into employment than any Jobcentre. His drawing school, where one of my children happily goes each week to study life-drawing, is one of the finest art schools in Europe, committed — as so few art schools are — to the old disciplines of draughtsmanship.
Doing his bit: The heir to the throne has always taken time out of his schedule to show his support for the public. Yesterday, he stepped into the kitchen of a school in Carshalton, south London, with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver to learn about the new healthy eating options that the school has introduced
His school of architecture has not only revived the finest traditions of European architecture, in Poundbury, Dorset, he has put them into practice, with a whole ‘new town’ built out of traditional materials and in traditional styles.
Not everyone likes it — but full marks for effort, and I’d rather live in Poundbury than in a Sixties tower block in some inner-city hell-hole.
While Islam is demonised, the Prince has held an intelligent discourse with it, encouraging all that is best in the Islam’s culture and reminding us of how much we owe to Islamic traditions of mathematics, architecture and philosophy.
In his attacks on genetically modified crops, just as in his attacks on brutalist architecture, the Prince has made lots of enemies among self-appointed experts.
My point is not to say he is always right, but to defend his right to his point of view.
In many of the cases I have listed, he has seemed like a lone voice, while actually speaking up for a silent majority.
Could Prince Charles make these points so vociferously if he was King Not in a modern monarchy. It is true that Queen Victoria interfered in the political process all the time, actually vetoing people from senior government jobs if she did not like them, and complaining about speeches in the House of Commons which did not take her fancy.
Prince Albert had tried to teach her that the monarch should be ‘above politics’, but once she was widowed, she quickly forgot his lessons and allied herself firmly with Disraeli and the Conservatives.
When they were in power, she was prepared to be paraded through London in a gold coach, to open Parliament and to be a constitutional monarch.
However, when the Liberals were in power, she was more or less on strike, and actually refused to open Parliament.
All smiles: The Queen, pictured here with trooper Thomas Ephgrave during her visit to the Household Cavalry Regiment, has always kept her political opinions to herself
But it would be unconscionable for any monarch to behave like this today.
Our present Queen keeps her opinions to herself, and no one knows exactly what she says to her prime ministers during their weekly meetings.
Had Charles been King for the past quarter of a century, he would have found that when thoughts about GM crops, or modern building, or youth unemployment came to his lips, some person in a grey suit in the corridors of Whitehall or Buckingham Palace would shut him up.
The fact is that it has actually helped him, and the monarchy, that the Queen has lived so long, because he has been able to gain confidence and experience as the heir who is in a position to speak out on controversial issues.
For example, in 1999 he refused to attend a state banquet for the then Chinese President Jiang Zemin, just two years after he had written of Chinese leaders as ‘appalling old waxworks’.
For this principled stand he was attacked by the then prime minister Tony Blair.
Patience is a virtue: Prince Charles is able to speak his mind without the title of King
Describing himself at the time as a ‘dissident’, Prince Charles was protesting at Communist China’s appalling human rights record and at its takeover of Tibet, with its incomparable monasteries and its exiled Dalai Lama. This was the classic example of how it is more interesting, and more useful, to be the Prince-in-waiting than monarch.
The Head of State just about has to attend state banquets even if the visiting dignitary is a mass murderer.
But the Prince of Wales does not have to do so: he can speak his mind, and on the occasion of the Chinese banquet, he surely spoke not just for the people of Britain, but also for the Free World. As soon as the Crown is placed on his head, a muzzle will also be placed on his mouth, and the fountain pen will be wrested from his hands.
We would all benefit if Charles continued for a long time in his current role as a very useful public dissident.
With Camilla at his side, and two nice grown-up sons who appear to be fond of him, the old, agonised self-pitying Prince has surely vanished into the shadows.
The last Prince of Wales who waited a long time to become king was Edward VII (‘Bertie’), who was 59 when he acceded to the throne.
Once, after a church service in which the choir sang to the Eternal Father, he remarked that he had been cursed with an Eternal Mother.
And when he did eventually become King, he said bitterly to his wife, in German: ‘It has come too late!’
Charles must ignore his predecessor’s lament and curb his impatience.
He should also be aware that the very qualities which make him such an interesting — and controversial — Prince of Wales are not necessarily the ones which would make him a good King in the modern world.
It is very questionable whether he would be able to restrain himself from meddling in government affairs even if he were constitutional monarch, and there would undoubtedly be public tiffs with ministers.
This might make for intriguing headlines but, much more seriously, it could easily hasten the day when republicans advanced in numbers.