Friday, November 14, 2008
Prince Charles at 60
The heir to the British throne (pictured above) is 60 today. Here's my piece from The Australian, first published in 2005, on why a King Charles III would be preferable to a more politicised Head of State. Do you agree?
Prince Charles: Victim of Slight Royal Treatment
George Orwell got it only half right. It’s not just some animals that are more equal than others. It’s royalty too- as last week’s events surely demonstrate. Royal 1 visits Australia: goes yacht racing with her husband, attends glitzy balls in designer outfits and is fawned over by even the most hard-core republicans. Royal 2 visits Australia: goes to see victims of the Bali bombings, addresses indigenous issues and is lambasted in Parliament for wasting tax-payers money.
Of course, there are important differences between Crown Princess Mary of Denmark and the heir to the British- and Australian throne. As the Sydney Morning Herald so succintly put it, one is young and beautiful and the other is not. Then there is the small matter of nationality. ‘Australia loves this uber couple because they are young, gorgeous and 50% locally made’ says Emma Toms of Fred and Mazz. Chazz, one the other hand, may have visited Australia ten times and spent two terms at Geelong Grammar, but is - and always will be a Pom.
But even allowing for the above, it still seems to me that Prince Charles has been given an unnecessarily rough ride- not only in Australia- but back in Britain too.
I write not as a die-hard supporter of hereditary monarchy, but as an unreconstructed leftist and staunch believer in meritocracy. But if we are to have a constitutional monarchy- and on consideration of all the other options, it still seems the least worst- then it is difficult to imagine a man more suited to the task than the 56 year old in a double-breasted suit who has been touring this past week.
For a start, unusually in this age of spin and counterfuge, insincerity and mock concern- Charles is a man of profound integrity. ‘Prince Charles cannot but tell the truth. I have never met anyone in public life who is quite like him in that sense’ is the verdict of his biographer, Jonathan Dimbleby. It takes courage to admit to committing adultery in a television documentary and when someone with such a track record for honesty says that he only did so when his marriage had ‘irretrievably broken down’, he must surely be given the benefit of any doubt.
Then there is the intelligent contribution Prince Charles has made to matters of national and international concern. While his critics seek to portray him as an old-fashioned fuddy-duddy, hopelessly out of step with the spirit of the times, Charles’ line on many issues is far more progressive than that held by many so-called leftists. He was the first British royal to question the suitability of the monarch of a multi-racial, multi-faith country ( to say nothing of the Head of the Commonwealth)- to be the ’Defender of the Faith’ and not ‘the Faiths’. He has consistently championed the cause of alternative medicine and of a holistic approach to health. He has made speech after speech warning of the dangers of deforestation and global warming and has spoken out against the disastrous effect large scale capitalism has on both the environment and the social cohesion of communities. And the man who many dismiss as the epitome of privilege, has through his own Princes Trust and countless other charitable projects, helped thousands of disadvantaged people to achieve their goals in life.
On issues where Prince Charles has taken a more ‘traditional’ line, he has arguably not been behind the times, but paradoxically ahead of them. It’s the proponents of modernist and post-modern architecture and of 1960s teaching methods whose theories now appear hopelessly dated: Charles’ attacks on them -regarded as blasphemy when first made in the 1980s -now appear to most sane individuals as the voice of sheer common sense.
Prince Charles’ ingrained scepticism -and his understanding that so many of the great issues of the day are not black and white, but grey- is a huge plus point in an age where once again it is the cocksure and the Manichaeans who are calling the shots. Charles’ scepticism extends not only to modern architecture, trendy teaching theories and what he calls ‘militant humanism’, but also to the war in Iraq, about which he is reported to have had grave misgivings.
Then there are Charles’ other qualities to consider. As all those who met him this past week, will no doubt testify, he is a man of rare charm and wit. From his good-humoured reaction to being offered witchetty grubs and honey ants at Alice Springs to his quip to Vietnam veteran Gary Johnston that there was ‘no bloody room’ at his forthcoming wedding- the Goon Show-loving Royal Prince surely can’t be accused of lacking a sense of humour.
All in all, when you consider that Prince Charles has had to overcome the twin handicaps of a British public school education (to say nothing of two terms at Geelong Grammar) and a father for whom any display of affection is regarded as a crime on a par with murder- then the future King's well-roundedness is even more remarkable.
Should the fact that Charles is clearly a ‘bloody good bloke’ alter our view of the monarchy in general? In theory it shouldn’t- but as we’ve seen from the past week- the identity of the royal in question undoubtedly has an impact on the way the institution is regarded. And I for one would rather have a Head of State who combines integrity, humour and scepticism in equal measure, than a politicised President who would probably be lacking in all three.
UPDATE: You can see me talking about Prince Charles- and whether he is too old to become King, on this Sky News report here: