Inside the Head of ' Prince Charles ; What Can He Be Thinking? the Heir to the Throne Has Taken a Newspaper to Court over Publishing Extracts from His Diaries, but It Is His Reputation That Is in the Dock. Francis Elliott Follows the Private Paper Trail
Elliott, Francis, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)
Prince Charles does not write in green ink. He prefers to sign his many missives to ministers in a delicate violet hue, according to one recent recipient.
Passed around the Whitehall department to which it was sent from Clarence House, the letter elicited groans of recognition from ministers and officials alike. "It was fairly typical - special pleading for one of his mates," sighed one.
Until last week, the Prince's curious literary style was familiar only to his friends and correspondents. Now, thanks to his rash decision to go to law to recover his travel journals from a newspaper, we can all enjoy his blend of Goonish humour, whimsical regret and political polemic.
There have been gems to savour. His account of flying cabin class to Hong Kong for the hand-over to the Chinese is sure to linger long in the public mind. "It took me some time to realise that this was not first class (!) although it puzzled me as to why the seat was so uncomfortable," he wrote in a j our-nal distributed to between 50 and 75 courtiers and friends.
Then there is his account of giving a speech in the rain to an audience of British dignitaries and the "appalling old waxworks" of the Chinese delegation. "Never before had I been called on to make a speech underwater," he wrote, adding: "The things one thinks one is doing for England!!!"
But what is England thinking of the things "one" is doing? There is more than the Prince's literary reputation at stake. Information emerged from his court battle with The Mail on Sunday last week that has placed in question his suitability for the throne. Critics say his self-appointed role as political "dissident", as well as his inability to manage his own staff, combine to undermine confidence in him.
A vivid account of the Prince's inability to respect the constitutional convention to avoid politically contentious issues was given in court by Mark Bolland, his deputy private secretary between 1997 and 2002. "He would readily embrace the political aspects of any contentious issue he was interested in," states Mr Bolland in a witness statement read out in court.
The former aide also told the court that he had been authorised to leak to selected newspapers the Prince's views on a foreign power, China, and issues of the day such as GM foods. In short, Mr Bolland said, the Prince regards himself as a "dissident" against the "prevailing political consensus".
Mr Bolland's intervention is all the more lethal against the background of the Conservative renaissance under David Cameron. The Prince's concerns chime with many of those espoused by Mr Cameron, from fox-hunting to volunteering. The backing of his charity, the Prince's Trust, for a Tory-run volunteering scheme has, as we report today, caused irritation and alarm in the Government.
It follows an on-the-record comment from the Prince's press spokesman, Paddy Harverson, that Mr Cameron's first month in office was "amazing" and press reports of a "meeting of minds" between the heir and the new Tory leader. "You couldn't put a wafer between them on most of the big issues," one courtier told The Sunday Telegraph.
The triumph of an old Etonian who has successfully argued that his birth should not debar him from high office cannot but be regarded approvingly in royal circles.
Tony Blair might publicly say that the Prince does an "amazing job for Britain", but many of his ministers can barely stand his constant interventions against the "prevailing political consensus". One, Alun Michael, put the case tartly to the Prince's face when the heir harangued him over the challenges faced by farmers and other "traditional workers" in the aftermath of the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. Mr Michael reminded Prince Charles that another traditional group of workers had had to change and adapt to changing circumstances - the miners. …