Magazine article The Spectator

King of Hearts

Magazine article The Spectator

King of Hearts

Article excerpt

Kingston, Jamaica

WHEN the last Prince of Wales visited Guyana in 1923, he caused a scandal. The European hostesses from the big plantation houses had been in a social frenzy for months. Elaborate plans were in place to ensure introductions to the future Edward VIII at the mayoral ball in Georgetown, the capital of what was then British Guiana.

In the event, the Prince's roving eye landed not on a sugar heiress but on a local Guyanese beauty. Not only was Phyllis Woolford of Creole origins but, horror of horrors, the Prince opened the dancing with her. The hostesses returned to their mansions muttering about tar brushes, the Prince moved on to more balls in more South American capitals, and Miss Woolford, who never married, became a local celebrity and was known for evermore as 'The Duchess'.

The present Prince of Wales managed to get through his four-day stay in Guyana without any scandal. His only dance was a brief swing of the hips in the Iwokrama rainforest with six Amerindian women singing a eulogy to the virtues of ecotourism. But it is safe to say that his contribution to race relations has been more constructive than that of his great-uncle.

Through last week and this, he has been on a nine-day trip through three Caribbean nations on what has been one of the worthiest royal tours in history. Aside from half an hour in the rainforest and a quick squint at Guyana's unrivalled Kaieteur Falls, there has been no old-style royal sightseeing at all.

This visit has taken in 20 social projects of one sort or another, more schools than an Ofsted inspector sees in a month, and the sort of deprivation associated with Bangladesh rather than the Caribbean. He has been to the beach only twice - to watch an anti-drug-smuggling exercise and to view a coral research station - and he was wearing a suit on both occasions.

Equally striking, though, has been the subtext to this tour. We have not only seen the start of a new princely charm offensive towards the Commonwealth: his Trinidad speech in its praise went far beyond any previous remarks on the subject. But his trip to the Caribbean has also reflected the way in which the Prince is increasingly regarded as a champion by ethnic minorities, particularly black people, back in Britain.

This goes far beyond those scenes of the Prince bashing the nearest steel drum (a scenario invariably manufactured by the photographers, and one which the Prince finds rather embarrassing). For more than two decades, his Prince's Trust has had a substantial involvement with minority communities from Brixton to Bradford. Minority religions feature on the princely schedules with disproportionate regularity.

None of this has made a noticeable impact on the broader public perception of him. But, as this tour has shown, it has left a more profound mark on the communities themselves.

In the Tobago House of Assembly, the Prince suddenly found himself saluted for his work on behalf of black people in Britain. In Georgetown's City Hall, the mayor launched into a long tribute to the Prince's work for the underprivileged at home. 'Who could have imagined that the descendant of an African slave could, with sincerity and warmth, welcome a member of the British royal family to a territory we now claim to own and control?' asked Hamilton Green, a one-time Marxist firebrand, before inviting his audience to stand and applaud the concept of the Prince's Trust.

This week, while touring a Jamaican food-sauce co-operative which owns a restaurant in Brixton, he received another pat on the back for his work in Britain's minority areas. …

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