He has at least four magnificent homes. He has 134,000 acres. He’s a duke. He’s an earl. He’s a lord. He has a lovely wife, who cheers him up. He has two handsome sons, each of whom has a beautiful wife. He has three grandchildren who adore him. He has an awful lot, this mild-mannered Englishman who turns 70 on Wednesday. Oh, and he has a rich mum. He has a really, really rich mum. I wonder what she’ll give him for his birthday?
Since 1976,Prince CharlesPhilip Arthur George, Prince of Wales, Earl of Chester, Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Rothesay, Earl of Carrick, Baron of Renfrew, Lord of the Isles and Prince and Great Steward of Scotland, has been helping young people into work. The charity he founded, the Prince’s Trust, has helped more than 900,000 young people into education or employment. But his own apprenticeship has gone on for a very, very, very long time.
Charles was four when he watched a man put a gold object on his mother’s head, in a ceremony watched by more than 270 million people. Almost everything that has followed in his life has been shaped by that object, studded with 40 rubies, 40 sapphires and 63 pearls, an object so heavy, as his mother said in a TV programme earlier this year, that it could “break your neck”. It was the reason he married a young girl he didn’t love. It was the reason he didn’t marry the girl he did love, or not until he was 56 and she was 57 and so, so much water had passed under the bridge.
He didn’t ask for a crown. His mother didn’t ask for a crown. His grandfather certainly didn’t ask for a crown. None of them asked for it, but if you’re born in a country that has the relics of a feudal system, to someone who has been unfortunate enough to have been born, or married, into the family that has to pretend they run it, you don’t get to choose. You can give it up, as Charles’sgreat uncle didto marry the woman he loved, but it doesn’t usually go down all that well.
From the moment the prince learned that not everyone’s mum is called “your majesty”, he has known that he will one day have to wear that crown. What he didn’t know was that he would be waiting through his 40s, 50s and 60s. He didn’t know that he would be collecting his bus pass, and his pension (which he gives to an old people’s charity); that he would, in fact, spend his full three score and 10 waiting for something he didn’t particularly want and may not even get. He has spent his entire life being judged in the light of that thing he hasn’t yet got. Surely it’s now time to put that wait to an end.
When the Queen promised, on her 21st birthday, to devote her “whole life, whether it be long or short” to the service of her country and her Commonwealth, she meant what she said. Day after boring day, for hours every day, she has shaken hands with people she will never see again. She has smiled and asked them if they have travelled far, and known that her boring day is a highlight of their lives. She has had to be polite to David Cameron. She has had to bepolite to Donald Trump. She spends her mornings answering letters. She reads her “red boxes” late into the night. Last year she carried out 292 royal engagements. And she has done all this with dignity and grace.
Last Sunday,at the armistice centenary, she looked tired. For the second time, she didn’t lay a wreath. Aged 92, she is still going relatively strong, but she can’t go on as strong as this for ever. She will get more tired and she will get more frail. We might see her shuffle. We might see her stoop. We might even see her memory fail. There are no signs of this yet, but more than a third of women over 90, according to some studies, show symptoms of dementia. For 66 years, the Queen has done a magnificent job in a terrible job. It’s hard to imagine a single human being in the world who could have done it better. It would be a terrible shame to see her do it badly now.
Charles Philip Arthur George may not do such a good job. He has said he won’t send his famous“black spider” lettersto ministers when he is king, and he shouldn’t have sent them before. But he does work hard. Last year, he undertook 546 royal engagements. He is patron of more than 350 charities. He supports the arts. He was an environmentalist long before it became fashionable. He is thoughtful. He is dutiful. And he is, according to many people who know him well, kind.
That’s fine. That’s plenty. That’s more than enough. We have a man waiting to do the job he has been trained for all his life. Your Majesty, we love you, but it’s time to move on.