Channel 4 threw a barrel-load of rotten tomatoes at Prince Charles in the recent documentary The Meddling Prince. Most of them missed. Throwing rotten tomatoes at Prince Charles is a bit of a national pastime. I’ve even indulged in it myself, on occasion.
However, in this defiant Telegraph piece, Alice Thompson makes the startling but undeniable observation that Charles is possibly the most prescient political pundit in Britain.
Edward VII idled away his time shooting and eating. One of Prince Charles's brothers spends the hours playing golf, another enjoyed dressing up to play It's a Knockout. But that wasn't enough for the Prince of Wales. Nor could he accept the cruel advice of Harold Nicolson to condemn himself to a lifetime of hard labour: "If he possesses the required reservoirs and aqueducts of duty, he will bow his head obediently to this cruel fate. In fact, he must surrender his personality to the exigencies of his task."
So he started "meddling". But what impressive meddling. Unlike politicians, the prince seems to know instinctively what the country will worry about in 10 years' time. He has never used a focus group to work out the tastes of Middle England. He may prefer polo to football and opera to the Arctic Monkeys, he may be surrounded by flunkeys and courtiers, but he does seem to reflect many of the anxieties of his people. Labour and Tory MPs who privately deride him are all nicking his views now.
The first time the Prince of Wales mentioned the environment he was 21. He talked about "the horrifying effects of pollution" and was called a crank. When he installed a bottle bank at Buckingham Palace, he became a joke. Nearly 40 years later, the two main political parties are still trying to catch up. His concern about genetically modified food was once ridiculed, but his views are now shared by most of the Cabinet. He was a fan of localism before David Blunkett or David Cameron had heard of the word.
His love of gardening preceded a thousand gardening shows and was developed long before Charlie Dimmock's cleavage. He was proved right over foot and mouth, and his obsession with organic food has been emulated by everyone from Tesco to M & S. Long before 9/11, he was talking about Islam and the importance of understanding the underlying religious tensions in this country, and he warned about the dangers of jettisoning traditional teaching in schools years before politicians started calling for a literacy hour. Some of his theories are half-baked, some still appear nutty, but no one is being forced to agree with his views. When he fires off a letter to a minister suggesting that the elderly may not be having a particularly pleasant time in hospital, they will not be hanged, drawn and quartered for refusing to act.
Then there is the Prince's Trust. He tries to raise about £25 million a year from private donations. Since 1976, the trust has made more than 50,000 awards to young people to help them to set up businesses….
… When he finally does become king and falls silent to contemplate his reservoirs and aqueducts of duty, we may yet miss his meddling.
Recycling, organic food, Islamic relations, the entrepreneur society, traditional literacy teaching... Charles got there first on all of them.
I have generally casually dismissed Charles as a bit of a buffoon, an idle dabbler in the more trivial elements of tree-hugging environmentalism and reactionary fuddy-duddism. But as the years go by, as his lonely heir-apparent’s path stretches further and further with no end in sight and his prospects of pre-senility rule diminish daily, my views towards him have softened.
Charles’s most infamous blunder came in an interview following his engagement with Diana, when he responded to a comment suggesting that he was in love by saying “Whatever ‘in love’ means.” (The moment comes right at the very end of this toe-curling clip).
What sad sub-Monarchical depths were betrayed by this youthful, Princely gaffe!