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April 17, 2006

Charles, Britain’s ‘dissident’ future king


April 17, 2006

LONDON: Relations between Queen Elizabeth II and heir apparent Prince Charles have long been delicate, but experts on Britain’s royal family say mother and eldest son appear to be closer than ever before.

The queen celebrates her 80th birthday on Friday, while Charles, 57, continues to develop a role for himself as the king in waiting.

History already sets them apart: Elizabeth became queen at the age of 25, while Charles could become the oldest British monarch to accede to the throne, beating the record of William IV who became king at 64 in 1830.

Their public stance sets them apart the most.

The queen, as protocol dictates, has kept a dignified silence on burning public issues.

Charles rattles off regular letters to government ministers and weighs in on matters that spark his ire, such as architecture, the countryside and the environment, defying an unwritten rule that royals are above vulgar politics.

“Now their relationship is definitely better,” but Charles did have “a very bad relationship with his mother,” said Ingrid Seward, editor-in-chief of Majesty magazine.

“The difficulties with his mother stem back to his childhood, because she was distant to him,” she said. “I think she was mostly like that because of her obligations, though she was closer to Princess Anne,” the queen’s only daughter, born two years after Charles in 1950.

Seward reckoned that relations between the queen and her eldest son have improved since he married his long-term mistress Camilla Parker Bowles a year ago.

“He is happily married and he grew in confidence because of the love of Camilla,” she said.

It remains to be seen what Queen Elizabeth thinks about Charles’ second marriage, as she notably did not mention the wedding in her Christmas message to the Commonwealth last year.

Charles, in contrast to his mother, is said to be very close to his children, Prince William and

Prince Harry. When the princes’ mother Princess Diana died in a Paris car crash in August 1997, Charles showed in spectacular fashion how his role as a father went before royal protocol.

He decided to leave the royals’ summer retreat at Balmoral Castle in Scotland and accompany Diana’s body back to Britain from France, against the advice of the palace.

The queen stayed at Balmoral with William and Harry, and was criticised in the press for her initial public silence on Diana’s death.

While Charles, like his mother, retains a certain degree of stiffness, royal watchers predict he would run a more relaxed monarchy.

Queen Elizabeth has steadfastly ruled out giving up the throne, having witnessed the toll that her uncle king Edward VIII’s 1936 abdication had on both the monarchy and her father and subsequent king George VI’s health. She believes that a normal succession is fundamental to the monarchy, and two thirds of Britons agree, according to a survey in The Times newspaper in December 2005.

“He always knew that he would have to wait for a long time,” Seward said. “That’s why he tried to create a role for himself. In this role, he has proved to be way ahead of his time.”

In supporting the rural way of life, organic farming and attacking the dehumanising excesses of urban planning, Charles has often thrown up topics for his future subjects to wrestle with.

The prince believes he is a “dissident” working against the prevailing political consensus, according to Mark Bolland, his former assistant and deputy private secretary.

The philosopher Julian Baggini reckoned that Charles truly is a royal rebel. “Can you be a dissident when you are so steeped in the establishment that only one old lady stands between you and the head of it?” he wrote in the Guardian newspaper.

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