It was always fashionable to ridicule Prince Charles. Even as a child I remember laughing at his sticky-out ears and at the comedians and impressionists who imitated and got us giggling at Charles’ thoughtful but faltering style of speech. I never stopped to think of what it must be like to be him: a public figure that few take seriously.
I have never been much of a royal watcher: perhaps noticing out of the corner of my eye the strange activities and traditions the royals get up to and uphold. But the run-up to this weekend’s Coronation – our first in seventy years – has provided all us Brits with information about the lives and work of those who keep the thousand-plus years of British royal tradition on track.
One documentary about the making of uniforms for the royal guardsmen was just such an eye-opener. There is the design and creation of coats of arms, insignia, tartans, buttons and cloth. It’s amazing to see they are still using helmet making technology and tools from the 1600s. So rarefied is some of the work that there are ways of crafting the details in helmets and coat collars that are only known to one or two craftsmen.
I couldn’t help noticing that all this activity was like an off-the-scale high-end theatre production. But whereas theatre and film use paint, canvas, polystyrene and other disguises to look like the real thing – this IS the real thing. And watching the Coronation Parade with the King and Queen in a golden coach pulled by six mighty horses one couldn’t help but see it as a fairy-tale come to life.
People complain about the cost of keeping the monarchy going. But look at what we spend on other entertainments: films, games, boxed sets, TV shows and all of it is fake: the drama concocted and created out of the imaginations of people paid by the film and streaming companies to trick us into buying into something that looks real but isn’t.
The royals give us drama in abundance. It’s a real-life upper crust soap opera playing out. One that makes Game of Thrones look like Coronation Street. What with all the rehearsals of music, costumery and pageantry one can’t help but think that this is not in any way normal or humdrum. Does it all cost too much? Would the money be better spent on feeding hungry children? But you might as well ask should we bring a unicorn to life. I strongly suspect that if we abolished the monarchy tomorrow the corrupt forces that run things would still ensure that children go hungry. We could feed them now if there was the will.
All those years we laughed at Prince Charles with his seemingly ridiculous views on organic and sustainable farming, the care of the countryside and the ruination of British towns and cities by terrible town planning. He was a figure to be mocked. But now, as Prince becomes King, we see that he was right all along. The directions he was steering towards in the 1970s and 80s have become recognised as being something we all should have been looking towards. His Princes Trust, that he started as a much younger man, has helped young under-achievers and communities who were all but abandoned by our governments and councils to develop skills and support structures. They thrive and succeed because of what Charles has done and continues to do.
It is fashionable to nod our heads and agree that Queen Elizabeth was top monarch bar none. But, in a sense, it was comparatively easy for her. Yes, she worked hard but at least everyone liked her. Charles has kept on despite put-downs, laughter and ridicule on a national scale. And his life partner Camilla has gone from being a vilified individual to being a generally well-loved figure. But that took years. What must it be like to be born into such a position? No-one I know would willingly change places with a royal. It would be like being born into some aristocratic version of The Truman Show but with a production budget fit for a King.
I think Charles may be underrated. He has rolled with the punches while living the life he was born into. But at least he did it in his own way. And I think he may be deserving of a little more credit than some of us have been giving him.
Anyway, who wants some trifle?