Britain’s Prince Charles turns 70 on Wednesday, having spent a lifetime forging his own path during a record wait for the throne overshadowed by public adulation for his mother.
Britain’s Prince Charles (R) stands with the Oba of Benin, Eheneden Erediauwa during a meeting with traditional leaders at the British High Commission residence in Abuja on November 6, 2018. AFP
The Prince of Wales has battled a string of public relations headaches and accusations of being cold towards his first wife Diana as well as interfering in political affairs.
Charles sees himself as a “dissident” working against the prevailing political consensus, according to his former spin doctor Mark Bolland.
The prince’s life has been plagued by low self-esteem but driven by relentless striving to do the right thing, Bolland said.
“The trouble is, there isn’t a job description so you have to rather make it up as you go along,” he said.
Charles has been outspoken on issues close to his heart, notably architecture, the environment, farming, faith and alternative medicine.
He has faced accusations that his “meddling” in public affairs would breach the political impartiality of a constitutional monarch.
But he told a BBC documentary marking his 70th birthday: “The idea, somehow, that I’m going to go on in exactly the same way, if I have to succeed, is complete nonsense.
“I’m not that stupid,” he said.
“You operate within the constitutional parameters.”
Charles has put his principles into practice, building the Poundbury model village and launching an organic food range.
His unwavering, lifelong worldview is also reflected in his sartorial style — he has worn the same shoes since 1971 and the same jacket since 1969, according to the Daily Mail.
– Shy boy –
Charles Philip Arthur George was born on November 14, 1948 at Buckingham Palace.
He became the heir to the throne when his grandfather king George VI died on February 6, 1952 and his mother became Queen Elizabeth II.
He is the longest-serving heir in British history and would become the oldest person ever to inherit the throne.
A sensitive and shy boy, he was created Prince of Wales in 1958 aged nine, much to his bewilderment.
At 13, Charles was sent to Gordonstoun, the stark Scottish boarding school his father Prince Philip attended. Desperately lonely, Charles hated it, describing his years there as “absolute hell”, and a “prison sentence”.
He became the first heir to the throne to receive a university degree, graduating from Cambridge in 1970.
He served in the Royal Navy from 1971 to 1976, and while away for eight months in the Caribbean, his girlfriend Camilla Shand married her old boyfriend Andrew Parker Bowles, much to Charles’s sorrow.
– ‘Fairytale’ to nightmare –
Under increasing pressure to find a wife, the 32-year-old prince proposed to 19-year-old Lady Diana Spencer in February 1981 after a brief courtship.
In words that came back to haunt him, Charles was asked about being in love during an interview to mark their engagement and replied: “Whatever in love means”.
Their “fairytale wedding” on July 29 that year at St Paul’s Cathedral in London was one of the great state occasions of the century.
Their first child, Prince William, was born in 1982, followed by Prince Harry in 1984.
But the mismatch marriage collapsed and both parties embarked on affairs, with Charles returning to Camilla. He and Diana separated in 1992 and divorced in 1996.
When Diana was killed in a car crash in 1997, Charles repatriated her body from Paris and insisted she be granted full royal honours in death.
Camilla was gradually introduced to a hostile public as Charles’s non-negotiable companion.
They wed at Windsor Guildhall on April 9, 2005.
Charles has since cut a visibly happier figure with his “darling wife” at his side.
They now do much of the “heavy-lifting” for overseas royal tours, on behalf of the 92-year-old Queen Elizabeth.
With a fourth grandchild on the way, Charles is already grandfather to William’s three children Prince George (2013), Princess Charlotte (2015) and Prince Louis, who was born in April this year.
After walking his new daughter-in-law Meghan down the aisle in May, Harry and his bride announced last month that they were expecting their first child.
Charles often insists that his environmental activism is for fear of his grandchildren asking him: “Why didn’t you do something?”.