Culturally, the United Kingdom is a confusing place. It's like America, but with less shouting and more antique shows; like mainland Europe, but with slightly better clothes and worse coffee. Dotted around our lumpen grey rock are an assortment of weird and wonderful celebrities and phenomena – the flag bearers and rituals of our Isles. To foreign eyes they might appear confusing – inexplicable, even – so with that in mind, these seminars intend to elucidate who they are, and why. Welcome to British Studies. Here's number five: Prince Charles
Say what you like about Britain, but if there's one thing we're good at it's tradition: the guns, the funny hats, the flags, the trumpets, the empty gestures of dominance – we simply can't get enough!
Of all these outdated conventions, our favourite is absolutely the Royal Family – a crazy bunch of golden oldies and stately studs who live in a castle in the middle of central London. Now, admittedly, the object of these British Studies seminars is to shed light on the lesser-known corners of our culture – and as British culture goes, the Royal Family are pretty well-known internationally – but this public-facing "Royal Family" doesn't give much of the truth of their identity. The version we see is merely the tea-towel edition. What of their souls?
What of Prince Charles' soul?
What of Prince Charles' soul?
Firstly the data: Charles Philip Arthur George of the house Windsor is the 68-year-old son of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. As their first born, his official title is the Prince of Wales, and he is next in line to the throne. He's been married twice, firstly to the sadly departed sweet Lady Diana Queen of our hearts, and secondly to your mum's friend from keep-fit class Camilla Parker-Bowles. He has two charming sons, both of whom are adored in the public eye and at least one of whom is definitely his child.
Yet, surrounded by all this family, all this history, Prince Charles finds himself in a strange position. On one hand he is one of the most powerful, important men in Britain. On the other hand, Charles is tired now; so tired.
Like the other royals, Charles spends the majority of his time speaking at charity events, opening leisure centres, announcing competition winners and watching horses do stuff. He's an active environmentalist, campaigns for the preservation of historic buildings and once wrote a children's book about an old man having a bath. He walks around flower shows, one hand in his blazer pocket, passively commenting stuff like "oh yes, very nice, look at the leaves" in an accent so posh it sounds like golden chain-link dribbling down his chin. His face, a coin that never was, has remained permanently fixed in a strained attempt at vague interest for his entire life.
It's a gentle life, for sure, but things haven't quite worked out for Charles as he might have hoped. For yes, while he might be keeping himself busy, it doesn't take a royal historian to work out Charles probably imagined his mum would be gone and he'd be King by now. Just like he probably imagined he was going to marry Camilla Parker-Bowles in the mid-1970s when they first started dating. Just like he probably never imagined that when he did marry somebody else, it would end in public scorn and Elton John releasing the best-selling UK single of all time. He is the longest serving heir in British history, and the oldest person to be next in line since the 1700s. This nearly-man, this odd little bloke, has most likely been in the throes of a constant, violent internal crisis since about 1987.
The British public do not love Charles. The Queen? Sure, plenty of people love the Queen. Some people love her so much they dress up like biscuit tins and follow her around the country. Pensioners sit in folding chairs for hours, waiting; gripping Thermos flasks with their cracked pink digits, a tartan rug over their knees, splinters of rain pelting against the surface of their grey, glazed, glaucoma-pickled eyes, eyes they are too afraid to close in case Her Majesty might, in that second, sail past aboard her gilded carriage. No one – not one person in this country – would do that for Charles.
Charles' children are also, now, more popular than he has ever been. Wills (the posh, oddly plural version of Will) and Kate's marriage in 2011 sealed their status as a sort of Barack and Michelle Obama for Tories, and they now have a pair of porcelain children. On top of that, everybody thinks Harry is an absolute fucking legend and if you disagree you're a bloody disgrace! Even the Duke of Edinburgh, Charles' sagging, sallow old dad – a man who looks like a melting Boris Karloff waxwork – is more popular. At least he offers some sort of light relief.
Charles is tired now; so tired. Staring out the window at a great Scottish loch, he considers the sky grey and unending, and the mountains which never move. "Cunt," he mutters to himself, as he drops a bit of shortbread in his tea.
With no real purpose in life beyond signing off on different flavours of organic biscuit, and no real prospect of ever becoming the one thing his entire life has been predicated upon, Charles has been rendered a strange floating ghost. The forgotten bloke in the corner of the pub, half-asleep, half-waiting for it all to end. His parents are more than looking after themselves, his children are off partying with the metropolitan elite if they're not looking after their own kids. The muscular youth are catching up with him, but the old just won't die. Time is running out, and all he can do is sit and wait for this macabre race to play out.
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