Review: Just one of those people who would be king

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IT IS 25 years since Charles knelt in a Welsh castle for his investiture as Prince of Wales. Since when, as one contributor to last night's Newsnight special (BBC 2) put it, 'he's been training with a capital T for a job with a capital J'. But the job just won't fall open, which must be a bummer with a capital B. Twenty-five years - that's a long time on the subs' bench, especially when you can't apply to the manager for a transfer. This is Charles's dilemma - he is the Man Who Would Be King, if only someone would let him.

Then, on top of all that, there's the image problem. There are no plans to mark the quarter-century by issuing stamps. Newsnight informed us that, what with the marriage difficulties, celebrations 'have been deemed inappropriate' (we weren't told who did this deeming). Meanwhile, the papers lampoon him and the people feel they know less and less what he's for. Which leaves Charles a kind of caricature in suspended animation.

Before considering the full horror of this, it's perhaps worth drawing back slightly to suggest that being Prince Charles can't be all bad. For one thing, your train runs on time. For another, your train has a complete sitting room on it (Newsnight revealed this to us by clambering on board for a recent visit to Cardiff). Further shots of the Prince's retreat at Highgrove (statues weathering nicely, horses gently nodding in the paddock etc) did nothing to dissuade you from the feeling that this psychological trauma might have its golden moments.

Still, in the exclusive interview given to Gordon Brewer, the Prince did come over as someone unfashionably troubled by self-definition.

It was there in the way he chewed at his lip, there in the manner in which he cautiously edged his way into sentences: 'Being who I am, or finding myself as who I am . . .' Lacking the certainty of the royal 'we', he frequently reached for the collective 'I': 'I'm the kind of person . . .': 'I just happen to be one of those people . . .' - anything to suggest a sense of place.

At Cardiff station, a healthy line of dignitaries greeted him, but precious few flag- waving townspeople. Former cabinet secretary Lord Armstrong blamed him for cultivating obscure interests: organic farming, small businesses, architecture - these were not things calculated to inflame us. This rather unfairly overlooked the fact that members of royalty have always had minority interests: since when did carriage-driving have mass appeal?

But it's true, news values being what they are, that Diana posing bed-side with one of Cardiff's plucky hospital occupants is going to attract more coverage than Charles posing desk-side with one of Cardiff's prominent environmentalists. Charles said he wanted 'to encourage a more holistic approach to many of the issues which I think are important,' a sentence which by itself set him apart from other prominent young members of the Family, some of whom probably think 'holistic' is the name of a travel agent's.

It was a clever piece of PR, then, to grant an interview to BBC 2's hard news slot rather than, say, to Michael Aspel - a way of angling for some friendly exposure while retaining a crisp sense of personal seriousness. The Newsnight report made a couple of references to television's traditionally patronising way with royalty (a spot of jaunty, not-a-care-in-the-world music accompanying the royal train across country for example), but they seemed to have been inserted as gags. As, less fortunately, did the scenes in which, talking to camera, Brewer popped out from behind a pillar, walked sideways across a quad and did all those other documentary reporter things it's been nigh on impossible to take seriously since The Day Today.

Charles was 'less deserving of a playboy reputation than any Prince of Wales,' said Brewer, who never stooped to toady. 'Charles's incomparable pulling power' was though, in this context, perhaps not the right phrase.

Thomas Sutcliffe returns tomorrow