IMAGINE a saga of royalty and religion, and of intrigue, conspiracy and blood-letting across generations: a fantastic tale full of history, but tied up with contemporary politics. Imagine also a man who is a descendant of not only the deposed Stewart monarchs but also part of Jesus Christ's supposed Messianic lineage.

Imagine no longer - for I can now introduce you to His Royal Highness Prince Michael of Albany, head of the Royal House of Stewart, whose story, The Forgotten Monarchy of Scotland, has just been published.

Michael is an unusual mix indeed: a Belgian pretender to the Scottish throne, a blue-blood with very red politics, an HRH who freelances in PR, and someone who - for all his Brussels upbringing - is sceptical of the grand European ideal. With an accent that is part Hercule Poirot, part upper-crust Edinburgh, the 40-year-old is charming and eloquent, and never stands on ceremony as he discusses his noble ancestry.

The historical justification for Michael's claim to be who he says he is comes from a man who has a pretty extraordinary title himself: the Jacobite Historiographer Royal, otherwise known as Laurence Gardner. According to Mr Gardner, Jesus Christ was a daring freedom-fighter who faked his own death before fathering three children. Though records of this godly progeny were suppressed for centuries, Gardner believes that the Blood Royal eventually came to course through the veins of the Stewart kings.

Keep concentrating. In 1320, the Declaration of Arbroath was signed which supported the ideal of a monarch for the people. Shortly afterwards, in 1371, Robert II founded the House of Stewart, which would eventually - with James VI - be summoned south to assume the English throne. Things went none too well. Charles I lost his head, and then James VII lost his throne when the future turned Orange under William and Mary. As Robert Burns wrote of the poor Stewarts: "... now unroof'd their palace stands; Their sceptre fall'n to other hands."

The Act of Union put the Scots under the English crown, which was soon to rest on the brows of the Saxe Coburg-Gothas from Hanover. The last twitch of Scottish (and Stewart) independence came from Charles Edward, the infamous Bonnie Prince Charlie, in 1745. He failed and fled abroad. Our hero Michael is his seventh legitimate descendant and, if a newly independent Scotland so demands, he will seat his royal backside on the Stone of Scone.

"If, or when, I become King of Scotland," he told me last week, "I would want to be low-key. I'm a socialist, a sort of monarchical republican. Only in England is the monarchy associated with conservatism." I wondered if, like the other trendy royals on the Continent, he likes to get on his bike. "I used to own a bicycle," said Michael, "but you quickly learn that Edinburgh has seven hills. I either walk or take my Ford Fiesta." Did he really say Ford Fiesta? No maids, no butlers? "No, no. I couldn't be bothered with that, there would be no privacy. I do all my own shopping, my own cooking. I go to my local with friends."

So does he mingle with today's Bonnie Prince Charles and all those other usurping Windsors? "No, I'm not interested really. We would have nothing in common. The Queen is doing very well for England, but she has always been badly advised about Scotland. Remember she's of alien stock to these shores."

Ah yes, I was wondering when that thorny issue would arise. (Well, if I could trace the Fontaine family all the way back to the 8th century - as Michael can the Stewarts - no doubt I would want to settle a few scores.) In his book, Prince Michael isn't about to bury the hatchet. He talks of William of Orange as "the Dutch invader" and recalls how James II was "hounded and deposed". "Many narrow-minded Anglicans still talk of the 'Glorious Whig Revolution'," he goes on. "This is not only insulting to their church's more worthy members, and to those of other denominations, but it is an affront to the Scottish nation, whose system of social toleration was rejected by the English feudalists."

The English establishment haven't exactly hugged this upstart to their bosom. Michael, though born "in exile" in the Low Countries, has made his home in Scotland for the last 20 years and has still not been granted a full British passport. His apartment has been entered and searched, and he's been visited by CID. Someone out there is clearly taking his claim to the Scottish crown more seriously than I am.

THERE was consternation at the announcement last week that, for the first time in its history, the Union Jack-fest that is the Last Night Of The Proms will be led by someone from outside the Commonwealth. The American baritone Thomas Hampson is the soloist chosen to warble along with the BBC Symphony Chorus. Can a Yankee really sing "Britannia rules the waves" with quite the same gusto as the rest of us? And then, having had a few Beatles' hits last year rendered by the King's Singers, the organisers have also plumped for a five-piece a cappella group, Black Voices, to rework some of Bob Marley's reggae numbers. I suspect that they and Mr Hampson will put most feeling into the Gershwin song that also makes an appearance on the last night: "Nice Work If You Can Get It".

This one will Ron and Ron

THE beatification of Ronald Reagan continues apace. Last Tuesday, that crypto-Reaganite Bill Clinton officially opened the Ronald Reagan Building on Pennsylvania Avenue, at 3.1 million square feet the largest federal building apart from the Pentagon itself. Never mind that Reagan was an enemy of big government: now he finds his name attached to a state project costing some $818m. Big Bill, meanwhile, praised Ronald's "unflagging optimism, his proud patriotism, his unabashed faith in the American people". Thanks to his former chums in Congress, Washington DC's National Airport has been renamed the Ronald Reagan National Airport, and a couple of weeks ago the former president's mountain hideaway, the Rancho en el Cielo, was snapped up by the Young America's Foundation. Reagan mania doesn't stop there: there are currently six hagiographies in print, including one by his own son Michael, and more than 100 historical works on his presidency. On top of that, we have A Shining City, a collection of Reagan's speeches. Pass the Prozac someone, please.

AS THE Dow Jones Industrial Share Index approaches 10,000, I'm delighted to hear that the computers installed over there recognise only four digits...so as prices rise we will actually witness a crash as computers interpret the figure as 0000. Other prophets of doom have pointed to more moments at which our over-sophisticated world might cave in: the introduction of the ecu on 1 January 1999, the meteor shower on the 17 November 1999, and the two possible dates for technological meltdown because of the millennial bug: 9 September 1999 and, of course, 1 January 2000. So speaking as one not long for this world, I am amused by the planetary alignment due for 5 May 2000, when - as happens every 6,000 years - six planets are due to, well, align. The gravitational consequences are such that ice caps will be tugged this way and that, and tidal waves will sweep across the globe. I anticipate a rush for VW vans and fluorescent wet suits as surfers of the world unite.

Blame me for the engaged tone

I STAND before you a proud man, my achievement, I feel, an inspiration to those who wilt in the face of the impossible. I did not wilt. I showed it could be done. I hung on in there. I beat the odds. I got through on the World Cup ticket hotline.

In the process, I began to understand just why the line turned into a telephonic fortress, repelling almost all callers. It wasn't just the sheer numbers of those trying to get through or the meagre staffing operation at the other end, but the fact that, once connected, it takes a very long time to book your tickets if the ones you want aren't available and you are forced to replan your itinerary on the hoof. During my call, the helpful woman dealing with me suddenly said, "Do you realise you've been on the line for 22 minutes?" I think that explains a lot.

Right then. Who wants two together for Chile v Austria?

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