Charles Windsor: Born and bred to be out of touch

Nobody should be surprised by the revelation this week that Charles Windsor - Britain's future head of state - believes it is "PC beyond belief" for a black female secretary to aspire to something more. Charles was raised in a family obsessed with the belief that worth is based on birth, birth, birth. A small army of "low-born" servants and sycophantic "high-born" aristocrats have been on hand all his life to reinforce the belief that there is an intricate, semi-mystical class pyramid in Britain, and that Charles was born and belongs at the top. Louis Mountbatten, his mentor - and the closest thing he had to a real father - was obsessed with genealogy and would entertain a young Charles for hours with the intricate descriptions of how the aristocratic families of Britain were interconnected.

Nobody should be surprised by the revelation this week that Charles Windsor - Britain's future head of state - believes it is "PC beyond belief" for a black female secretary to aspire to something more. Charles was raised in a family obsessed with the belief that worth is based on birth, birth, birth. A small army of "low-born" servants and sycophantic "high-born" aristocrats have been on hand all his life to reinforce the belief that there is an intricate, semi-mystical class pyramid in Britain, and that Charles was born and belongs at the top. Louis Mountbatten, his mentor - and the closest thing he had to a real father - was obsessed with genealogy and would entertain a young Charles for hours with the intricate descriptions of how the aristocratic families of Britain were interconnected.

So why should we be surprised to find that Charles is one of the last people to take this world seriously? With his background, how could he not? While for the rest of Britain the world of aristocracy and monarchy has been reduced to a trivial sideshow, Charles has tried desperately to reassert the case for natural hierarchy, and railed against a meritocratic system where the "ordinary think they are qualified to do things far beyond their technical capabilities". For more than two decades now, he has been trying to build an intellectual case for these beliefs in his many speeches and books. Charles's interest in the environment and causes such as GM food has led some people to mistake the Prince for being something of a leftie. In fact, he is an old-right feudalist, a man who longs for a world where everybody knows "their place" under Nature and nobody is troubled by "dangerous ideas like progress" and science.

His whole life has been a long, slow immersion in this pre-20th century ideology. Charles was taken to his primary school in a limousine by servants every morning. The royal staff began to bow to him when he was in his early teens; all adults began to call him "Sir" when he was just 16. But, worse, this mindset saturated even the most intimate relationship for a child: that with his mother. Charles was always instructed to treat his mother with deference from the time he could speak, and to accept that she could not be a "normal mama". There is extraordinary footage of a tiny five-year-old Charles standing in line as he waits for his mother to return from a six-month state visit to Australia. (She had been back in the country for two days already, but had chosen to deal with her paperwork rather than see her child.) Charles's mother walks down the line, shaking the hands of each dignitary in turn. When she finally reaches her son, she shakes his hand too, and walks on.

Brian Hoey's biography of Elizabeth has a tiny, telling detail about how deeply the ideology of monarchy has warped the relationship between Elizabeth Windsor and her children. Hoey was chatting to Anne Windsor, Charles's sister, when her mother called. Anne instinctively stood to attention as she spoke to Elizabeth on the telephone. He explains that "it appeared to be an unconscious act resulting from an upbringing which instilled good manners ... when addressing the sovereign, and it was somehow symbolic of the attitudes within the royal family that divide them from the rest of us". If Charles ever wants to see his mother - even today - he must despatch a page, who will make an appointment for him. He addresses his mother as "Your Majesty", bows his head when he greets her, and would never dream of wearing casual clothes in her presence. The former foreign secretary Douglas Hurd has described it well. He says that Elizabeth's "constitutional machinery" is in tip-top shape, but - thanks to monarchy - her "emotional machinery" is almost non-existent.

In the lives of every member of the Windsor family, there is a small moment of freedom before they are locked into the prison of monarchy. When Charles was 17, he went on a long trip to a remote community in Australia. A nun who helped to look after him wrote at the time, "It was grand to see him walking around Dogura - walking alone with no gaping crowds waiting for him... I do not suppose there are many opportunities for such times in his life." She said that he had "come amongst them as if in a cage", which, of course, he was. And even during those years, he was stricken with the knowledge that his parents didn't seem to care. They didn't even bother to talk to the British family that were responsible for looking after him for six months in Australia. When he returned, the cage door snapped shut.

If Charles did not convince himself that all this was for a purpose - the mystical purpose of monarchy - how could he bear to carry on? How could a man raised with such casual cruelty bear to acknowledge that the class-pyramid ideology that justifies it all is worthless? Rather than face these hard truths, he understandably began in his early 20s to plunge himself deeper into the philosophy that was wrecking his life. As a landowner, his biographer Jonathan Dimbleby explains, "he knew all the tenants, the farm workers and their families, their names, their histories and their lives" - just like a true feudal lord.

Around the same time, he first attended a meeting of the Privy Council, the institution which contains all current and former Cabinet ministers. He wrote, "I dare say many politicians would like to do away with this particular institution and establish something more rational and modern but it is one of the last remaining links between Crown and Parliament and does help to remind ministers that there is one final authority that is not themselves." It did not seem odd for him to assert his supremacy to our elected politicians, simply on the basis of birth. The monarchist indoctrination had succeeded.

This pre-modern philosophy also guaranteed the great PR failure of Charles's life: that he could never be a decent husband to a 20th-century woman. Charles never learned through the simple process of trial and error how to treat people decently, because monarchist deference meant he was praised no matter how great the error. This would corrode the personality of any human being. One ex-girlfriend of his told gossip columnist Nigel Dempster, "An awful lot of women who went to bed with him would never have gone to bed with him if he had not been HRH. However badly Sir treats you afterwards - it's a kind of pact: you know that the royal psychology is based on the notion of rule, right? - you only get what you deserve."

So when Charles was confronted with a young wife whose deference quickly wore thin, he could not cope. Diana's father had told her on the eve of her wedding that "a prince is condemned to a unique and lifelong loneliness. Don't expect too much in the way of friendship at first". But she had grown up reading Cosmopolitan, not Debrett's; Charles's psychology was incomprehensible to her, as it is incomprehensible to most of his "subjects". Charles could only react with rage - his tantrums against Diana have been well documented - and retreat into the bed of the more old-world, keenly deferential Camilla Parker-Bowles.

Monarchism has not only convinced Charles that black secretaries are "naturally" at the bottom of the heap. It has convinced him that - since he is at the top - he has a right to almost unlimited material indulgence. His personal fortune stands in excess of £300m, and his annual income is more than £7m. His grandmother, the late Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, encouraged him "to be really royal, in the old style." When Charles travels, he demands seven bedrooms to himself. This includes a dressing room, a room where he can write his letters, and accommodation for his battalion of servants. His staff includes three butlers, four valets, four chefs, 10 gardeners, and more. He insists that his staff at Highgrove wear specially designed uniforms and bow to him every day when they first speak to him. The journalist Graham Turner - who has a high degree of access to the royals - has described Charles's Sandringham parties. "To start with, there must have been 20 or 30 servants... Everybody had their own individual valet or maid and, each evening [at dinner]... jaws dropped open at the splendour of the table, the silver, the decorations, the flowers, the statues and the lighting."

It is hard to miss the irony when it was revealed this week that Charles said apropos of Elaine Day in a 2003 memo, "What is wrong with everyone nowadays? Why do they all seem to think they are qualified to do things far beyond their technical capabilities? ... People think they can all be pop stars, High Court judges, brilliant TV personalities or infinitely more competent heads of state without ever putting in the necessary work or having natural ability." The institution of monarchy - and the deafness that comes from hearing only sycophants - has made it impossible for Charles to acknowledge that he has no more qualifications to be head of state than Elaine Day except for his DNA. Despite having the most expensive education money can buy, he got only two A-levels, at grades B and C. He was swept into Cambridge University even though he didn't even nearly match the entry requirements. Once there, he was given a 2:2 in archaeology and anthropology - and this was widely considered a "polite" grade doled out for a future monarch. Since then, he has demonstrated no particular skills, and his books - such as My Vision for Britain - would, publishers admit, certainly not have made it past the reject pile if it were not for Charles's royal title.

Nor has Charles put in much of the work he claims women like Day must show if they are even to contemplate "rising above their station". James Callaghan, the Labour former prime minister, tried to find some meaningful work for Charles in the mid-1970s. Callaghan suggested that Charles take a job in Whitehall or the Cabinet Office, or as a member of the Commonwealth Development Corporation, to extended his understanding of government. Charles refused to do the job unless he could enter at the absolute top. A Channel 4 investigation into Charles's work schedule in 1998 found that he worked, on average, just one and a half days a week. Buckingham Palace figures are misleading because they brag of hundreds of events attended by the prince a year. They fail to mention that as many as five events can be crammed into a day - leaving the rest of the week free.

Yet the humane response to this is not to be angry with Charles himself. The institution of monarchy has inflicted terrible psychological damage on him since he was a toddler. The snobbery and hatred of meritocracy that have been revealed this week are simply inevitable further by-products of monarchy. Charles's political statements are simply evidence that he is trying desperately to apply the mindset of a medieval institution to the modern world - and inevitably failing. If you were raised to believe you were the head of a mystical form of rule, you would be just as bad. Do not blame the man. Blame the institution.

A LIFE IN BRIEF

Born: 14 November 1948 at Buckingham Palace, to Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

Family: Married to Lady Diana Spencer, 1981; divorced 1996. Two sons, William and Harry.

Education: Gordonstoun School and Trinity College, Cambridge.

Titles: His Royal Highness Prince Charles Philip Arthur George, Prince of Wales, KG, KT, GCB, OM, AK, QSO, PC, ADC, Earl of Chester, Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Rothesay, Earl of Carrick, Baron of Renfrew, Lord of the Isles and Prince and Great Steward of Scotland.

Hobbies: Polo, hunting, painting watercolours, gardening.

He says...: "What is wrong with everyone nowadays? Why do they all seem to think they are qualified to do things far beyond their actual capacities?"

They say...: "To be frank, I think he is very old-fashioned and out of time."

- Charles Clarke, Education Secretary

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