The Prince of Wales took the unprecedented step on Friday of issuing a joint denial with his mother, condemning a London Weekend Television programme to be shown this evening which alleges that he wants the Queen to stand aside so he can be King. In his statement the Prince of Wales stressed his abiding "admiration and affection" for the Queen.
Yesterday the row deepened when LWT defended its documentary, saying that a senior Buckingham Palace aide gave them the go-ahead just days ago after a total of four briefings were held with the official. All the main topics of the programme, including the abdication question, were discussed and approved.
Friends and supporters quickly emerged to rubbish the abdication story. Among the first was Jonathan Dimbleby, who became close to the Prince while writing his authorised biography. He told BBC Radio 4's Today that he did not think Charles had even allowed himself to think the thought that was attributed to him.
He found the LWT claim "quite fantastic". "I can't believe for a moment that he would have allowed himself to speak of this, to intimate this, in any way to intimate to friends, let alone to a senior aide, however much he trusted that aide," Mr Dimbleby said.
But Mr Dimbleby's comments were sharply at odds with those of Stuart Higgins, former editor of The Sun. Mr Higgins is not just a man who once ran Britain's biggest selling tabloid; he also acted as a consultant to the LWT documentary makers and knows Camilla Parker Bowles from his days as a West Country reporter.
He was quoted in his old paper as saying that what the Royal aide told them was: "In an ideal world Prince Charles privately wishes the Queen would step aside and allow him to take over the throne."
As the St James's Palace's damage limitation exercise goes into overdrive, the Prince's advisers must be ruefully pondering how their year-long campaign to re-brand Prince Charles in the run-up to his 50th birthday went awry.
The carefully planned strategy was drawn up in the aftermath of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in August last year, when there was a distinct danger that a grieving nation might turn on Prince Charles. There were even mutterings that he should be "sacked" as heir apparent and Prince William should accede to the throne when the Queen died.
A new team of advisers - supposedly with PR savvy - were installed to improve the Prince's standing who set about drip-feeding the media stories that projected a new image of Charles, summed up in a headline last week: "Out goes potty Prince, in comes decent bloke Prince."
It emerged that he had stood up to his mother and demanded that the body of his divorced wife be flown back from Paris on a royal jet, rather than be returned in "a Harrod's van", as one courtier put it, and be given a proper state funeral.
However, the story spinning by the various "close friends" did begin to unravel with the recent serialisation of Penny Junor's book, Charles: Victim or Villain. Together with Mrs Parker Bowles, Prince Charles issued a statement denying they supplied sources. But its raison d'etre, that Diana was as much to blame for the failure of their marriage, was still conveyed to the public.
As the hunt to unmask the Charles aide who made the LWT claims gathered pace yesterday, it appeared a case of cock-up rather than conspiracy was to blame.
It is well known that the Prince would like more influence over the monarchy and has ideas about modernising it. Unfortunately, according to royal watchers, every claim on the future made by his advisers has the effect of implying that, at Buckingham Palace, they are rooted in the past. Thus an atmosphere of suspicion and rivalry has sprung up between the two palaces. In such an over-heated environment, an aide may well have spun into pure exaggeration when briefing the LWT researchers.
Next Friday at a Buckingham Palace party on the eve of Prince Charles's birthday, the Queen is set to make a speech praising his achievements. It will be a novel experience for the heir to the throne, rarely praised in public by a mother he has long felt does not appreciate what he does.
Meanwhile, privately Charles might well recall a speech in 1984 to the British Medical Association in which he said: "Perhaps we just have to accept it as God's will that the unorthodox individual is doomed to years of frustration, ridicule and failure in order to act his role in the scheme of things."
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