But now it emerges Prince Charles takes himself rather more seriously, regarding his interventions as the actions of a "dissident" campaigner standing up for unpopular causes.
Documents released in the High Court in London yesterday shine a revealing light into the psychology of the Prince who last year told an American TV journalist that the British people would only appreciate him after "I'm dead and gone".
Prince Charles, according to one of his former closest advisers, not only identifies with the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the oppressed people of Tibet, but also believes it is his constitutional duty to tell government ministers what he thinks about the issues of the day.
In a legal case which appears to have spectacularly backfired, the Prince has gone to court to try to stop further publication of his private diaries after some of the contents were leaked to a national newspaper.
But yesterday lawyers for The Mail on Sunday, which had originally printed extracts from the diaries, decided to release a startling account of life inside the Prince's private office.
The written account by Mark Bolland, Charles's former deputy private secretary, details the extraordinary lengths that his former boss would go to have his opinions heard in the right places. Mr Bolland claims that the Prince saw himself as playing the role of a "dissident working against the prevailing political consensus".
To achieve these ends he frequently wrote to government ministers. And just so his staff are left in no doubt what his position was on any given issue of the day his letters and speeches were routinely circulated around his office for all to read. "I was always surprised that these letters were not treated as more private or sensitive and, indeed, was always surprised that they were written at all," said Mr Bolland in his statement.
But claims by the former royal aide go even further by suggesting that Prince Charles is engaged in overtly political activity that threatens his constitutional role. On one occasion, says Mr Bolland, Prince Charles did not attend a return state banquet thrown by Chinese President Jiang Zemin "as a deliberate snub to the Chinese because he did not approve of the Chinese regime".
The Prince was aware of the political and economic importance of the state visit but "wanted to make a public stand against the Chinese". Prince Charles's skilful use of the media meant that the "snub" was well publicised in national newspapers.
Mr Bolland's statement continues: "Despite our best efforts, he did not always avoid politically contentious issues, if he felt strongly about particular issues or government policies. In fact, he would readily embrace the political aspects of any contentious issue he was interested in and this is an aspect of his role which the Prince saw as particularly important."
The Bolland document was only made public after Prince Charles's barrister, Hugh Tomlinson QC, told Mr Justice Blackburne that his client had decided not to pursue orders banning publication of Mr Bolland's witness statement.
Lawyers for the Prince hope to persuade the judge that the leaking of his private journals is a breach of confidence. But Mark Warby QC, representing The Mail on Sunday, told the court that the confidentiality laws which protect private lives simply do not apply to this case.
The hearing continues.
The real thing
Spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism. His struggle for a free Tibet has always been based on non-violent solutions.
AUNG SAN SUU KYI
Founded opposition party to the country's military junta in 1988. Has spent nine of the last 15 years under house arrest.
Released from Robben Island in 1994 after 27 years, his imprisonment drew attention to the struggle against apartheid.
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