Stick to your lot in life: Charles scorned ambition of 'politically correct' PA

When Elaine Day wrote to her employer suggesting he improve his organisation by encouraging his workers to aspire to more senior jobs, she may have been forgiven for expecting a positive response.

When Elaine Day wrote to her employer suggesting he improve his organisation by encouraging his workers to aspire to more senior jobs, she may have been forgiven for expecting a positive response.

After all, the Prince of Wales had made much of his progressive attitudes on issues from mixed housing and education to the virtues of organic food and homeopathy. His personal mission statement, announced this summer, says he will "do all he can to use his unique position to make a difference for the better in the United Kingdom".

But, an employment tribunal heard yesterday, when it comes to such apparently liberal notions as "child-centred" schooling and self-improvement, Prince Charles is determinedly old school. In an extraordinary memo, the heir to the throne railed against the idea of his employees aiming for more illustrious roles. Labelling such aspirations as "social utopianism", the Prince blames an education system, which he criticises for making people "think they can all be pop stars ... or even infinitely more competent heads of state" without the necessary effort or ability.

The document, written in March last year, followed a request from Ms Day, 45, a former personal assistant at Clarence House, for PAs with university degrees to be allowed to train as private secretaries, the senior courtiers in charge of day-to-day running of the Royal Household.

The PA, who is claiming sex discrimination and unfair dismissal after she left her post this year, said her note to the Prince was written in the hope that he might take steps to reform the "Edwardian" standards of his managers.

Instead, the Prince wrote his memo to Ms Day's boss, Paul Kefford, an assistant private secretary in charge of social, educational and religious matters, criticising the PA for being terrifyingly politically correct. The memo read: "What is it that makes everyone seem to think they are qualified to do things far beyond their technical capabilities? This is all to do with the learning culture in schools.

"It is a consequence of a child-centred system which admits no failure and tells people they can all be pop stars, High Court judges, brilliant TV presenters or even infinitely more competent heads of state without ever putting in the necessary effort or having abilities. It's social utopianism which believes humanity can be genetically and socially re-engineered to contradict the lessons of history."

Asking Mr Kefford how he should reply to Ms Day, the Prince added: "She's so PC it frightens me rigid." The document, read to a packed court room in a concrete office block in Croydon, south London, came to light only after the PA resigned in April after five years at the heart of the Prince's household. Asked by her lawyer what she had taken the memo to mean, Ms Day, from Belvedere, east London, said: "I completely felt people could not rise above their station."

The former royal functionary said Clarence House, the former home of the Queen Mother, where the Prince moved his household after her death in 2002, was run on principles often contrary to those espoused by its head. She said: "It's hierarchical, elitist; everyone knows their place and if we forget our place the system will punish us."

The allegations will do little to help his officials dispel criticism that the Prince's privileged lifestyle fuels his eccentric views and habits. His forthright views on issues such as the risks of nanotechnology - liable to spark a thalidomide-like illness and turn the world into "grey goo" - and apocryphal tales about talking to plants have largely inspired laughter.

Despite the findings of last year's report into the running of the Prince's household, which led to the resignation of his most trusted valet, Michael Fawcett, amid claims that royal presents were sold for profit, tales of luxurious living also remain legion. Toothpaste is squeezed on to the Prince's toothbrush with a special clip emblazoned with the royal crest and discarded clothing must be retrieved from the bedroom floor by personal staff.

While officials point out that the Prince receives no income from the Civil List, he is entitled to the annual net profits of the Duchy of Cornwall, which last year reached £11.9m.

Clarence House said it will "vigorously contest" Ms Day's allegations, which include a claim that she was sexually harassed by Mr Kefford. She said that when she approached Sir Michael Peat, the Prince's private secretary, about her manager, he said: "I thought he was gay."

The case, expected to last three days, continues today.

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