Focus: Life on Planet Charles

Toothpaste squeezed by a flunky. Supper steamed with one brand of water. Oh, and an £11m income. This is the man who presses a world view on us all - and whose latest embarrassment, of many, reveals that he condemned an underling for daring to seek promotion. Cole Moreton reports
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In the past 10 days the Prince of Wales has: met a wooden puppet of the Goddess of Love and the lesbian pop duo Tatu; told a gala dinner at the Ritz that mutton must be restored to its "rightful place" in the British menu; played a wrist-drum at a breast cancer clinic in Kent; praised alternative therapies again; laid a wreath at the Cenotaph; given a speech on "local identity in a fast-track age"; and entertained the Chiracs. His qualifications for doing all this? Low-grade A-levels in French and History and a second-class degree from Cambridge. Oh, and his name. Charles Windsor believes that pronouncing to his future subjects on everything from nannying to nanotechnology (although he failed his maths O-level) is his duty by birth. It is what he was born to do. And now we finally know what we long suspected: that he believes the rest of us were born to stay in our places.

In the past 10 days the Prince of Wales has: met a wooden puppet of the Goddess of Love and the lesbian pop duo Tatu; told a gala dinner at the Ritz that mutton must be restored to its "rightful place" in the British menu; played a wrist-drum at a breast cancer clinic in Kent; praised alternative therapies again; laid a wreath at the Cenotaph; given a speech on "local identity in a fast-track age"; and entertained the Chiracs. His qualifications for doing all this? Low-grade A-levels in French and History and a second-class degree from Cambridge. Oh, and his name. Charles Windsor believes that pronouncing to his future subjects on everything from nannying to nanotechnology (although he failed his maths O-level) is his duty by birth. It is what he was born to do. And now we finally know what we long suspected: that he believes the rest of us were born to stay in our places.

"What is wrong with people nowadays?" wrote the Prince in a note to an aide that became public last week when it was used as evidence in an industrial tribunal. "Why do they all seem to think they are qualified to do things far beyond their technical capabilities?" Those were private thoughts. He wasn't worrying about his public image. He certainly wasn't writing a speech fit for a patron of a charity that helps the disadvantaged.

"This is all to do with the learning culture in schools," he wrote of people with ideas above their station. "It is a consequence of the 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."

Those words are profoundly lacking in self-awareness, but there is a decent point in there somewhere: our culture does encourages us all to believe we are a lottery ticket, an audition or a reality show away from fame and fortune. That is dangerous. But do we really need to be told to limit our aspirations by somebody whose palaces and country homes are beyond the dreams of even lottery winners? The note was written in response to a query from Elaine Day, a personal assistant at Clarence House, as to whether PAs with university degrees might be allowed to train to become royal private secretaries. A modest ambition, hardly Pop Idol.

If the day on which he wrote his reply was typical, Prince Charles rose no earlier than nine. He sleeps in the nude and steps into a Turnbull & Asser robe with his own crest embroidered on the chest. He cleans his teeth using toothpaste squeezed by a royal aide using a crested gold clip. He typically walks through to his dressing room where a Savile Row suit and tailored shirt are draped over chairs (he leaves his clothes abandoned on the floor at the end of every day for the staff to pick up and launder) and steps into handmade shoes that cost £650 a pair. Later he sits at a desk, the royal posterior comfortable on the plumped up cushion that is carried around for him to use wherever he goes.

Elaine Day wrote to the Prince hoping he might reform the "Edwardian" behaviour of his staff in a household that was "all about status and hierarchy". In March 2003 he wrote a note to her boss, Paul Kefford, which was read out on Wednesday when Ms Day appeared at a tribunal in Croydon claiming sex discrimination and unfair dismissal.

Prince Charles and his staff have tried very hard to keep their intimate affairs private. An inquiry into the conduct of the royal household last year was carried out by Sir Michael Peat, the head of that same household. He found, to nobody's surprise, that nothing was seriously wrong - except that a member of staff who accused another of rape had been threatened with character assassination then paid off. And official gifts to the Prince had been given as perks to staff or sold. The Prince's personal adviser, Michael Fawcett, resigned - but was soon back with a six-figure contract to run special events. Last year, Sir Michael Peat took the extraordinary step of issuing a public denial of a rumour of royal sexual behaviour that nobody in this country could legally talk about in public.

An obsession with hierarchy and detail was exposed when Elaine Day told the tribunal she had been disciplined for failing to remove the name of a guest from one of the meals and drinks parties to which the Prince of Wales likes to invite experts. This one was on education and included Chris Woodhead, the former chief inspector of schools. It is not thought to have included Charles Clarke, Secretary of State for Education, who laid into the Prince for the words of the leaked memo on Thursday: "To be frank, I think he is very old-fashioned and out of time, and he doesn't understand what is going on in the British education system at the moment."

The Prince, for his part, likes to spend most of the time listening when he rounds up his little brains trusts. Architects, environmentalists or others walk around the organic vegetable garden at Highgrove, of which the Prince is so proud, or take drinks in one of the rooms at Clarence House renovated with £4.5m of taxpayers' money, before lunch or supper. The Prince need not take notes. There is someone to do that for him. One former adviser said his speeches "resemble no more than a good sixth-form essay", although cancer experts thought that a generous verdict when the Prince lectured them in June about the benefits of the Gerson Therapy, which uses coffee enemas and has been branded dangerous. "Charles is abusing his position to put around wacky ideas which have no scientific credence," said one specialist.

We all know the royal family thinks the world smells of fresh paint, but the credibility gap between the Prince's supper-club view of the world and reality becomes a serious problem when he starts to lecture us on the nature of reality. The Prince who empathises with an old lady at a drop-in centre about the price of getting around these days probably arrived in a limousine. He takes nothing from the Civil List but is entitled to the profits of the Duchy of Cornwall, which were £11.9m last year, putting him among the top 100 earners in the country. If the old lady offers him a piece of cake he probably won't take it: Charles tries to stick to food cooked by his own staff to strict instructions - his vegetables, for example, may only be steamed using a particular brand of mineral water.

His eldest son is also wrestling with the reality gap. William talked on Friday of the joy of being able to walk into a supermarket near his university and buy asparagus like a normal person, but he didn't mention his bodyguards; he talked of a desire to lead men into battle knowing it would be unthinkable for a future king to do so.

The Windsors have long wanted us to believe they are both ordinary and special. That is a difficult tightrope to walk - and the Prince of Wales falls off it, spectacularly, when he complains so bitterly about secretaries who just want to get slightly better jobs. Unfortunately, life on Planet Charles does not qualify him to see that.

WHO'S WHO AT COURT

The teacher: Chris Woodhead

The former chief inspector of schools has a sternly traditionalist critique of British education. Mr Woodhead, a regular at Highgrove, inveighs against the modish views of an educational establishment he calls "the blob". He believes standards are falling, that tried teaching methods lie abandoned, and that Mr Blair's directives are making things worse. So, it appears, does the Prince. Mr Woodhead says the official drive to send half of all school-leavers to university as "ludicrous", a view recently echoed,in milder language, by Charles.

The journalist: Melanie Phillips

The Daily Mail columnist is known as a redoubtable opponent of consumerism, promiscuity, moral relativism and much else besides. Like Mr Woodhead, she has travelled from Left to Right in the course of her journey to the Highgrove dining table after a long stint on The Guardian. Her book All Must Have Prizes claimed that a utopian "child-centred" view of schooling is failing pupils because no one is allowed to feel the harsh reality of failure. When it comes to utopianism, if not promiscuity, the Prince agrees wholeheartedly.

The historian: Dr David Starkey

With his current TV series charting the progress of the British monarchy and regular appearances at the Prince's summer schools for English and history teachers, Dr Starkey would be an obvious choice as official court historian, arguing that the Crown has done great things for the nation. "We stopped teaching the history of our nation and of our own culture properly," he said earlier this year. Or. as the Prince put it, we have lost "an understanding of our national heritage... it all goes back to the 1960s."

The Green: Sir Jonathon Porritt

One of the best-known Green campaigners in the country, he is a survivor from the days when the Highgrove set was more liberal. He now serves as the chief environmental adviser to Prince Charles, helping him devise policies on GM food and organic farming. Posh in his own right - he is a hereditary baronet - Mr Porritt first rose to prominence in the late 1970s and formed an immediate Royal friendship. He led the Green Party before taking charge of Friends of the Earth. He disagreed about wind turbines which the Prince sees as a "blot".

The soil guru: Patrick Holden

Farming guru by Royal appointment, he directs the Soil Association, the body which overseas organic produce. He has long conversations with the Prince, who has become a personal friend, and converted the Highgrove farm to organic production. Mr Holden was one of the first to speak out against the mass cull during the foot and mouth crisis, a concern shared by Charles who is said to have criticised the killing as "mindless". Mr Holden saysthe Prince has his own ideas on farming: "He is constantly ahead of my thinking."

The trusty: William Shawcross

A journalist with trenchantly conservative views, William Shawcross is said to be the Prince's favourite polemicist and is a long-time Highgrove trusty. Son of Lord Shawcross, who led the prosecution at the Nuremberg trials, he started out on the Left and exposed US policy in Cambodia and Vietnam. These days he is passionately pro-war in Iraq, although he is yet to persuade the Prince. In 2003 he was asked to write the official biography of the Queen Mother. He is an old friend of Camilla Parker Bowles.

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