Cheeky Charlie

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How considerate of Prince Charles to wait for all us to return from our ecologically unsustainable holidays before laying into them. "Increased tourism has brought destruction for unspoiled parts of our world," he wrote this week, castigating "bad-mannered development" and "featureless dormitory blocks" such as those found on the edge of Hyde Park, along the coast of the Med and lining the "river embankments of our finest East European cities" (whoever "us" is).

HRH is not against tourism per se. It's just that he wants it to be sensitive to "local culture and traditions, to preserve a sense of place and to minimise disturbance to the environment". He goes on: "Remarkable results can be achieved from converting existing buildings - redundant mills, old hospitals, abandoned military buildings or monasteries". But not, for some reason, underused palaces.

There is, of course, nothing new about this call. "Green tourism" has been in vogue for a decade, and there have even been demolitions of high- rise blocks on the Majorcan coast as a response to the growing tourist aversion to being stacked along polluted beaches with nothing but lager to drink. Authentic experience holidays are all the rage, and many resorts now boast of their strict planning laws and low-rise developments.

But as we branch out, leaving the Costas and heading for the unspoilt natural beauty of the Seychelles or Nepal or Costa Rica, we demand new hotels (if nicer, less ugly ones) in the new destinations. Airport runways are extended, hire-car facilities mushroom and - most important of all - the benighted locals incorporate tourism into their local economies, not realising the damage they are doing to their own colourful (if impoverished) cultures.

Unexceptional stuff then, this little Jeremiad from the soothsaying Prince. So why is it that when I heard a radio report of his article in "Green Hotelier" (green as in ecological, not as in naive and silly), I ground my teeth and tore my hair in exasperated rage?

It's because I think that the Prince, well-intentioned as he might see himself, is not really against travel and sightseeing as such - he's just against everybody else travelling and sightseeing. He has realised (if only sub-consciously) that when many start to do the things that once only tiny elites could do, then these things become transformed, become ugly. A deserted beach is beautiful - bring your hamper and dine out. A beach full of fat men, skinny women and yelling children - and two cafes to feed them - is a blot on the landscape.

Consider the vacationing of the Royal Family themselves. Last January, Charles himself flew with royal nanny and the kids in a half-full BAe 126 of the Queen's Flight to Zurich and drove from there to Klosters for a skiing holiday. There, they stayed in the Walserhof Hotel (commonly described as five-star, rather than as "revolutionary solar-heated, low water usage, sewage recycling"). And we know that skiing is causing massive erosion on Alpine slopes. Meanwhile, his estranged wife was in Barbuda, where the local economy is presumably immune from royal expenditure, steadfastly refusing to jet in luxuries and sell them on at exorbitant rates.

And where was Charles when his divorce went through? In Brunei, as a birthday guest (one of 20,000) of the Sultan of Brunei, who opened a new and vast theme park for his grateful subjects during the prince's visit.

How did these rides, one wonders, "preserve a sense of place". In addition, the Prince, we're told, took the opportunity to take a helicopter ride to visit a rainforest nature reserve. And how exactly are helicopters - using hundreds of pounds of fuel an hour - part of the local traditions? The literature of the tribes of Borneo is not full of stories of head- hunters travelling from long-house to long-house in choppers to the strains of the Ride of the Valkyrie.

But helicopters and planes are a big bit of the royal thing. The Royal Flight has 11 jets and six whirlybirds and Charles uses them to travel between his hols in Balmoral and Middlesex. Now just imagine what would happen if most of the hundreds of thousands of people who took their holidays in Scotland were to travel by helicopter (or if they demanded a large wing of a palace each once they got there)? How long would we have to wait before a princely denunciation of the mass despoliation of the skies of Britain, or the inutility of such a resource-intensive method of transport?

And, while we're about it, where was the public excoriation of his brother (and the erstwhile HRH, the Duchess of York) for the appalling "South York" ranch-house with which they disfigured a substantial tract of the Home Counties?

It is the same with the Prince and cars. He has rightly lamented the impact of cars upon the environment, lauded public transport and urged the bicycle upon his subjects-to-be. "The need for change is urgent," he wrote. Yet where is the royal Raleigh? The princely safety helmet? The diamond-studded cycle clips? Why does he run five motors, all large, including an Aston Martin that gives 15 miles to the gallon? Is it because it isn't his own car use that he sees as a problem (there are, after all, very few princes of Wales), but ours, because there are millions upon millions of us? Presumably, skiing is okay providing few do it (including him), huge cars are kosher providing few use them (including him), waste on a lavish scale is tolerable providing that only a minority indulge (including him), wide-open spaces are lonely and unspoilt if nobody visits them (except him). His hotels are "sensitive" and hugely expensive. Ours are "eyesores" and all we can afford.

Unfortunately for His Royal Highness, this de haut en bas proselytising will not wash. There is a growing belief, particularly among younger campaigners, in the need for us all to take personal responsibility - the need for people to act in a particular way rather than just talking about it. Why on earth should we listen to his lamentations about environmental degradation when it seems to be code for "keep outta my face"? Firstly, Charles, sell the Aston Martin, then flog the chopper, kick Klosters and, finally, cycle to work. When we, the plebs, see you acting godly, we just might take a bit more notice of the sermons.