The Prince needs therapy, not the throne

The oddest thing about this episode is that anyone believed his household was a model of fairness and equality
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The Independent Online

There is something irresistibly Upstairs, Downstairs about it: picture the scene over breakfast as the butler, coughing discreetly to obtain his master's attention, raises a delicate subject. "Grave news, Sir. The tweenie wishes to train as a nuclear physicist." To which the head of the household, dropping an eggy soldier on his paisley dressing-gown, exclaims: "Great Scott! Who does the gel think she is?"

There is something irresistibly Upstairs, Downstairs about it: picture the scene over breakfast as the butler, coughing discreetly to obtain his master's attention, raises a delicate subject. "Grave news, Sir. The tweenie wishes to train as a nuclear physicist." To which the head of the household, dropping an eggy soldier on his paisley dressing-gown, exclaims: "Great Scott! Who does the gel think she is?"

As with just about everything concerning the Royal Family, including the Queen fondly imagining that the President of France wanted to sit through a faux-French musical in the Waterloo Room at Windsor Castle last night, the truth is always stranger than fiction. So her eldest son, being either incredibly dense or unapprised of developments in employment law over the last few centuries, unwisely committed his thoughts on an ambitious member of staff to a memo, which was read out before an employment tribunal in Croydon on Wednesday. ("It's in south London, Sir. You don't need to go there. You have people who do that for you.")

This is how we know that a personal assistant in the Prince's household, whom I assume to have much the same status in his eyes as a parlourmaid, astounded him by writing to ask whether university-educated PAs might be allowed to train as private secretaries. In this topsy-turvy world, such people are not secretaries at all but incredibly important personages, in charge of the day-to-day running of the Royal Household, and HRH was amazed by Elaine Day's effrontery.

Ms Day, who seems to have had a miserable time working for the Prince, is claiming unfair dismissal and sex discrimination after leaving her post last year; she also alleges that a member of the Prince's household sexually harassed her.

Describing the inner workings of Clarence House, to which the Prince moved after his grandmother's death two years ago, she said: "It's hierarchical, elitist; everyone knows their place and if we forget our place the system will punish us."

The Prince, clearly wondering where it would all end - the guillotine? - responded to her request by producing a handwritten thesis on what is wrong with modern Britain. We now inhabit an aspirational culture, he said, though not quite in those words, in which people grow up to believe they can 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".

The Prince's views were described as old-fashioned by the Education Secretary, Charles Clarke, which seems quite a mild rebuke in the circumstances. But the Prince has at least identified the cause of a social malaise that has eluded the rest of us: the trouble with today's teenagers is that they all want to head the family division of the High Court when they get older. That's why they huddle on street corners, hoods pulled up, speaking in an incomprehensible language, which, if only we took the time to decode it, is entirely devoted to reviewing the outcome of recent hearings in the Strand.

It takes a brave man to say so in these days of rampant political correctness, but as Charles pointed out, this state of affairs is evidence of "social utopianism" gone mad. We can't all be judges, no more than we can all present The Weakest Link or become head of state, and to believe otherwise is to "contradict the lessons of history". And the Prince knows exactly how people have been misled into such tragically false expectations, which is to say, a "child-centred" education system.

I thought education under New Labour had long ago departed from any utopian notion of helping children to develop, concentrating instead on turning out drones acceptable to service industries. But then Prince Charles, as a father, has more recent experience of the country's education system than I do. After all, only the other day, he discovered that his eldest son, whose educational achievements are not exactly glittering, seriously imagines that he will one day become head of state.

Actually, to be fair to the Prince of Wales - not a phrase I have had many occasions to use - the oddest thing about this episode is that anyone believed for one moment that his household was a model of fairness and equality. It reminds me of a daytime television programme I once saw in New York, on which identical twins with big hair and pneumatic breasts complained about they way they had been treated when they posed for a nude centre-fold in a soft porn magazine. They had been treated like sex objects, they recalled tearfully, bewildered by the discovery that top-shelf magazines are not committed equal-opportunity employers.

Of course the Prince does not want people getting above their station. If the system were based purely on merit, his family would have been claiming jobseeker's allowance a long time ago. The whole point of the monarchy is to keep people in their place, which is determined not by intelligence, hard work or achievement but by birth. That's why it's called the hereditary principle, although I've often thought that - compared, say, to the care with which stud horses are selected - the Windsors' breeding programme leaves quite a lot to be desired. Judging by results, I mean.

It is sometimes whispered, as another set of revelations causes uncontrollable laughter in the populace, that the Queen despairs of her eldest son. We have heard stories about his staff flogging unwanted gifts, his habit of strewing clothes all over the floor for servants to pick up, and his reluctance to perform simple tasks such as squeezing his own toothpaste. We have heard rumours about his sexuality, and we know for certain that he once told his lover that he would like to be a tampon.

Now, in addition to all this, we have discovered that he is a terrible snob, someone who makes a point of employing black people and then expresses amazement when one of them asks very politely about the possibility of promotion.

"She's so PC it frightens me rigid," Charles declared to his assistant private secretary, Paul Kefford, asking how he should reply to Ms Day.

I am going to leave to one side the unedifying image of a Priapic Prince, rising to meet the challenge of dealing with an uppity inferior. But it is hard to see his behaviour towards Ms Day as doing anything other than exposing the limits of his commitment to a genuinely democratic Britain. It doesn't even strike me as particularly racist, demonstrating an "us and them" mentality in which the lower orders are allowed contact with royalty, as long as they are carrying flowers or content to answer the phones.

This is the central paradox of monarchy, that its public aspirations to modernity are belied by feudal beliefs and practices which are indefensible when exposed to the light of day. With his spectacularly undistinguished career, disastrous marital history and grandiose self-delusions, Prince Charles is a prime candidate for therapy. What he most decidedly does not look like is a modern head of state.

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