Leading article: Charles can no longer hide from reality

The death of the Princess was accidental. Nobody willed it. And yet the event is entwined in circles of causality. Had the driver been fit, had those freelance photographers not been so avid, had magazine and newspaper editors' chequebooks here and overseas not been so open, had the public not been so avid for images ... there appears to be an ever- growing list of reasons why Diana might not have died. And somewhere in that chain of contingencies, in some people's minds, sit the heir to the throne and his mistress, Camilla Parker Bowles. Put that more bluntly. A lot of people hold the Prince of Wales responsible for his ex-wife's sorry end - not directly responsible, but somehow culpable because her death and its manner seems as if it is an extension of the sadness of her life. The point is not whether that judgement is fair or unfair, whether we the voyeuristic public can ever untangle the details of a failed marriage and apportion blame; the point is that Charles, who was already tainted in many people's minds by the divorce, is now for some of them a marked man.

If he and his entourage think that after the solemnities of the funeral it will be business as usual, they are misleading themselves. A period of profound reflection in and about the future of the House of Windsor is now necessary. If ever there were an occasion for the Prince of Wales to show that he has not been entirely intellectually and imaginatively stifled by his upbringing and adult captivity, this is it. He needs, for once, not just to talk to people outside the circle, but to listen to them and their appraisals of the public mood. Those people necessarily include the Prime Minister, who himself needs to rub the stardust from his eyes and prepare to offer Charles some hard home truths about what he and his elder son are now to do with their lives. To those who say getting involved with royalty is no business of New Labour, the reply has to be that the Royal Family's fate does matter. Like it or not, the Royal Family figures centrally in the values of modern Britain, even though it is one of our least modern institutions. Besides, the accession of either Charles or his son would present an unmissable occasion for constitutional reform.

The Queen is 71, already long past the age she might comfortably have retired. Prince William is 15, surely no more than a decade away from an age at which he might succeed. If the House of Windsor were indeed a "firm", a strategic decision should already have been taken about the succession. Even as dysfunctional an enterprise as this has turned out to be would now be looking to maximise its assets; an unsullied young prince is certainly one. But his preparation will take exceptional care and attention. If Prince William was not deeply disturbed by his parents' separation, his mother's misery, and his father's peculiarly remote life, he must surely now be devastated by the loss of his mother. Sending the boy to Eton was hardly calculated to be a sign of an open and modern monarchy, well-tuned to the popular mood, let alone a means of ensuring the boy was emotionally competent. Imaginative thinking is needed about what kind of role he is to fill until he succeeds to the throne. Where will he travel in Britain and overseas, who is he to meet, what causes should he make his own?

Prince William, it is thought, hates the processes of the press, the interviews, the continuous and intrusive surveillance. The circumstances of his mother's death must, if anything, heighten his feelings of revulsion. Yet one certain thing in the boy's future is that he will have to learn to live with the interest of journalists and photographers. If his father's moral credit were greater, he would be in a position to insist that the British press at least observe certain ground rules, at least while the prince is in his minority. As it is, there appear to be two options. One (which is sadly more likely) is that the Royal Family will, the Diana experience over, revert to type, dust off its tweeds and live its life behind the hedges and copses of its country estates. This "Balmoral" strategy could see the princes kept close. The quid pro quo would naturally be an end to Prince Charles's ham-fisted attempts to parade his mistress before the public in an attempt to win public acceptance of his re-marriage. This, of course, is no preparation for an heir to the throne of a 21st- century country trying to re-invent itself as open, modern and creative.

The alternative would be some combination of privacy law and/or lasting commitments on the part of tabloid editors and proprietors not to intrude on the lives of the princes. There would need to be give and take - an arranged photocall here, an interview there, but the benefit for Prince William particularly could be immense: he might even be allowed to live something approaching a normal teenage life (which if it were normal would have to include sexual experiment, even acquaintance with illicit substances). It would also have to include familiarisation with the real world, trips, tours and badinage with press photographers.

It is wishful thinking, to be sure, to believe that the demands of tabloid readers and therefore their editors are suddenly going to change, or that paparazzi are going to quietly creep back into the shadows, even after what happened on Sunday morning in Paris. But the public mood is sombre, and concerned that no such tragic sequence of events occurs again. For this reason alone, Prince Charles needs to find for his sons a broader preparation for life, and greater emotional care, than he seems to have enjoyed. The future of the family may depend on it.