Too many feelings, not too few

What right do we have to tell Charles how to mourn
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The Independent Online
It has come to this, in this increasingly edgy ordeal of a week whose climax tomorrow in Westminster Abbey will not come a moment too soon. We, proclaiming ourselves grief-stricken at the death of a woman we knew only vicariously through the mass media, see fit to give advice to the man who had married her, fathered her two children, and for better or worse knew her better than anyone, on how to mourn her.

Of the quite unimaginable pressures that now bear upon Prince Charles this may not be the greatest, but it is surely the least forgivable. Diana, tragically, is gone. The void and the sadness she has left behind is huge. But we at least may expiate our sadness with lines in a book of condolence, with a bunch of flowers, in a sense of bereavement shared. In this "liberated" Britain that resembles America more with every passing day, therapy lies in emotions openly bared. Let it all hang out - and if you don't there must be something wrong with you.

That is how it is for Charles, before the giant distorting mirror of public opinion. He is blamed, somehow, for bringing about Diana's death, as if he alone were responsible for the end of a marriage that should never have been made. Forget the high speed chase of a limousine driven by a drunken chauffeur in the employment of her lover. Had she not been coldly cut loose by the Royal Family and forced into divorce, runs this overstretched chain of causality, the accident would never have happened. Ergo, it is Charles's fault.

Then he is taken to task for suppressing his feelings, for showing a silence and reserve which some people (hopelessly old-fashioned, we are told) still believe is the way in which grief should be clothed. He is criticised for agreeing to take his children to church on the Sunday morning. Why, it was asked, did he remain in the fastness of Balmoral, instead of returning to London, where the people are lamenting the loss of their Princess?

Let me declare myself. The closest I've come to royalty was when I was 12 or 13 years old at a Berkshire prep school near Cheam school, which Charles attended, and which we used to play at football and rugby. When the game was at Cheam, we celebrity-obsessed schoolboys would seek out the royal locker in the changing room, try on the royal games shirt and use the royal hairbrush on the shelf.

But our paths never crossed in person, on the games field or anywhere else. My subsequent feelings about the monarchy are surely those of very many people. For a long while I was an agnostic. The institution was distant, but basically harmless, above all an immutable part of the national landscape. Then the scandals started, and at some point over the last two or three years, the exasperation and embarrassment became too much. I crossed the Rubicon to republicanism. Not a passionate republicanism, but the belief that, on balance, we'd be better off without them. But being a republican is one thing. Joining in the general obloquy against the Prince of Wales, at this most anguished moment of an anguished life, is quite another. Diana deserves our sympathy; so do her children. But so too, and unequivocally, does Charles.

His predicament is unspeakable. As any divorced man, he must be haunted by a sense of responsibility. As a father, he must bring up his two children alone. Tomorrow, quite possibly, only their presence at his side will prevent him from being booed. On top of that is the very survival of the monarchy, the job for which his whole life has been a waiting period. In this field too, his performance in the next few days could be decisive. Yet Camilla Parker-Bowles, presumably his strongest source of physical and emotional support, must be kept more firmly out of sight than ever. Marriage to her surely is out of the question. And at this hyper-charged moment at least, as a result of his perceived ill-treatment of Diana, it is hard indeed to imagine him as King. Both his public and private lives will play out, forever, in the shadow of the dead Princess, for ever young and beautiful. Imagine a circle of deadly sharp, inward-pointing daggers: in the centre is Charles.

In the media, he is depicted as cool, dour, and utterly devoid of feeling for ordinary people. She was one of us: Charles irremedially belonged to Them. That image too is a travesty which merely underlines how upstaged and outmanoeuvred he was by Diana in the miserable battle that developed as their marriage died. True, he might come across like that, especially when juxtaposed with his wife, sparkling with empathy and humanity. In fact, Charles' problem is not a lack of feelings, but a surfeit of them. He is a man paralysed by his own sensitivities, and the indecision which springs from them.

Cast your mind back. There was a period, before his every effort was utterly obscured by Diana, when Charles was advertised as the last best hope for renewing the House of Windsor. He was the family member who seemed in touch. He spoke out for the homeless and underprivileged, and worried about race relations. He was the one who spoke out loud about the issues of the day, including such thoroughly beneficial steps as the severing of the links between the monarchy and the Church of England. He could be witty and self-deprecating. Has he really changed so much since? The answer, everyone who knows him insists, is no.

But these are strange times. The days before the funeral drag by almost interminably, while the linked wheels of media opinion and public emotion spin in the sand, throwing up unquestioning love and simmering resentment in equal measure. The apportionment is grossly unfair. We are not talking now of his fitness to be King. The future of the monarchy is an issue to be settled later. This is a moment of grief, and for no one more so than Charles. To tell him how to express it is an outrage.