When I first heard about the “Ben Elliot Prince of Wales cash for access” story, I thought it was… what’s the word? Ah, yes – appalling. This sort of thing happening with the heir to the throne disfigures public life, like a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend, to borrow another phrase.
Then I read a little more, and now I’m not quite sure who is using who. Very rich people, who pay lots of money to join Conservative Party chair Mr Elliot’s life concierge scheme Quintessentially, are apparently sometimes invited to meet the Prince of Wales, who happens to be married to Mr Elliot’s aunt: Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall. They are then invited to learn more about the prince’s charities. Doesn’t sound ideal, does it? But what really happens?
The short answer is nothing much. Presumably they get to meet this charismatic, purple-faced, internationally famous eccentric and grab their selfie with him. Maybe they’ll “bump into” him at a reception, or an invitation to a luncheon party or dinner will pop through the letterbox. If so, then they’re unlikely to find themselves being entertained with fruity anecdotes about what the Queen Mother was really like or what Prince Charles thinks of Meghan Markle, or how his gin-soaked aunt, Margaret, used to get her kicks on a private island in the Caribbean.
More likely he’d bore their backsides off, roving around the ozone layer, the thoughts of Laurens van der Post and the “lost soul” of mankind, the plight of the Patagonian toothfish, and how you can run a car on red wine if you really, really try. Very possibly – and this is an unkind thought, I know – when they got a word in sideways these ambitious social-climbing plutocrats might try to peddle some money-making scheme of their own to our future king, push to get planning permission for a housing development on a flood plain, try to wangle themselves a knighthood (or at least a CBE), or get an idiot child into Eton. Or the lot, conceivably.
In return, they’d donate serious money to the charities the prince supports. The question then arises, however, of who is using who. There’s no harm done, because the prince can’t really do anything of substance, as he knows only too well. It reminds me a bit of when the News of the World’s “fake sheikh” persuaded Fergie in a sting that there were people out there willing to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds just to meet Prince Andrew. If only we knew then what we know now.
In any case, I think Prince Charles is getting much the best side of the deal, and it’s the magnates who are wasting their time and money. After all, the Prince of Wales has spent a lifetime being flattered and importuned, and knows very well how to look concerned, sound supportive and sympathetic, and of course he will promise to look into whatever it is they want – and then forget about it.
If they ever make enquiries later, they will be told that the prince did his best (whether he did or not) but, alas, the ministers wouldn’t listen because they have no vision of Britain. This has the great benefit of sounding entirely plausible, and for good reason.
The Prince of Wales has no power, and – from what can be judged – very little influence. Even his own mother doesn’t pay much attention to him – one reason, you suspect, why she is still soldiering on. His famous “spidery handwriting” letters to ministers were treated with formal respect and courtesy, but mocked privately.
Virtually every cause he has adopted – the horrors of modern architecture, saving the planet, organic farming – is extremely worthy, but has met with mixed success, shall we say; and in any case, his role is at best minimal. Even the only “concrete” achievement he has to his name, the Poundbury toy-town model village in Dorset, remains a unique curiosity piece, studiously ignored by town planning departments across the land.
I’d love to meet the Prince of Wales, whatever “love” means. I have a tasty tub of Duchy Organic Houmous in the fridge – “Thick, rich and full of flavour” (which, once you reflect on it, seems quite a workable description of the old boy himself). He’s a harmless old thing who knows he’s got an awfully hard act to follow, and he means well. But I really don’t think I’d want to pay for the pleasure, even if I could afford to let him have a large cheque for charity. I’m no use to him, and he’s no use to me, which is exactly how it should be.
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