The former Prince of Wales was a man who, in his own words, “tended to make a habit of sticking my head above the parapet and generally getting it shot off”. The new King Charles III, we’re regularly told, will have to be more measured if he’s to remain above the political fray, and so Britain could lose a strong voice on issues as various as climate change and inner-city deprivation. Maybe, with Charles’s ascension to the throne, we’ve already lost something else.
I’m reminded of a passage in Paul Theroux’s 2008 book Ghost Train to the Eastern Star. In it, he tells how he lined up in a hotel in Jodhpur, India, to introduce himself to the then prince, who was leaving a conference on water conservation. Parts of Charles’s diary about the return of Hong Kong to the Chinese had just been made public, and Theroux says of them:
He had mocked the handover ceremony, called some of the Chinese notables ‘waxworks’, spoken of the Chinese president’s ‘propaganda speech’ and scorned the goose-stepping Chinese soldiers. He also complained of being stuck in club class, rather than first, on his way out: ‘Such is the end of empire, I sighed to myself.’
What this proved was that though he may never be crowned king… he could still make a decent living as a travel writer…