Wed, Nov 24, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Prince Charles defends controversial remarks

ROYAL RUCKUS The prince said he did not mean to imply that `people should know their place,' in a memo in which he riled against assistants seeking promotion


Coming from a person who could well inherit the promotion of his life, the remarks may have come across as a royal fit of petulance.

A handwritten memo by Prince Charles that appeared to suggest irritation at people who try to rise above their station in life touched off a firestorm in this nation which has been debating whether to dismantle its last vestiges of feudal privilege.

"What's wrong with everyone nowadays?" the Prince of Wales huffed in the note to an undisclosed aide. "What is it that makes everyone seem to think that they are qualified to do things far beyond their technical capabilities? It's social utopianism which believes humanity can be genetically and socially re-engineered to contradict the lessons of history."

The memo was read out last week in labor court in the case of an assistant to Charles, who had complained to the prince about promotion prospects in the Royal Household and was later dismissed.

The British press immediately pounced on the remarks, and two government ministers -- including Education Minister Charles Clarke -- publicly upbraided the prince.

Since then, Charles has been forced into a situation no monarch would relish: explaining himself.

In a speech delivered Monday at a conference organized by the archbishop of Canterbury, the prince insisted that -- contrary to recent headlines -- he had not meant to imply that people should "know their place" and trim their ambitions to match their social rank.

"I believe passionately that everyone has a particular God-given ability ... Often all that is needed is the right help at the right time for them to make the most of it. Success can come in many forms. In my view it is just as great an achievement to be a plumber or a bricklayer as it is to be a lawyer or a doctor," the prince said.

Many got a different impression from the memo.

In it, Charles had railed against those who think they can become "pop stars, high court judges, brilliant TV personalities or infinitely more competent heads of state without ever putting in the necessary work or having natural ability."

It was that section that probably drew the most attention in the media, coming from a man who would become head of state just by outliving his mother, Queen Elizabeth II. But Charles' seemingly elitist remarks drew some support from the public.

"I definitely agree with him," said Steve Trendell, who was taking a smoke break outside a central London office building. "I think too many people graduate from school thinking they can make it with no skills at all."

His co-worker, Bobbia Walker, nodded her assent.

"And just because it's unpopular doesn't make it any less true," she said.

But another Londoner, Sarah Todd, said "it was a pretty foolish thing to say."

"Kids should be encouraged to get the training they need, not told they have no chance of making it in the first place," Todd said.

Charles' memo became public last week at an employment tribunal where Elaine Day, who worked in his private office, claimed unfair dismissal.

She also claimed sexual harassment by the prince's assistant private secretary, Paul Kefford.

The prince wrote the memo in response to Day's suggestion that personal assistants with university degrees should be given the opportunity to train to become private secretaries -- a more senior position.

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