Sat, Nov 15, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Prince Charles turns 60 waiting for British throne


Talk about an apprentice. By the time he turned 60 yesterday, Prince Charles has spent a lifetime in line to become king.

That’s put him in quite a bind. The longest-waiting heir in British history only ascends to the throne when his beloved mother dies or decides to step down.

Queen Elizabeth II hosted a birthday party for her son on Thursday at Buckingham Palace.

His sons William and Harry addressed the guests, describing Charles as an inspiration — but also poked fun at their father, joking that an electric stair lift would be installed at his country home to mark his birthday.

Charles’ wife Camilla plans to throw a more private bash today at the prince’s rural estate, complete with a performance by sexagenarian rocker Rod Stewart.

But the queen won’t be giving Charles the present many believe he craves most — the crown. The queen has indicated informally that she plans to keep the job for life and some people think the 82-year-old monarch intends to live forever, or at least as long as her mother, who died at 101.

If the queen remains in good health, Charles may be nearing 80 — or past it — when he fulfills the unique destiny that was his at birth.

Britain’s next-longest monarch-in-waiting was Queen Victoria’s eldest son, who became King Edward VII in 1901, aged just over 59 years and two months.

But shed no tears for old Charles and his predicament. He has made being Prince of Wales a pretty good thing.

Experts, associates and friends say he realized decades ago that he would make his mark as Prince of Wales rather than as an octogenarian king and so decided to expand that undefined role and use it to pursue causes dear to his heart.

The princely role offers a few advantages over being monarch.

Some say the money is better, because the Prince of Wales controls the lucrative Duchy of Cornwall, the 55,000-hectare estate established in 1337 by King Edward II to provide income for his heir.

Official accounts show property and investments brought in £16 million (US$24 million) last year.

And a prince is much more able to speak his mind than a king or queen because of constitutional restraints.

Patrick Jephson, former private secretary to Princess Diana, said Charles’ income from the Duchy of Cornwall allows him to spend a “colossal” amount of money building his empire and pursuing his interests and causes.

“In effect, he is king now in his own kingdom,” Jephson said.

Jephson finds Charles arrogant in many ways. But he has some sympathy for the aging prince.

“He is trapped between an immovable object, his mother, and the ever rising profile of his photogenic and sexy children,” he said.

There is no doubt that Charles is less popular than the queen. She was crowned on the death of her father George VI in 1952. Charles was not yet four years old.

Charles’ many detractors see him as a slightly potty eccentric who talks to his plants and is so committed to environmental causes that he converted his vintage Aston Martin to run on surplus wine.

His image has been hurt by unauthorized leaks about his gilded lifestyle, including reports that one of his aides squeezes his toothpaste onto his toothbrush for him.

This negative view has led to support for the idea that Charles should forgo the chance to become king at an elderly age and instead pass the crown to Prince William.

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