This week Prince Charles did something that proved he is far more grown up than many of his critics.
By accepting an invitation from Gerry Adams to meet in Galway and shake hands, the heir to the throne showed himself able to forgive – if not forget – the assassination of Lord Mountbatten, his Great Uncle and much-loved mentor, for the sake of bolstering peace in his future kingdom.
He did so with more dignity than his former adversaries, who remained childishly mealy-mouthed about their past as he praised their country and its people fulsomely and generously.
As I feel increasingly fortunate that this kind and genuine man will be the next King, I am also increasingly annoyed by the childishness of the 10-year battle waged by a national newspaper which last week succeeded in forcing the disclosure of some letters Prince Charles wrote to some government ministers a decade ago.
Because, when it came to the letters being made public, there was a remarkable absence of any whiff of cordite in the air. For all its valiant efforts to beat what they saw as dusty old rules (made by Parliament, not the Monarchy), the Guardian could find no smoking guns. Not even a damp water pistol. Black Spiderman was not guilty.
Instead, it was established – again – that the Prince of Wales is concerned about global warming, quite likes organic farming (which he practices) and believes in complementary medicine (as do I). He also heartily disagrees with Chuka Umunna that the Palace of Westminster is an old relic that should be replaced by something new and shiny that is guaranteed to look more like a City office block.
His concerns about British soldiers being sent off to risk all for their country without adequate provisions shames us all, but especially Tony Blair, who started the war in question, and the MoD, which continues to turn its back on those it let down in the first place. When the bereaved father of a young officer who died because the MoD could not provide a substitute helicopter when his own failed said “Prince Charles speaks for me” my heart wanted to break.
And yet, because he speaks for me too, on almost every subject, the Prince of Wales makes me very proud. His views are usually ignored or derided by the political class and the media who try to portray an intelligent, thoughtful and very well-informed (as the letters prove) man as a shallow fool trying to impose his views from on high. The truth is that, over 40 years as a journalist in my adopted country, I have found that he also speaks for the vast majority of his future subjects.
Support for his views on architecture, for instance, usually runs at 80 per cent. The architect Lord Rogers and his wife Ruthie are very close friends of Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian’s editor in chief, whose Tuscany home is near theirs. Lady Rogers’s River Café Classic Italian Cook Book contains a photography credit for him.
So when Lord Rogers’s most ambitious recent project, a design for the Chelsea Barracks site in central London, was blown out of the water by Prince Charles, the Guardian denounced him. Now had Charles written to the Planning Minister or to local planning committee members on Westminster Council, his conduct would have been reprehensible. But he did not. He wrote a private letter to the head of the Qatari development company which proposed the Rogers scheme (not the Emir, as was widely reported), imploring him to reconsider the design which he said “made my heart sink”.
The letter would have been ignored had it not been leaked. This I know because I was the one whom it was leaked to, and I would swear on oath that the source was not Clarence House. But once it was leaked the Qataris were on the back foot and Westminster Council felt able to ignore the enormous pressure it was under to give Lord Rogers what he wanted and listen to its own residents who hated the repetitive, mediocre plans almost to a man (and woman). The scheme was withdrawn and eventually replaced with a design far more acceptable to the locals.
My experience is that whenever the Prince “meddles” in a matter affecting his future subjects, his instincts are consistently sounder, wiser and more sensitive than any political decision ultimately taken. The Guardian’s FoI “victory” will result in far fewer such interventions and I fear we shall all be the losers.