On June 29, Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, arrive in Nunavut to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday. It’s his 18th visit since he was a 22-year-old university student in 1970. Then, his parents, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, introduced him and sister, Anne, 20, to Canada. Their two-week tour was marked by voracious blackflies in the Northwest Territories as well as driving winds and cold rains in Manitoba.
Now, back for a much shorter visit—three days in Nunavut, Ontario and Quebec—Charles and second wife, Camilla, will represent his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, 91, at the official Canada Day celebrations. For Charles, the visit raises some awkward questions as his constitutional role isn’t straightforward in Canada, where the Governor General is the Queen’s legal representative. As Philippe Lagassé, an expert on the Crown at Carleton University, wrote recently: “As far as Canada is concerned, the only member of the royal family of any constitutional standing is the monarch. Politically and culturally, of course, Canadians know that Prince Charles is the Queen’s apparent heir and successor and that he will in all likelihood be their next king. But there is nothing in the Canadian Constitution or Canadian law that identifies him as such or attributes any particular status to him as a result of his being the heir apparent in the United Kingdom.”
Also, Charles’s popularity is nowhere near the stratospheric adulation enjoyed by his mother, especially in Canada. Much of that lukewarm support can attributed to the traumatic breakdown of his marriage to first wife, Diana. Her open warmth and affection on public outings was a sharp contrast to Charles’s more formal, distant behaviour. Revelations of Diana’s deep unhappiness during their marriage turned many against Charles. Her death 20 years ago in a Paris car crash is still a raw wound.
Yet, as royal biographer Sally Bedell Smith explains in her newest book, Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life, the angst and tragedy of his first marriage has overshadowed Charles’s role as an energetic charitable entrepreneur and his increasingly high-profile role as royal surrogate to his mother, the Queen. Sally Bedell Smith talked with Patricia Treble while in Toronto earlier this year. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. (Part one of the interview focused on his personality, his life with Diana and how he raised Prince William and Prince Harry after her death.)
An interview about Prince Charles’s future as monarch
Q: One day, Prince Charles will be king. At the time of his marriage to Camilla, he announced that her title would be “princess consort” yet there’s lots of talk that she’ll be crowned queen. What’s your opinion?
A: I have very little doubt that she will be queen. First of all, I think she’s earned it. Her public approval ratings are not through the roof, but she has improved. She took on this role [as HRH Duchess of Cornwall] at age 57, she has carried it out impeccably. She has her original patronages – osteoporosis, dogs and cats – but has added battered women, moved into edgy territory, to her credit, and taking it very seriously.
Also, I think he has every right to name her queen. They tried to finesse it when she got married, saying she would be princess consort because they didn’t want to upset everybody, but there are a lot of constitutional experts at the time who said we would actually need legislation to create the role of princess consort.
I think the Queen has sent signals that she wants it. She gave her a dame grand cross of the Royal Victorian Order [the personal order of Queen Elizabeth II] and last year named her to the Privy Council, which becomes the accession council when the Queen dies.
Camilla is turning 70 in July. The Queen could name her to the Order of the Garter [the oldest order of chivalry].
It would be the biggest, most conspicuous sign of her approval. Maybe it’s too extreme.
Q: His private secretary said publicly that Charles knows the constitutional differences between being Prince of Wales and being monarch. Yet there is a lot of concern about a man known for his outspoken views on issues ranging from the environment to architecture.
A: I think he recognizes that the rules of the game are very different when you become monarch. You have two opportunities in the course of a year—the Christmas message and the Commonwealth speech. It’s the complete opposite of the way he’s led his life. When he becomes king, he becomes a national institution, and he has to follow the dictates of that.
Christopher Geidt [the Queen’s private secretary] has been holding tutorials, starting in 2008. He’s helping reinforce what Prince Charles understands he has to do when he becomes king. Geidt is a very skilled negotiator on behalf of the monarchy. He got a double knighthood, the second for helping with the transition.
Q: I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the detailed article in the Guardian newspaper on what will happen after the Queen dies. It states Charles’s coronation will take place quite quickly after he accedes the throne.
A: I think they do have to have it expeditiously, make sure the interval is not more than 3 months, less if they have the details nailed down. The republicans are licking their chops, rubbing their hands together, lying in wait.
On the other hand, she will be such a difficult act to follow. His style in dealing with the Commonwealth heads was very relaxed, and personal. The Queen is more formal in her presentation. She reads every word that’s on the paper in front of her. But he’s much closer to her generation and a product of that kind of life, which is why he’s in this weird straddle.
Q: He’s talked about “radical modernization of the monarchy,” including reducing the number of royals carrying out official engagements.
A: It’s one to say that in theory, but it’s putting an awful lot on William and Kate and Harry, saying you’re the only ones working with us. How could he possibly, on taking over the Duchy of Lancaster [the monarch’s private source of income, which pays for the work expenses of many royals], cut off his siblings? They make a real contribution and take some of the burden off him. Anne does a lot of investitures.
The reality of it wasn’t so imminent at that point [when he raised that idea.]
The Queen, to her credit, has encouraged a very open discussion. She brought the elephant in the room, let’s talk about the elephant. As one of her advisers said, “She has 100 percent of her mental faculties, she’s trying to guide everyone through how they do this correctly.”
She’s the chairman. Charles has to learn how to be a CEO. He may need some tutoring in that. It’s a bit mysterious, but extremely efficient
Q: Do you think the House of Windsor will still be reigning in 100 years?
A: I do. I may be a cock-eyed optimist. Going around the [United States on a publicity tour] I heard, “We wish we had someone who is above politics, who believed in duty and service, and binding the country in tough times”
One of my favourite discoveries about the Queen was the Marmite theory of monarchy. A Robin Janvrin invention. [Janvrin was one of her private secretaries.] You look at a Marmite jar from 50 years ago, and say, “It’s yellow, and green and red, yeah.” Then look at a Marmite jar from today: “Wow, it’s different.” The reason is that over the years they have tweeked the Marmite jar label, very incrementally and that’s what they’ve done with the monarchy.