In a year that saw other royals disastrously bulldoze their way past opportunities to prove their ability to modernise and take accountability for past actions, it has only been Prince Charles who has successfully demonstrated the art of diplomacy and compassion to less able family members.
During last week’s visit to Rwanda for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), the Prince of Wales chose not to shy away from uncomfortable conversations about Britain’s imperialist past and historic role in the slave trade. Though CHOGM has often seen painful legacies such as these swept to one side, the heir instead made it his priority to describe the depths of his “personal sorrow at the suffering of so many”.
While he stopped short of the apology that many are still waiting for, his words and acknowledgement of the growing list of countries planning to drop the monarchy showed a willingness to support realms choosing to break away from colonial roots. “Each member’s Constitutional arrangement, as republic or monarchy, is purely a matter for each member country to decide,” he stated.
It was a stark contrast to the failed Caribbean visits by Princes William and Edward, who both caused offence by handling those same conversations with such little tact.
Widening the gap between his peers even further, Charles also admitted he is deepening his own understanding of “slavery’s enduring impact”, later letting it be known that he wants the difficult history of the transatlantic slave trade to be taught in British schools. “He believes there is a fundamental gap in national awareness of the trade, despite Britain’s direct involvement in it,” a source said. About damn time.
Watch: Charles speaks of 'treasured' friendships at CHOGM opening ceremony
The steps may be small compared to the speed at which society has evolved in recent decades, but Charles’ efforts seem authentic. And while there is an argument that the prince needs to tone down his political views as a future king, I have always found it admirable that, despite the constrictions of his role, he has been unafraid to address issues that others consider too political—from the environment and Islamophobia to youth unemployment.
Most recently, sources close to the next-in-line revealed that he is disgusted at the UK government’s policy to send migrants to Rwanda, calling the deportation plans “appalling”. Though palace representatives later backtracked on the leak, it was clear that Charles wanted his views to be heard. To him it was not about politics, it was about human rights. So it’s a great shame that the attributes that could potentially make him a great king are being undermined by a series of terribly poor decisions made by himself and the people he chooses to keep around him.
The recent news that the prince accepted €3 million from Qatar’s former Prime Minister and billionaire Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani shows incredibly poor judgment given Qatar’s record on human rights.
The details of the donation also beggar belief. The Sunday Times revealed how Charles accepted a private delivery of plastic Fortnum & Mason shopping bags stuffed with €500 notes after meeting with the man London’s financial circles call “HBJ”.
During another private one-on-one meeting at Clarence House in 2015, Charles accepted a suitcase containing €1 million cash.
HBJ is also known as the “man who bought London” after he reportedly oversaw massive Qatari investment in major landmarks including Harrods, the Shard, London’s Olympic Village, No1 Hyde Park and the London Stock Exchange.
Though legal - and all the money went to Prince of Wales’s Charitable Fund - the incidents demonstrate a total lack of awareness of the way in which such deals were done. How can a senior royal believe accepting a suitcase of cash is a sensible way to fund a charity? Particularly one who already receives an income of £21 million a year from the Duchy of Cornwall to help fund his philanthropic endeavours. Isn’t that enough?
The news also comes in the shadow of an ongoing Metropolitan Police investigation into the fundraising practices of his foundation, after it was revealed last year that Charles’ right-hand man, Michael Fawcett, had offered to help a Saudi billionaire obtain a knighthood and give support for his British citizenship application in exchange for generous donations. Charles was not aware of the offer, according to Clarence House, yet it shows more poor judgement in relation to those he chooses as his closest aides.
While turning down donations from political figures can cause issues of their own, Charles and his close aides may not find themselves in these situations if they were simply a little more careful about the controversial characters being granted access to the prince in the first place. There’s a reason why we haven’t heard stories about the Queen in these situations—the senior aides and courtiers around her don’t allow them to happen.
The Prince of Wales’ popularity as a future king has always been mixed. His past infidelities, appalling treatment of Princess Diana, and questionable professional judgement has lost him support both in and outside of the palace.
The Platinum Jubilee year was a final chance for the Prince of Wales to turn some of that negativity around. But with rumours of more embarrassing revelations on the horizon (yes, the sources behind the most recent leaks claim to have more), Charles appears to have well and truly blown it.