Charles – the heart of a king

Charles : the heart of a king by Catherine Mayer.

This is an unauthorised biography of the Prince of Wales, and received both publicity on it’s recent publication and considerable backlash from Clarence House. Perhaps this backlash is what decided me to delve into it’s secrets! In pre-publication interviews, Catherine Mayer clearly showed that she was willing to be brutally honest in what she wrote and to call a ‘spade a spade’, as the saying goes – even if that would exclude her from the Royal Christmas card list (as one interviewer put it).

I found this biography to be surprisingly fair and well-balanced. While it did not omit uncomfortable facts or criticisms, it did sway my thinking more in favour of Charles becoming the future King, with Camilla as his Queen. The present Queen turned 89 in April, and will become Britain’s longest-reigning monarch in September. She is increasingly handing her royal duties to her eldest son as age takes it’s inevitable toll. Mayer shows Charles as a diligent and very hard working Royal who has often been misunderstood, and Camilla as down-to-earth, good humoured, and with the strength, resilience and balance which comes from a secure and close family background. Her authenticity was described by Charles good friend Nicholas Soams as ” She’s what-you-see-is-what-you get. She’s what my father would have called ‘a bloody good egg’ ” Like many people, I wondered over the years what it was that Charles saw in Camilla that the ‘fashion-plate’ Diana did not have. By the end of the book, it was easy to see that a childhood with a distant mother engrossed in Royal duties, and a father determined to ‘toughen up’ his sensitive eldest born, had left Charles ill-equipped to support Diana whose insecurities from her own parents divorce matched his own. Camilla’s confidence and strength, according to those closest to him, have given Charles the happiness he could not obtain throughout his earlier years. According to Mayer, both Charles and Diana came close to pulling out of the engagement just prior to their wedding, but felt compelled to go through with it to fulfill public expectations.

In addition to covering subjects such as Charles first marriage, it’s breakdown, phone-hacking incidents, Parliamentary expenses, the politics of succession, and the controversial causes which he has supported over the years, this biography covers a lot of background such as the lives of other Royal family members (and ex-members such as Sarah, Duchess of York). It is a long and exhaustive biography (more than 400 pages!) but manages to be entertaining and persuasive – I know that I have changed my attitude to be more positive towards Charles and Camilla from reading it. At the end, I felt that the main barriers to Charles smoothly following his mother as King are the emotional ones formed by the cult of Diana. Charles will be a very different monarch, following more closely his outspoken father than his politically neutral and reserved mother. Charles may well become a good, but more controversial King, rather than the harmonising influence that his mother has been.

Catherine Mayer is a London-based Time magazine journalist who was born in America and educated in Britain. She has written a well-researched biography based on interviews with many friends and staff of the Prince, and several years of following him around, as well as at least one personal interview with Charles himself.