It was a moment he had spent most of his life anticipating. Prince Charles, heir to the throne of the United Kingdom and fifteen other realms, gazed across a ballroom bedecked with silk damask, the tables gleaming with silver-gilt, and rapped the monarch’s gavel.
The Queen had decided at age eighty-seven that she could no longer undertake long-haul international travel. After sixty-one years as head of the Commonwealth—the association of fifty-three nations formerly constituting the British Empire—she had deputed her eldest son to represent her at the biennial meeting of the Commonwealth leaders in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in November 2013. Opening its summit had been one of her most cherished duties.
Acting on behalf of the monarch for the first time in this particular capacity was highly significant, the start of an unofficial transitional period. The Queen had already begun trimming her schedule as a concession to her advancing age. The occasion was something of a harmonic convergence as well. The previous day Prince Charles had celebrated his sixty-fifth birthday—retirement, for most people. He was now the oldest heir to the throne in three hundred years.
I had decided to make the long trip to this event because I sensed its importance as a turning point in a life with many unforeseen twists. It had been more than twenty years since I first met the Prince of Wales socially, at a polo match in Windsor on a rainy June afternoon in 1991, when he was forty-two. An avid player, he had been sidelined because of back pain, and afterward he joined my group, which included seventy-four-year-old Zara Cazalet, a close friend of his adored grandmother, the Queen Mother. “Zara!” he exclaimed, giving her a big kiss on the cheek. I was struck by how comfortable he was with an older woman, how affectionate and attentive he was to her. Contrary to his image as a fogey, he was surprisingly informal in his blue blazer and tan trousers and far warmer than his aloof portrayal in the tabloid press.
Eight years later, just as I was finishing a biography of Diana, Princess of Wales, I came across Charles at another polo match, a benefit for one of his charities. He surprised me again that day at the Cirencester Park Polo Club. Under the tent at the post-match reception, well-heeled country gentry waited expectantly to meet him. They had paid for the privilege, and he complied—up to a point. But he chose to spend most of his time talking to a young woman who received the check on behalf of his inner-city charity, showing an empathetic side of his character, along with an independent spirit. My view of him expanded a decade later when I wrote a biography of Queen Elizabeth II that was published in 2012 during her Diamond Jubilee marking sixty years on the throne. Although the focus of my research was the life of Charles’s mother, I attended seven private dinners for the Prince of Wales Foundation at Buckingham Palace, St. James’s Palace, and Kensington Palace. In those imposing surroundings, I had brief conversations with him but also witnessed his emotional intelligence as he adroitly yet cozily connected with an elite group of benefactors, most from the United States.
My encounters with Charles were tantalizing, so I decided to examine him head-on, to find out what made this multi-layered man tick and how he had developed since our first meeting in 1991. I had already studied him through the lens of his late wife and from the vantage point of his formidable mother. By the time I traveled to Sri Lanka, I had uncovered facets of his life that had not been apparent earlier. Now I witnessed for the first time his talent as a con- summate diplomat.
Mindful of the host government’s record of genocide, torture, and kidnapping, he needed to signal sympathy for human rights while not causing offense to the authoritarian Sri Lankan president. I could see that he succeeded in walking that line as he addressed the opening session of the summit. Charles was determined to demonstrate that when he became king, he would be an effective head of the Commonwealth. The position is not hereditary and would thus require agreement on the part of the member states. It would be one of the first votes of confidence for Charles once he took the throne. That evening, hosting the black-tie banquet for Commonwealth leaders, he sought to show a more personal and relaxed approach than his mother’s restrained manner.
I had observed the Queen in the same setting four years earlier in 2009, during the Commonwealth meeting in Trinidad. She had looked regal in her gown of turquoise beaded lace and white chiffon, dripping with diamonds, from her Queen Mary tiara to her famous necklace from the Nizam of Hyderabad in India, a wedding gift designed by Cartier to resemble English roses. During the reception she had turned seamlessly from one guest to another, small and steady at five foot four. She had been the matriarch of this group since becoming queen in 1952, and she had guided it through difficult and divisive times. She knew the issues and the personalities, and she was visibly and proudly their leader. As that banquet in 2009 began, she had removed her white gloves, put on her glasses, and stolen some glances at the typewritten remarks resting on her lap. She rose to make her toast, reading it verbatim, as was her habit. Her remarks were typically gracious and brief. She wished the heads of government well in their deliberations.
Now, halfway around the world in 2013, I could see the marked difference in style between mother and son. In his right hand, Prince Charles held several sheets of paper, on which he had written his speech in black fountain pen. His crossed-out words and underlinings were visible through the long lenses of the photographers. At five foot ten, with sloping shoulders and a long torso relative to his height, he seemed deceptively slight. Although he didn’t fill the room with his presence as his mother had, he looked admirably fit. His complexion had its customary ruddy glow, and his silvery hair was swept back from his temples and coiffed to conceal his bald patches and to minimize his prominent ears. He flashed an easy and engaging smile, lifting his eyebrows for emphasis. His deep chuckle rumbled its way into a guffaw.
“Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,” he began in a voice that had grown deep and honeyed with age. But he quickly dispensed with formalities to offer a six-minute overview of his long- standing connections to the Commonwealth countries and their leaders. When he told the audience he felt part of a family, he got a round of enthusiastic applause.
I saw the Duchess of Cornwall, his wife of nearly nine years, formerly Camilla Parker Bowles, his longtime mistress, watching him intently. As the world knew, she had been the subject of scandal and controversy during Charles’s life, especially during his eleven- year marriage to Lady Diana Spencer. Now Camilla had become established in the royal family. During the reception before dinner, I had noticed her beaming at the cameras in the press pen, occasion- ally nudging her husband—no fan of photographers or reporters— to smile.
At age sixty-six, the duchess was more handsome than pretty, with high cheekbones, lines and furrows befitting her age, and a strong jaw. Like the Queen, Camilla had resisted the temptation of plastic surgery, and she had thickened a bit over the years. It seemed to me that what she lacked in classical beauty, she made up for with the expressiveness of her eyes and the play of mischief in her smile. Her low and husky voice hinted at Marlboros and gin.
In that instant, it was easy for me to imagine Charles and Camilla as king and queen. Given the tangled history of their romance over four decades—the scandals, deceptions, and divorces, Diana’s retaliatory behavior, affairs, and shocking death in August 1997— the moment seemed all the more remarkable. Theirs was a love story framed by a deep and abiding bond, by Charles’s loyalty and devotion and Camilla’s understanding and support.
For a few hours in a ballroom in steamy Sri Lanka, Charles was the center of attention, and he clearly savored the spotlight. Back home, he was often put in the shade by his revered mother, by his dazzling son Prince William and his beautiful wife, Catherine, by their son Prince George (and, later, Princess Charlotte), by William’s enormously popular brother, Prince Harry, and by the memory of Diana, fixed in time at age thirty-six as the tragic and beloved Princess of Wales. Closer to his destiny than ever, Charles had become a shadow king-in-waiting.
“Poor Charles” was a constant refrain in my researches. It was spoken in despair by those who loved him, with sarcasm by those who resented him. Despite his gilded upbringing—the palaces and leafy retreats, the cosseting and automatic deference—his was a life of frustration. His every step along the way was inspected and analyzed: his promise, his awkwardness, his happiness, his suffering, his betrayals and embarrassments and mistakes, his loneliness, his successes—and especially his relentless search for meaning, approval, and love.
He was undeniably better prepared to be king than his twentieth- century predecessors as Prince of Wales. His playboy great-uncle, King Edward VIII, had abdicated in 1936 after eleven months on the throne to marry Wallis Simpson, a twice-divorced American. His great-great-grandfather, King Edward VII, an equally sybaritic prince, had waited until age fifty-nine to succeed his mother, Queen Victoria, in 1901 and had reigned with surprising effectiveness for nine years. Even as Charles carried out traditional royal duties, he invented unusual entrepreneurial roles for himself. He ranged over a wide spectrum of personal initiatives and passions, taking ideas from people across society.
For all his striving and efforts, Charles’s personal choices—good and bad—shaped the view people had of his character, ability, and personality. He was vilified and ridiculed over his disastrous marriage and bitter divorce from Diana and his adulterous affair with Camilla. In the nearly two decades after Diana’s death, Charles had battled, with considerable success, to earn respect for himself and acceptance for Camilla. “Be Patient and Endure,” read an exhortation he had framed and mounted in his dressing room.
By the time of his Sri Lanka star turn in November 2013, Charles was more determined than ever to win the admiration of his parents, the public, and the skeptical press. His task was to convince everyone that he was good enough to be himself.
I had learned that eccentricity defined his personality, that he loved risqué jokes, that his quintessentially English self-deprecation was his reflexive way of putting people at ease. Yet in other ways, the cocoon of privilege seemed to make him oblivious to how he was perceived.
The future king was said by historian David Cannadine to be “a kind of eighteenth-century country gentleman born two hundred years too late.” In some ways Charles was disconcertingly avant-garde, but his retro beliefs and formal style of dress branded him as traditional.
The day before arriving in Sri Lanka, on the eve of his sixty-fifth birthday, Camilla said her husband was “not one for chilling.” She meant that he was rarely idle. Nevertheless, he had created a refuge in the garden of his English country estate specifically for prayer and contemplation, his ocher-colored sanctuary. His inner life had been a crucial part of his identity ever since he began a spiritual quest in his teens.
The Queen spent a lifetime concealing her thoughts, even her mundane likes and dislikes. But from an early age Charles felt compelled to express his fervidly held opinions in speeches and articles— often out of deep conviction, at other times to attract attention and to compete with Diana’s magnetic presence. He was a man in a hurry, determined to stand out by using his influence and interests. He yearned to make the world a better place according to his lights, and he was desperate to be known for his work rather than for his privileged position.
He chatted briefly with most people who met him—just enough to show his interest and his charm, with a factual flash or two—but was equally capable of forty-five-minute riffs without notes. He had an elephantine memory as well as a capacious mind. I was told by many that his thinking, like his office, was disorderly. To an unexpected degree, he relied heavily on the United States for inspiration and guidance. He counted on dozens of Americans both to advise him and to financially support his causes.
I found that much about Prince Charles was poorly understood, not least the extent of his originality. After four years of interviewing more than three hundred friends, family members, Palace officials, and others with unique perspectives on myriad aspects of his life, traveling with him in Britain and abroad, visiting his homes and his charities, and reading private correspondence, I learned that he was far different from the stereotype that had hardened during his marriage to Diana. Asked which parent he most resembled, his cousin Lady Pamela Hicks hesitated, then joked, “I think he must be a changeling”—in other words, not discernibly like either. When he first met the poet and scholar Kathleen Raine in 1990, she mentioned a friend in India who told her, “It takes four years to get a first-class university education, but it takes forty to get over it.” The prince replied, “I have been working on it for twenty.”
I wanted to explain the sources of his insecurities and his strengths as well as the genesis of his causes. Why did he marry Diana, who at twenty was twelve years younger than he and, more pertinently, a woman he barely knew after just a dozen dates? How deeply was he marked by that profoundly unhappy first marriage? How did he find the resilience and the means to bounce back after Diana’s death? What was the allure of Camilla, and why couldn’t Charles let her go? What kind of father was he, and how did William and Harry not only survive their traumatic childhood years but thrive as adults to become the most sought-after members of the royal family?
When he was forty-two years old, his age when we first met, Prince Charles wrote of the “giant paradox of Nature Herself which is reflected over and over again in ourselves. Everything has an opposite within it. Every advantage has a disadvantage, every success a failure.” The “secret,” he added, was to be aware of one’s internal paradoxes and to try to resolve them. I wondered if the contradictions of this driven, mercurial, and multifaceted man were in fact irreconcilable. In any event, they would have major consequences for Britain, for the lives of those around him, and for the future of the British monarchy. His status was determined from birth. How he dealt with that fate in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries is the story of a most improbable life.
The Lonely Schoolboy
Before the stroke of midnight on November 14, 1948, Prince Charles Philip Arthur George officially became public property. While his twenty-two-year-old mother, Princess
Elizabeth, rested in her bedroom suite in Buckingham Palace, her newborn heir was brought to the vast gilded ballroom by the royal midwife, Sister Helen Rowe, a seasoned practitioner “with the sharp features of a seabird.” A vision from an earlier century, the midwife wore a dark uniform, white pinafore, white wimple, and white gloves. Under the forty-six-foot-high ceilings, juxtaposed with the massive throne canopy draped with red and gold embroidered velvet, the seven-pound-six-ounce infant was swaddled in white blankets and placed in a simple cot for viewing by the royal courtiers who served his grandfather, King George VI, and grand- mother, Queen Elizabeth.
“Just a plasticene head,” observed Major Thomas Harvey, the Queen’s private secretary. “Poor little chap, two-and-a-half hours after being born, he was being looked at by outsiders—but with great affection and good will.”
His parents would celebrate their first anniversary six days later: the dewy princess with the wide smile and hourglass figure and her twenty-seven-year-old husband with perfectly chiseled features. The wedding of Prince Philip of Greece to his third cousin Elizabeth, the heiress presumptive to the British throne, had given what Winston Churchill called a “flash of colour” to bleak postwar London on November 20, 1947.
After the end of World War II, the Labour Party had won control of Parliament in 1945, ousting Churchill and installing Clement Attlee, a socialist determined to create a welfare state. The royal nuptials had been a welcome distraction for Britons who had been suffering food rationing and fuel shortages. Now there was cause for celebration again, as crowds cheered and sang for hours outside the Palace railing, shouting “Dad” and “Grandad,” neither of whom appeared.
Charles was hemmed in by high expectations and scrutiny from the start, unlike his mother, who had ten relatively carefree years of childhood. Her parents, the Duke and Duchess of York, did under- take some official travel. But as the second son of King George V, Elizabeth’s father benefited from the absence of pressure and the relentless drumbeat of duty and daily obligations that mark an heir’s life. It was only when he took the throne in 1936 on the abdication of his older brother, King Edward VIII, that ten-year-old Princess Elizabeth assumed her position as next in line and began to feel the weight of her future responsibilities.
On December 15, 1948, four-week-old Charles was christened beneath the ornate dome of the Music Room at Buckingham Palace surrounded by his family and eight godparents, an impressive lineup that included the king, maternal great-grandmother Queen Mary, and paternal great-grandmother, the Dowager Marchioness of Mil- ford Haven. He was known as His Royal Highness Prince Charles of Edinburgh. At age three, on his mother’s accession to the throne in 1952, he would become Prince Charles of the House of Windsor and acquire six of his eight hereditary titles: the Duke of Cornwall, the Duke of Rothesay, the Earl of Carrick, the Baron of Renfrew the Lord of the Isles, and the Prince and Great Steward of Scotland. With the exception of the Duke of Cornwall, which had its own income-producing trust fund, the others were centuries-old honorifics. Only the Duke of Cornwall would come with specific responsibilities.
Befitting a future king, the Archbishop of Canterbury doused the little prince with water from the River Jordan that had been poured into the gold Lily Font designed by Prince Albert and used for all of his and Queen Victoria’s children. Delighted with her firstborn, Elizabeth breast-fed him for two months until she contracted measles and was forced to stop. Yet she was often away from Charles in his infancy, spending as much time as she could with Philip, an officer in the Royal Navy who was posted to Malta in October 1949. She managed to celebrate her son’s first birthday, but afterward she was abroad, and apart from her son, for long intervals. In August 1950, Elizabeth gave birth to her second child, Princess Anne, and returned to Malta after Charles turned two in November 1950.
By the middle of the following year, both Elizabeth and Philip were back in London to help the King, who had fallen seriously ill with lung cancer. The family of four lived in Clarence House, bordering on Green Park. The young princess was increasingly occupied with royal duties, and the pattern of Charles’s childhood was set.
When the prince hit bottom after his separation from Diana in 1992, he unburdened himself about the miseries of his youth to Jonathan Dimbleby, who was writing an authorized biography. As a little boy, Charles was “easily cowed by the forceful personality of his father,” whose rebukes for “a deficiency in behaviour or attitude . . . easily drew tears.” Philip was brusque and “well-meaning but unimaginative.” Friends who spoke with Charles’s permission described the duke’s “belittling” and even “bullying” his son in a “rough way.” Charles was less harsh about his mother, but his opinion had a bitter edge. She was “not indifferent so much as detached.” On reading these descriptions when the biography appeared, the Queen and Prince Philip were wounded, to say the least. Charles’s siblings—Anne especially—sprang to their parents’ defense. The suggestion that Elizabeth wasn’t caring “just beggars belief,” said Anne. “It was Charles’s perception,” said a senior adviser to the Queen at the time. “But the idea that the Queen was a bad parent is nonsense.”
“Philip is very good with children,” said his cousin Patricia, the eldest daughter of Philip’s uncle, Louis “Dickie” Mountbatten, the 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, and his alluring wife, Edwina. “It is quite untrue that he didn’t care. He was trying to help Charles develop character in his life, knowing the life he was going to have to lead.”
Nearly two decades later, in 2012, Charles tried to make amends in a TV documentary tribute to the Queen on her Diamond Jubilee. Home movies depicted an idyllic childhood at the family’s country estates at Sandringham in Norfolk and Balmoral in Scotland. Foot- age of Prince Philip teetering on a tricycle and zooming down a slide on the royal yacht Britannia
contradicted his reputation as a tetchy martinet, and scenes of the Queen romping with her children were meant to dispel the notion of her being distant and unaffectionate.
Prince Philip scarcely knew his son for the first two years of the boy’s life, but on his return from overseas duty he did take the time to teach Charles to shoot and fish, and to swim in the Buckingham Palace pool. In later years, at a charity dinner, Charles paid a fond tribute to his father by reciting an excerpt from “The Song of Hiawatha”—with its “secrets” of animals in the wild that Philip had read to him as a child.
From an early age, Charles had a preternatural aesthetic sense that resonated with the unforgettable “singsong rhythms” of the Longfellow poem—the “magic of the trochaic tetrameter,” as he once explained to a group of rapt English teachers. Exploring Windsor Castle, he found “all sorts of fascinating places” to exercise his imagination. He loved Van Dyck’s portrait of Charles I in Three Positions
. “King Charles lived for me in that room in the castle,” he later wrote.
He was intrigued by jewelry in the portraits of his great-great- grandmother Queen Alexandra, who “really did go to town,” he said, with her long, criss-crossed ropes of pearls. Visiting his Mount- batten cousins at Broadlands, their Hampshire estate, he would ad- mire his great-aunt Edwina’s hats, calling them lovely. “Not many seven-year-olds would say that,” noted his cousin Lady Pamela Hicks. Among the great-grandchildren of the formidable Queen Mary, only Charles was permitted to touch the precious collection of jade objects his “Gan-Gan” kept locked in cabinets.
Charles was sensitive from the start, and his finely tuned antennae were susceptible to slights and rebukes. During one luncheon at Broadlands, the guests were served wild strawberries. Charles, aged eight, methodically began removing the stems from the berries on his plate. “Don’t take the little stems out,” Edwina Mountbatten said. “Look, you can pick them up by the stems and dip them in sugar.” Moments later, Pamela Hicks noticed that “the poor child was trying to put all the stems back on. That was so sad, and so typical of how sensitive he was.”
As Philip watched these traits emerging, he worried that Charles could become weak and vulnerable, so he set about toughening him up. Philip was also concerned that the people around Charles were “spoiling him,” said Patricia Mountbatten, “and he needed to counteract the spoiling.” Asked in an interview when he was twenty years old whether his father had been a “tough disciplinarian” and whether he had been told “to sit down and shut up,” Charles answered without hesitation: “The whole time, yes.”
More often than not, the duke was a blunt instrument, unable to resist personal remarks. He was sarcastic with Anne as well. But Charles’s younger sister, a confident extrovert, could push back, while the young prince wilted.
The unintended result was that Charles retreated further into his shell. He had no other source of male reinforcement in his early childhood. His paternal grandfather had died before he was born, and one of his “greatest regrets,” Charles later said, was “not having really known” his maternal grandfather, King George VI, who died at age fifty-six when his grandson was just three.
When Elizabeth became Queen on the death of her father, her dedication to her duties meant even less time for her children. She relied increasingly on her husband to make the major family decisions, and she depended on her nannies to supervise the daily lives of Charles and Anne. She and her husband saw them after breakfast and at teatime, but in the manner of the upper class, neither of them was physically demonstrative.
“Somehow even those contacts were lacking in warmth,” said Martin Charteris (Lord Charteris of Amisfield), a senior adviser to the Queen for three decades. “The Queen is not good at showing affection.” That lack of tactile connection was achingly apparent in May 1954, when the Queen and Prince Philip greeted five-year-old Charles and three-year-old Anne with handshakes after an absence of nearly six months on a tour of Commonwealth nations.
For Charles, the center of his everyday world was his Scottish nanny, Mabel Anderson, only a year younger than the Queen, who joined the royal household when he was one. Anderson became his “haven of security” who nurtured him even as she imposed boundaries, balancing encouragement with strict standards of behavior. She drilled him to “make polite conversation” even in testing circumstances, to say thank you, never to “pull a face,” and to look people in the eye when he spoke to them.
Above all, Mabel offered a sympathetic ear and became one of the most valued confidantes to whom Charles would speak about his feelings and anxieties, establishing the model for his relation- ships with other older women throughout his life. Still, as Martin Charteris observed, Charles “must have been baffled by what a natural mother-son relationship was meant to be like.”
Even in his seventh decade, Charles continued to yearn for his mother’s approval and regard her with a sense of awe. In his Diamond Jubilee documentary, he recalled the weeks before her coronation on June 2, 1953, when she practiced wearing the five-pound St. Edward’s Crown. She would come to the nursery as he was being bathed by his nanny, and he would be transfixed by the jewels glittering atop his mother’s head.
He admitted that his memory of the Coronation itself came from photos and films he saw over the years—a wide-eyed and bemused four-year-old in a white satin shirt and dark shorts being instructed by the Queen Mother in the royal gallery. His principal recollection was having his hair virtually lacquered “with the most frightful stuff” and being “strapped into this outfit.” Images from the ceremony showed him wiping the brilliantine off his head and offering its scent to his grandmother on his palm.
Charles was indulged by his maternal grandmother, the Queen Mother, prematurely widowed at age fifty-one. Charles visited her frequently at Royal Lodge, her pale pink home in Windsor Great Park, when his parents were away. As early as age two, he would sit on her bed playing with her lipsticks, rattling the tops, marveling at the colors. When he was five, she let him explore Shaw Farm in the Windsor Home Park, where he climbed the hay bales and machinery, dashed through the chicken runs, surveyed the pigs, and fed the cows.
He called her “the most magical grandmother you could possibly have.” She found him to be “intensely affectionate” and told her daughter that her “only happiness” came from her moments with him and his younger sister. “You have made your desiccated old grandmother laugh immoderately, & long may you continue to do so,” the Queen Mother once wrote to Charles.
She never hesitated to give her grandson the hugs he craved, the hugs that he didn’t receive from his own parents. She encouraged his kind and gentle nature—the eagerness to share his candy with other children, and when choosing sides for games to select the weakest first for his team. “Her protective side clocked in on his behalf,” said her longtime lady-in-waiting Dame Frances Campbell- Preston. But in her efforts to shield his fragile psyche, the Queen Mother made allowances that undermined the strict regimens imposed by Charles’s nanny and father. With the best intentions, she fueled the young prince’s tendency to self-pity, which fed one of his strongest traits, known as “whingeing”—the more pointed British word for whining.
Yet she also opened up a world of music and art that he felt his parents didn’t adequately appreciate. With her tales of traveling in Italy as a young girl (“magnificent cypresses standing out against the blue distant mountains behind Fiesole”) and descriptions of the architecture, painting, and sculpture of the Renaissance, she imbued him with love for a country he wouldn’t visit until he was thirty-five years old.
“My grandmother was the person who taught me to look at things,” Charles recalled. He would later become a passionate amateur painter and architecture critic, in part thanks to her influence. Once when Charles tried to share his excitement over the Leonardo da Vinci drawings in the library at Windsor Castle, his parents and siblings were merely “bemused.” As Dimbleby later recounted, Charles felt “squashed and guilty” that he had “in some indefinable way let his family down.”
His grandmother, by contrast, thrived in the company of artists, writers, and musicians and made certain that Charles would have the best cultural experiences: “all sorts of performances,” he remembered fondly. When he was seven, she took him to see the Bolshoi Ballet at Covent Garden. “I’ve never forgotten the sheer excitement,” he recalled. “I was hooked for life.” He was similarly inspired by the Queen Mother’s love of Mozart. The sound of classical music was absent from his home.
The natural world also struck a deep “primordial chord” when he was a boy. “As far as I was concerned,” he later wrote, “every tree, every hedgerow, every wet place, every mountain and river had a special, almost sacred character of its own.” As the Queen Mother noted, “From an early age he was able to roam the beautiful hills in Scotland and watch the changing colours as the clouds rolled by; to enjoy the quality of light on the great marshes of Norfolk.”
Balmoral, the Queen’s estate in the Scottish Highlands, had a special allure. The nineteenth-century castle and its fifty thousand acres of heather-swathed hills and fragrant pine forests had been a royal retreat since the time of Queen Victoria. Charles reveled in his wanderings through Royal Deeside, learning the names of the trees and the creatures of the forest, the wildflowers and birds, following the small streams that bubbled up from the rocks, and marveling at the “weather beaten, lichen-covered, gnarled grandeur” of the birch woods.
During their annual three-month sojourn in Scotland, the royal family found some measure of togetherness, although the siblings were a contrary pair. Anne was as overbearing as Charles was timid, an intimidating presence in his early life, bossing her older brother around. His mother taught him to ride, starting at age four. He was timorous on horseback, while Anne was bold. Mostly he feared jumping: “The whole idea of taking off scared me stiff.” Anne’s equine prowess pleased her mother, and Philip saw a kindred spirit in her confidence and fearlessness.
It wasn’t until Charles had been away at boarding school for two years that Elizabeth had her third child, Andrew, in 1960, followed by Edward four years later. Separated from his two younger brothers by twelve and sixteen years respectively, he never grew close to either of them.
Charles’s early home schooling was supervised by Catherine Peebles, his sensible Glaswegian governess (nicknamed “Mispy”), who felt compassion for his insecurities and his tendency to “draw back” at the hint of a raised voice. Eager to please, he plodded diligently through his lessons but was easily distracted and dreamy. “He is young to think so much,” Winston Churchill remarked after observing Charles shortly before his fourth birthday during the prime minister’s annual visit to Balmoral.
One book that caught the prince’s eye and helped hone his sense of humor was Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Verses,
a volume of poetry about the consequences of bad behavior. It brimmed with quirkiness and bizarre characters—a precursor to the sketches by the Goons and Monty Python comedy troupes, two happily subversive influences in his life. He was also captivated by Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories.
His governess instructed him in a range of subjects, including French at the age of seven. She principally encouraged him “to see the story of England through the eyes of boys his own age.” But by the time he was eight, the Queen and Prince Philip decided that he needed the company of children in a classroom, making him the first heir to the throne to attend school outside the Palace. As Philip put it, they wanted Charles “to absorb from childhood the discipline imposed by education with others.”
Early in 1957 he arrived in a chauffeur-driven royal limousine at Hill House School in Knightsbridge, London. The school drew one-third of its pupils from Europe and other foreign countries, giving it a cosmopolitan gloss. For all his parents’ efforts to put him in a normal environment—taking the bus to the playing fields and sweeping the classroom floors—he had difficulty mixing with the other boys. A newsreel of the school’s “field day” of sports competitions that spring showed a solemn prince introducing his parents to his classmates, who obediently bowed.
Charles had ability in reading and writing, although he struggled with mathematics. His first-term report noted that “he simply loves drawing and painting” and showed musical aptitude as well. But after a mere six months, his father insisted that his son follow upper- class custom and transferred him in September 1957 to Cheam School in Hampshire, where Philip had been sent at the age of eight. Although it was founded in 1645, the school had a progressive tilt, avoiding the exclusive atmosphere of other preparatory boarding schools.
Charles was just shy of his ninth birthday but considerably more vulnerable than his father, who had grown up rootless because of long separations from his estranged parents, Prince Andrew of Greece and Princess Alice of Battenberg, a great-grandchild of Queen Victoria. Philip had learned resourcefulness at an early age but needed the structure of an institution. He had come to Cheam from a day school in Paris, where he had lived with relatives. But he adapted quickly and thrived. He firmly believed the “Spartan and disciplined” environment that had helped build his own sturdy character would do the same for his son.
Charles, however, suffered from acute homesickness. He clutched his teddy bear and wept frequently in private. “I’ve always preferred my own company or just a one to one,” he recalled. As heir to the throne, he was an inviting target for schoolmates, who ridiculed his protruding ears and called the pudgy prince “fatty.” His one capitulation to peer pressure was ducking behind some bushes to sneak a cigarette, which he instantly hated.
He fell into a routine that included weekly letters home—the beginning of his passion for written correspondence. In the tradition of the time, he braved beatings from two different headmasters for flouting the rules. “I am one of those for whom corporal punishment actually worked,” he grimly recalled. “I didn’t do it again.”
Charles had a fragile constitution. He suffered from chronic sinus infections and was hospitalized for a tonsillectomy in May 1957. At a meeting with the Queen the next day in Buckingham Palace, former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt found her preternaturally calm despite her preoccupation with her child’s progress. Later that year when he was bedridden at school with Asian flu, his parents didn’t visit him. (Both had been inoculated, so there was no fear of contagion.) Instead, before leaving for a royal tour of Canada in October, the Queen sent him a farewell letter. The Queen and Prince Philip were again on tour, in India, when he had measles at age twelve. The Queen Mother took pity on her grandson, spiriting him back to Royal Lodge so that he could convalesce in comfort.
Physically uncoordinated and slow as well as overweight, Charles had no talent for rugby, cricket, and soccer—the prestige schoolboy sports. During vacations he joined local boys who lived near Bal- moral for cricket matches. “I would invariably walk boldly out to the crease,” he recalled, “only to return, ignominiously, a few minutes later when I was out for a duck”—that is, having failed to score any runs—spending the rest of the match “incarcerated in a pavilion. . . . All the practice beforehand with my father and a friend from school was to no avail.”
His loneliness and unhappiness at Cheam were painfully obvious to his family. In a letter to Prime Minister Anthony Eden at the beginning of 1958, the Queen wrote, “Charles is just beginning to dread the return to school next week—so much worse for the second term.” She knew that Cheam was “a misery” to her son, ac- cording to a biography of Charles by Dermot Morrah sanctioned by the royal family. Morrah observed that the Queen thought her son was “a slow developer.”
Asked as he was approaching his twenty-first birthday to describe the moment he first realized as a little boy that he was heir to the throne, Charles replied, “I think it’s something that dawns on you with the most ghastly inexorable sense . . . and slowly you get the idea that you have a certain duty and responsibility.”
He did, however, experience an unanticipated jolt in the summer of 1958 while watching the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Cardiff, Wales, on television with some schoolmates in the headmaster’s study at Cheam. Suddenly he heard his mother declare in a recorded speech that she was naming him the Prince of Wales—a mortifying moment for a shy nine-year-old boy who wanted desperately to be seen as normal and already carried the burden of his six other titles. Even as a very young boy, he was marked out as different.
Attached to his new Welsh title was Earl of Chester, so he now had eight titular domains—all historic accoutrements of his position as heir to the throne. Only later would he come to appreciate his honorifics, especially “Lord of the Isles,” his name when spending time on the islands off the West Coast of Scotland. “I’m an in- curable romantic,” he said, “and it is a marvelously romantic title.” In Cheam’s depressingly run-down classrooms, mathematics still defeated the young prince. But in his English classes he picked up the art of declamation, showing his keen memory as he recited poetry as well as excerpts from Shakespeare’s plays. Geography drills inculcated the names of countries, capital cities, archipelagos, and peninsulas that would later prove useful in his world travels.
The most important experience at Cheam was Charles’s discovery that he felt at home on a stage—another helpful skill for a public figure. For his role in a play about King Richard III called The Last Baron
, he spent hours listening to a recording of Laurence Olivier in a production of Shakespeare’s Richard III.
It was November 1961, and once again his parents were abroad, this time in Ghana. Instead, the Queen Mother and Princess Anne watched the heir to the throne perform as the Duke of Gloucester, the fifteenth- century heir famous for his deformity.
“After a few minutes on to the stage shambled a most horrible looking creature,” the Queen Mother wrote to her daughter, “a leering vulgarian, with a dreadful expression on his twisted mouth; & to my horror I began to realize that this was my dear grandson!” She added that “he acted his part very well, in fact he made the part quite revolting!”
Charles made no lasting friendships in the five years at his first boarding school. As his time at Cheam was drawing to a close, the Queen Mother made a strong pitch to his parents for him to continue his education at Eton College, the ancient boarding school near Windsor Castle. She knew that Philip had been pushing for his own alma mater, Gordonstoun, located in an isolated part of north- eastern Scotland.
In a letter to the Queen in May 1961, the Queen Mother de- scribed Eton as “ideal . . . for one of his character & temperament.” If he went to Gordonstoun, “he might as well be at school abroad.” She pointed out, quite reasonably, that the children of the Queen’s friends were at Eton, not to mention the advantage of Charles being able to see his parents regularly and stay in touch with family affairs. Her final argument cut straight to his future as the Supreme Governor of the Church of England and Defender of the Faith when he became King: “One would not be involved in any controversies in a staunchly Protestant place like Eton Chapel!”
Even with the evidence of Charles’s loathing of Cheam, Philip doubled down on the value of a rough-and-tumble education, arguing that Gordonstoun would be the best place for his timorous son. He suggested, rather improbably, that Charles might be more home- sick if he were close to his family and that the proximity of Eton to London could invite harassment by the press. He insisted that Charles would be protected by the inaccessibility of a school so far away. The Queen sided with Philip, sealing her son’s fate. It turned out that the Queen Mother was prescient on every point.
Cold Showers in the Morning
The Queen did not accompany her husband on May 1, 1962, when he delivered Charles to Gordonstoun. A certified pilot, Philip flew Charles to a Royal Air Force base in Scotland and drove him the rest of the way. With a seventeenth- century gray stone building at its center (built in a circular design, according to legend, by Sir Robert Gordon so that no devils could fly into corners), the campus had an undistinguished collection of seven prefabricated wooden residences that had previously been used as Royal Air Force barracks. The thirteen-year-old prince was assigned to Windmill Lodge with thirteen other boys, the start of an ordeal that he viewed as nothing less than a “prison sentence.”
The school’s founder, Kurt Hahn, was a progressive Jewish educator who had been a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford and ran a school in southern Germany called Salem. Hahn fled to Britain after Hitler came to power. He established Gordonstoun in 1934, with Prince Philip among the first students. The school’s motto: “There is more in you.”
Hahn sought to develop character along with intellect. He promoted Plato’s idealistic vision in the Republic
of a world where “philosophers become kings . . . , or till those we now call kings and rulers truly become philosophers, and political power and philosophy thus come into the same hands.” Contemplating his future reign, Charles would identify with the philosopher king, a notion later encouraged by well-meaning advisers who championed the idea of an “activist” monarch who would impose his wide-ranging worldview on his subjects. The genesis of Charles’s later adoption of Platonic philosophy was his experience at Gordonstoun.
Physical challenges at Gordonstoun were at the heart of building character. The testing began with the boys’ attire—short trousers throughout the year—and the living conditions—open windows at all times in the grim dormitories. Those with bunks near the windows often had to cope with piles of snow on their blankets in the winter months.
The day began with a run before breakfast, followed by a frigid shower. “It was a memorable experience, especially during the winter,” recalled Somerset Waters, a schoolmate of Charles’s. The prince nevertheless became so accustomed to the morning ritual that as an adult he continued to take a cold shower each day, in addition to the hot bath drawn by his valet. The younger students also had to test their mettle with a series of challenges on a military-style “assault course” that included crossing a wide, icy river by inching their way along a rope.
Hahn aimed to create an egalitarian society where “the sons of the powerful can be emancipated from the prison of privilege,” an ethos that suited Philip when he was there. His assertive personality and Teutonic sensibility helped him adjust to the school’s demands. He was also a natural athlete who served as captain of both the cricket and hockey teams and became an accomplished sailor.
But Charles had neither his father’s resilient temperament nor his relative anonymity, and he lacked the physical prowess to command respect. Encumbered by his titles and his status as heir to the throne, unable to assert himself, he was singled out as a victim from his first day. “Bullying was virtually institutionalized and very rough,” said John Stonborough, a classmate of Charles’s.
The housemaster at Charles’s dorm was Robert Whitby, “a truly nasty piece of work,” recalled Stonborough. “He was vicious, a classic bully, a weak man. If he didn’t like you, he took it out on you. He was wrong for Charles.” Whitby, like the other house- masters, handed over the running of the houses to senior boys, who imposed a form of martial law, with ritualized psychological and physical abuse that included tying boys up in laundry baskets under a cold shower.
Charles was “quite bright,” said John Stonborough. “He sat next to me in class, but he didn’t shine by putting up his hand or being a smart-ass. He got on with it and was very diligent. He was difficult to talk to because he was shy and awkward and nervous about getting involved. He was very private.” To overcome his inherent reticence, the Prince of Wales proudly recited Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address from memory.
Few students would walk with him to meals or class. Those boys who tried to befriend the prince were derided with “slurping” noises. Many years later Charles complained, with evident anguish, that since his schooldays people were always “moving away from me, because they don’t want to be seen as sucking up.”
As at Cheam, he was taunted for his jug ears, which Dickie Mountbatten unavailingly urged his parents to have surgically pinned back. During intra-house rugby matches, teammates and opponents alike pummeled Charles in the scrum. “I never saw him react at all,” recalled Stonborough. “He was very stoic. He never fought back.”
At night in the dormitory, the bullies maliciously and relentlessly tormented Charles, who detailed the abuse in anguished letters to friends and relatives, which became a kind of therapy that he would continue throughout his life. Unable to show his distress in front of his peers or his housemaster, he unburdened himself on the page. “I hardly get any sleep . . . because I snore and get hit on the head the whole time,” he wrote in his first year. “It’s absolute hell.”
Philip sent him letters exhorting him to toughen up, but after Charles’s second term, the Queen briefly considered transferring him to Westminster, a boys’ day school in London, or Eton. Seeking advice, she met with Christopher Trevor-Roberts, a compassionate and gifted tutor she had already employed to work with her children on their studies. Trevor-Roberts discerned that Charles was “simply not a rough and tumble sort of chap” and would have benefited from a more nurturing environment. The Queen was unpersuaded, and Philip regarded a retreat from his alma mater as untenable. It would be confirmation that his son was weak.
Charles found one escape at the nearby home of Captain Iain Tennant and his wife, Lady Margaret. She was the sister of a child- hood friend of the Queen’s, David Airlie (the 13th Earl). Tennant was chairman of Gordonstoun, so he could extend the privilege of weekend visits, when Charles would “cry his eyes out,” said Sir Malcolm Ross, who served as one of the Queen’s longtime senior advisers.
“Iain and Margy really saved him from complete misery,” said David Airlie’s wife, Virginia. The Queen Mother, who sarcastically called Charles’s school “that glorious salubrious bed of roses known as Gordon’s Town,” also did what she could to soothe her grandson by inviting him to stay with her as frequently as possible at Birkhall, her home on the Balmoral estate, which was sixty-five miles away.
A crucial day-to-day support for Charles was Donald Green, the royal bodyguard who, in time, became a father figure. Green stood six foot five, dressed well, drove a Land Rover, and seemed “slightly James Bond–ish” to the other boys. Green was Charles’s one constant friend, although there was little he could do about the abuse that occurred within the dormitories. This friendship, more readily made than with his peers, set the prince’s lifelong pattern of seeking company with his elders.
In June 1963, during Charles’s second year, he was sailing on the school ketch, the Pinta
, to the Isle of Lewis. The boys were taken to a pub in the village at Stornoway Harbor, where the fourteen-year- old prince ordered a cherry brandy. “I said the first drink that came into my head,” he recalled, “because I’d drunk it before, when it was cold, out shooting.” Unbeknownst to Charles, a tabloid re- porter was present, and his foray into under-age drinking became banner headlines in the tabloids as “the whole world exploded around my ears.” It was the first of countless unwelcome press intrusions into his life.
Afterward, the Metropolitan Police fired Don Green, robbing Charles of an ally and confidant. Charles was devastated, saying later that “I have never been able to forgive them for doing that. . . . I thought it was the end of the world.” As an adult Charles kept in touch with Green, sending him a Christmas card every year. On Green’s death from colon cancer, Charles sent a beautiful wreath and a sympathetic note.
Charles had middling success in his coursework—with the exception of his declamatory ability—but he found a creative refuge in the art room presided over by a kind and somewhat effete master in his twenties named Robert Waddell. The prince took up pottery rather than painting—“like an idiot,” he later said. Still, the potter’s wheel played to the prince’s fantasies, and he turned out bizarre mugs molded into whimsical animals that he presented to his be- mused parents and siblings as Christmas gifts.
Classical music served as a balm as well. He discovered “bliss” playing the cello. His grandmother took him to see a Jacqueline du Pré concert, inspiring him to take up the instrument at age fourteen. “It had such a rich deep sound,” he recalled. “I’d never heard sounds like it.” But he wasn’t good at reading music and struggled to keep up his practicing. “I’m hopeless,” he said at the end of one early performance.
Gordonstoun nearly extinguished Charles’s budding interest in Shakespeare, as he and his classmates “ground our way” through Julius Caesar
for standardized tests, leaving him “largely unmoved.” The Bard came alive only after the arrival in 1964 of a new English master, Eric Anderson—like the art teacher Waddell, also in his twenties—who encouraged Charles to act in several of Shakespeare’s dramas.
His first role was in Henry V
, which would, fittingly, become one of Charles’s favorite plays. Anderson was nervous about casting the heir to the throne as the king, so Charles played the Duke of Exeter instead, thrilled to give “one rather splendid speech at the French court.” Years later the prince would be “spellbound” by Kenneth Branagh’s portrayal of Henry at Stratford-upon-Avon. He watched Branagh’s film adaptation of the play at least three times.
In November 1965 he played the lead in Macbeth.
His interpretation, said Anderson, was “a sensitive soul who is behaving in a way that is really uncharacteristic of him because of other forces.” Charles wrote excitedly to a relative about the prospect of “mummy and papa” coming to see the third performance. But as he “lay there and thrashed about” on stage, “all I could hear was my father and ‘Ha, ha, ha.’” Afterward, he asked Prince Philip, “Why did you laugh?” “It sounds like the Goons,” said his father—a dagger to the heart of a young man so eager to please.
He similarly disappointed Philip in team sports, although he did develop considerable skill in the more solitary pursuit of fishing, along with traditional upper-crust shooting. At thirteen Charles shot his first stag, steeling himself to the sight of the beast being eviscerated by servants on the hillside at Balmoral.
He became inured to hundreds of pheasants being shot on the frosty fields of Sandringham, the Norfolk estate created on twenty thousand acres by Queen Victoria in 1862 for the future King Ed- ward VII. Hearing the hounds and the horns of foxhunting packs “sent tingles up and down my spine” during his childhood. But neither of his parents hunted, and his fear of jumping kept him away from the sport until decades later.
In 1961, at the age of twelve, he took up polo, eager to follow his father. Ability in polo is measured by handicaps that begin at minus 2 for novices to a maximum of 10 for the top players. At the peak of his performance, Prince Philip had a 5 handicap, which qualified him as a competitive player for “high goal” polo. When his father suggested he try the sport, “I was all for it,” said Charles. “At least you stay on the ground”—as opposed to jumping over fences in foxhunting. And unlike cricket, in which he remembered being banished to the pavilion, “you can stay out on the polo field for the entire game.”
By 1964 Charles was applying himself to the sport more seriously. He learned to strike the ball on a wooden horse at Windsor and graduated to playing stick and ball on a pony, all under Philip’s watchful eye. That year Charles also started playing practice matches with Philip at the Household Brigade Polo Club on Smith’s Lawn at Windsor Great Park. Still the censorious figure, Philip nevertheless was idolized by his son. The young Charles began to mimic his mannerisms—walking with one arm behind his back, gesturing with his right forefinger, clasping his hands for emphasis, and pushing up the sleeve of his left arm.
With renewed determination to give his son backbone, Philip made the unusual decision to send him to Australia at age seventeen for two terms in the outback at Timbertop, the wilderness branch of the Geelong Church of England Grammar School in Melbourne. Other than his trip on the Britannia
to Libya and Malta at age five at the end of his parents’ Commonwealth tour, it was Charles’s first time leaving Europe.
Philip assigned David Checketts, his equerry—an aide-de-camp entrusted with logistics—to supervise his son’s stay down under. Unlike other royal advisers, the thirty-six-year-old Checketts was decidedly middle-class. The product of a state-run grammar school, he had served in the Royal Air Force. His down-to-earth manner put the uncertain prince at ease.
Charles and Checketts arrived in Australia in early February 1966. They were greeted by a daunting contingent of over three hundred reporters and photographers that the prince endured with gritted teeth. At Timbertop he shared a bedroom and sitting room with a hand-picked roommate, Geelong’s head boy.
The prince was liberated by the informality of a country where, as he quickly discerned, “there is no such thing as aristocracy or anything like it.” For the first time, he was judged on “how people see you, and feel about you.” Students and masters treated him as one of them, and to his surprise he felt little homesickness. He was mildly teased as a “Pommie,” Australian slang for Englishman, but faced none of the sadistic hazing endemic at Gordonstoun.
The boys only did a modicum of studying. Timbertop was all about physical challenges, which Charles embraced with gusto and surprising success. He undertook cross-country expeditions in blistering heat, logging as many as seventy miles in three days—climbing five peaks along the way—and spending nights freezing in a sleeping bag. He proudly relayed his accomplishments in his letters home.
He encountered leeches, snakes, bull ants, and funnel web spiders and joined the other students in chopping and splitting wood, feeding pigs, picking up litter, and cleaning out fly traps—“revolting glass bowls seething with flies and very ancient meat.” It was a more physically testing experience than Gordonstoun, “but it was jolly good for the character and, in many ways, I loved it and learnt a lot from it.” On his own terms, in the right circumstances, he showed his toughness and proved to his father that he was not, in fact, a weakling.
On weekends he relished ordinary life with David Checketts’s family at the farm they rented near the small town of Lillydale. He indulged his passion for fishing, helped David’s wife, Leila, in the kitchen, played with their three children, and watched television in his pajamas. In completely relaxed surroundings he perfected his talent for mimicry by performing routines from his favorite characters on The Goon Show
, which to his “profound regret” had ended its run on the radio in 1960. One of his best efforts was Peter Sellers’s falsetto “Bluebottle.”
Charles reveled in the sheer Goons silliness (Seagoon: “Wait! I’ve got a hunch!” Grytpype-Thynne: “It suits you!”). Later in life he would rely on a sense of absurdity as an antidote to his oppressive surroundings. Goons humor, typically British, was all about breaking the rules, which carried an extra frisson of pleasure for the heir to the throne.
A four-day school trip to Papua New Guinea stimulated the anthropological interest Charles would later pursue at university. The experience opened his eyes to indigenous folkways and art that he worried were being eroded by “European standards”—a theme that became embedded in his broad skepticism about modern life. He stayed at an Anglican mission and wandered freely in a nearby village, where he encountered faith healing and participated in native rituals.
At a Sunday service he felt the purity of “primitive” people recently converted to Christianity who could “enter into the whole spirit of it.” The Anglican sisters were impressed by Charles’s curiosity and unassuming manner. One touchingly observed that he had “come amongst them as if in a cage” and “before their eyes he had become free.”
At Timbertop, he “proved an admirable leader” when given charge of younger boys on hikes, said headmaster Thomas Garnett. Above all, Charles discovered “what good value the Australians are.” Among them was a woman who would become a confidante a decade later. At a dance in Melbourne, he met Dale Harper, the vivacious blond daughter of a wealthy businessman. She was nearly a year older, and her bouncy personality inspired his nickname for her that stuck: “Kanga.”
Charles enjoyed his six months in Australia “mainly because it was such a contrast to everything he couldn’t stand about Gordonstoun,” said one of his advisers, recalling the bullying that had so tormented him. He also showed his mettle during some fifty official engagements—his first exposure to crowds on his own. “I took the plunge and went over and talked to people,” he recalled. “That suddenly unlocked a completely different feeling, and I was then able to communicate and talk to people so much more.” The Australians in turn, discovered “a friendly, intelligent, natural boy with a good sense of humor,” said Garnett, “someone who by no means has an easy task ahead of him in life.” When he left in July 1966, his mates gave him a rousing “three cheers for Prince Charles—a real Pommie bastard!” His response was a big grin.
David Checketts remarked that “I went out with a boy and came back with a man.” It was an overstatement, but the aide detected incipient confidence in the prince, matched by his more fit and trim physique. After an extended summertime stay at Balmoral, Charles returned to Gordonstoun in the autumn of 1966 for his final year. Headmaster Robert Chew named him head boy, known by the Platonic term “Guardian”—after the defenders of the city- state in the Republic.
Given his status, there was skepticism about the appointment, even though he was qualified for it: He had previously held a leadership position at Windmill Lodge and had earned good reports from Timbertop.
Among the prince’s privileges as Guardian was his own bedroom in the apartment assigned to Robert Waddell, “the quiet alter ego of Gordonstoun,” in the view of Charles’s cousin and godson Timothy Knatchbull, who later attended the school. “With his tittle tattle and his mini-snobbery . . . [Waddell] had the sort of mind of a Victorian matron. He was a wonderful other pole of Gordonstoun, away from the sort of knobby-kneed brigade.”
Waddell was a new phenomenon to the impressionable young prince who had grown up under a domineering father and his mother’s remote and forbidding male advisers. Waddell had an aesthetic sensibility and a sympathetic ear, and he was determined to give Charles a deeper appreciation of art and music, cultivating the seeds planted by the Queen Mother. To Mozart he added Vivaldi, and together they performed at weekend house parties hosted by Scottish aristocrats. The art master played the piano, with Charles on the cello. Waddell also introduced him to a broader range of literature, and like Checketts he indulged the boy’s passion for the Goons, by then available on records.
When he founded Gordonstoun, Kurt Hahn put special emphasis on community service. All the students were required to volunteer, whether in the school’s fire brigade, sea lifesaving, or snow rescue in the Grampian Mountains. Equipped with a lifesaving certificate, Charles joined the sea rescue corps. The boys plunged into the frigid water of the Moray Firth—an inlet of the North Sea—and performed mock rescues with ropes and life preservers. It didn’t re- ally matter that they weren’t actually called upon to save anyone from drowning. What counted was their sense of accomplishment, which was real and meaningful—a lesson Charles would apply as Prince of Wales to the teenage beneficiaries of his philanthropies.
On November 14, 1966, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh celebrated their eldest son’s eighteenth birthday with a party at Windsor Castle, where 150 young people were entertained by the music of the Quiet Five, a band of modest success that had recently released a cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound.” Charles by then was an enthusiastic dancer, trained by the famous Madame Betty Vacani in private classes at Buckingham Palace with his sister and the children of courtiers. “Rhythm is deep in me,”
Charles admitted. “If I hear rhythmic music I just want to get up and dance.”
Several weeks later he was named a Counsellor of State, joining three other members of the royal family—the Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret, and uncle, Prince Henry (the Duke of Gloucester), and the Queen Mother—empowered to act on the Queen’s behalf when she was out of the country and enabling him to become regent if she were physically or mentally impaired. In an echo of the moment when he became Prince of Wales, he learned of his new responsibility through a report on the Six O’Clock News.
With more than a tinge of irony, he later said, “I assumed there was nothing for me to do and didn’t rush to pack my bags.”
During the latter part of his time at Gordonstoun in July 1967, Charles concentrated on studying for his A-levels—Britain’s standardized tests required for university admission. He dreaded any examinations. This battery provoked a “feverish sort of panic,” not least because the heir to the throne was being measured publicly against his peers. Two years earlier when he took his O-levels—the basic knowledge exams for sixteen-year-olds—he had passed all six: English language, English literature, Latin, French, history, and his bugbear, mathematics, which he did on the second try. This time he received an undistinguished B in history and a C in French, although his special paper in history earned a mark of “distinction.”
It is significant that the only lasting friendships from his five years on the shores of the Moray Firth were with his older masters, Eric Anderson and Robert Waddell, rather than any of his contemporaries. Both men had helped him survive a macho environment with their compassion and companionship. Always a correct, dutiful, and seemingly mature figure in the public eye, Charles nevertheless remained socially awkward and emotionally immature, even as he appeared old before his time.
After he left with his parents for Balmoral at the end of July, he obediently said that Gordonstoun had taught him self-control and self-discipline and given “shape and form and tidiness” to his life, although in fact he was personally disorganized. His parents surprisingly acknowledged to authorized royal biographer Dermot
Morrah that the Gordonstoun experiment had fallen short of their hopes, and that Charles was “a square peg in a round hole.” Morrah wrote in To Be a King
, his 1968 book about Charles’s early life, that the school had only driven the prince “further in upon him- self.” Well into his sixties, Charles continued to complain about the unhappiness he had felt at Gordonstoun. “He can never leave any- thing behind him,” said his cousin Pamela Hicks.
Still, Gordonstoun had put some grit in his oyster, and there were aspects of his schooling that affected him in good ways, a recognition that would dimly emerge over the years. “It probably sticks in his throat that the unintended consequence of going to Gordonstoun was his strength of purpose and single-mindedness,” said John Stonborough.
Gordonstoun was a more European experience than a traditional English boarding school, which contributed to the global out- look that would define so many of Charles’s charities. “Gordonstoun didn’t turn him into a conventional upper-class type,” said James Knox, an Old Etonian who grew up in Scotland. “For all the unhappiness, it might have given him a greater steeliness and made him less conventional.”
Copyright © 2017 by Sally Bedell Smith. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.