Who would want to be Prince Charles? Certainly not anyone who watched the last season of The Crown, which depicted his sometimes harsh and cruel childhood, with his father Prince Philip banishing him to a Scottish boarding school that he has subsequently described as hell on earth.
As we all know, things didn’t get much better when the future king made it to adulthood – he apparently fumbled his first chance to marry his one true love, Camilla, back when it was a really good idea. He then helped to ruin the life of a young and naïve Diana Spencer by marrying her under unimaginable pressure, again from his father.
It seems fairly certain that Charles and Diana never really knew each other to any great depth before they married. They had little in common and a large age gap. And it’s debatable whether Charles ever truly loved her in the way a husband should. His subsequent happy marriage to Camilla seems to indicate that his heart was only ever in one place.
A new book, Rebel Prince: The Power, Passion and Defiance of Prince Charles by Tom Bower, has cast a new spotlight on Charles, and shown the highly unpleasant dramas – some very much self-created – that have plagued his life.
According to the book, when Charles finally plucked up courage to approach Her Majesty the Queen about welcoming Camilla into the family, the usually mild-mannered monarch ‘vented her anger’ about the relationship after having a few martinis, and even reportedly described Camilla as ‘that wicked woman’, adding, ‘I want nothing to do with her.’
The book describes Charles as being so stung by the comment, as well as the following hostile silence, that he fled the room.
That little incident speaks volumes about the tortured Windsor family dynamic, and the way Charles has been at the whim of his parents’ feelings even well into adulthood. Yes, the unpleasant Camilla soap opera was one of Charles’s own making, but how many other adult men are so beholden to what their mothers think?
He is a man trapped by his own position, held back in ways that ordinary people could hardly imagine.
But he is also often his own worst enemy. It’s the Camilla drama that has most stained Charles’ reputation with the public.
Although Diana was a complicated and often tortured character, people will always love her for the things she got so very right. Her compassion, her love, her common touch and her empathy.
New details in Bower’s book will make very unpleasant reading for many Di fans.
The author sensationally alleges that a hostile Camilla decorated the toilet in her country home with unflattering cartoons of Diana during the height of the women's rivalry over Charles.
Bower claims Camilla apparently defended her affair with Charles by saying she was only guilty of having one extra-marital lover, before allegedly making the distasteful allegation that Diana was ‘working her way through the Life Guards’.
For her part, claims Bower, Diana could only see one reason why Charles wanted to be with his less attractive mistress.
‘Charles is obsessed by Camilla’s t**s, and I haven’t got t**s as big as Camilla’s,’ she supposedly told one journalist.
Why did Diana feel that Charles had so little regard for her as a person and as a wife, that he would be swayed by a pair of breasts?
Clearly, Di and Charles were temperamentally unsuited as a couple. And while Charles must take a lot of the blame for agreeing to marry Diana without knowing her well enough, and for proceeding with marriage while apparently still in love with Camilla, he’s lived a life few of us can imagine.
Just think about what it would be like to be surrounded by the machinery of royal life – family, courtiers and even politicians, all pushing hard for you to marry, and quickly. An indecisive or wounded soul would be easily manipulated into making a very bad choice.
When Diana finally took her complaints about her sad and tragic marriage to the public in her famous 1995 Panorama TV interview, Camilla became pubic enemy number one.
It was then that she and Charles plotted with a PR guru to save their reputations, as Charles’ approval rating hit rock bottom. Camilla apparently feared the public backlash against their affair meant that he would never be king.
According to Bower, Camilla seemed to be in the driver’s seat amid the PR push, allegedly telling her press team, ‘never push Charles too hard'.
‘Always remember his terrible childhood, and how he was bullied at school and by his parents,’ she said.
Just reflect on those words for a moment – a deep observation of Charles’ character from the one person who truly knows him.
Yes, Charles has made some dreadful choices that have made his life unnecessarily hard, and which hurt others in the process. Diana’s misery was well known.
Not helping Charles' cause at all are the upsetting claims that he plotted with media spin doctors to ‘demythologise Diana by portraying her as a manipulative hysteric.’
These unpleasant revelations aside, imagine being born in Charles’ shoes, with all the pressures, the lack of freedom, and the legacy of a truly toxic childhood.
So, what about the headline - is Charles 'pathetic'? Yes.
The word has two definitions in the dictionary: ‘arousing pity, especially through vulnerability or sadness’ and ‘miserably inadequate’.
I’ll go only with the first, and throw the second in the bin, where it belongs. Charles has done much to rehabilitate his image since the dark days of his divorce. He has learned, and he has moved forward, he has shown character. He has raised two wonderful and loving sons.
He carries wounds that most of us can only guess at. And he has stood in the wings for years, waiting to be king – a role that will likely only ever come in very old age.
Could you imagine that? Waiting your entire life to have a meaningful role, to be able to be in full control of your own decisions, to be able to stop deferring to your mum, as wonderful as she is?
Like all of us, Charles has made huge mistakes, but the future is an open book. Let’s hope his harsh life experiences will make him a great king.