In a program marking his 70th birthday, Prince Charles has assured the United Kingdom that he won’t meddle in politics as king; “I’m not that stupid,” he announced, practically inviting people to speculate on how stupid he is, then. God bless him.
As Queen Elizabeth II ages and Prince Charles creeps slowly closer to the throne, one looming question is whether he’ll dial back his loud and proud advocacy on issues like the importance of environmental protection and also the absolute superiority of traditional architecture. His lobbying of government ministers including Tony Blair was revealed when the Guardian got its hands on the “Black Spider memos,” so called because of his apparently rather shitty handwriting. That’s important because the “modern” monarchy rests on a very specific deal: They are purely ceremonial heads of state and leave the business of government to elected officials and make no sudden movements that would remind everyone that—oh, right!—one of the nation’s most public figures gets the job by being descended from some dude they dug up out of Germany in the early 1700s so they didn’t have to bother with a Catholic Stuart after Queen Anne died.
NBC News reported that in BBC One’s Prince, Son and Heir: Charles at 70, Charles promised that he does understand he needs to back off once he is king:
The BBC asked the prince whether his public campaigning would continue in the event of his mother’s death.
“No, it won’t. I’m not that stupid,” said Charles, who is officially known as the Prince of Wales. “I do realize that it is a separate exercise being sovereign. So of course I understand entirely how that should operate.”
Asked about accusations that he had been “meddling” in public issues, he responded: “If it’s meddling to worry about the inner cities as I did 40 years ago, then if that’s meddling I’m proud of it.”
Again, the problem is that Charles isn’t just some citizen expressing his concerns—he is somebody who has an outsized voice in national affairs because of the persistence of an inherently undemocratic institution, and a central fact of Charles’s character is that the way you are raised when you are the heir to the throne of the United Kingdom is that nobody’s really going to explain that. Even if he doesn’t actually have staff put the rumored precisely one inch of toothpaste onto his toothbrush every morning, it doesn’t change the fact that a future king is encouraged to believe that the world does in some sense revolve around him.
Meanwhile, a People piece on the program emphasizes the next generation—specifically, the fact that William wants Charles to spend more time with George and Charlotte: “I think he does have time for it, but I would like him to have more time with the children.” But is it just me, or does this read a little shady?
Now that his father has reached his landmark year, “it’s a perfect time to consolidate a little bit,” William says, “as most families would do, you are worried about having them around and making sure their health’s okay. He’s the fittest man I know, but equally I want him to be fit until he’s 95. Having more time with him at home would be lovely, and being able to you know play around with the grandchildren. Because when he’s there, he’s brilliant. But we need him there as much as possible.”
“Dad, slow down—you aren’t as young as you used to be!” would be a delicate but important conversation in a regular family; historically, in a monarchy, that’s what you hear right before some frustrated prince launches an outright rebellion.