We’ve been talking about Prince Charles quite a bit this week, especially as excerpts from Robert Jobson’s biography on the future king have been leaked. In brief – Robert Jobson has been a royal reporter for three decades and travelled on official tours with Charles for 18 months doing research for the book. Which means that he had access to information and to sources who provided even more information. Some of that information was about Charles’s relationship to his sons. And specifically to his first son, Prince William, who was described as “a little grand”. As I noted in that post, clearly Robert Jobson’s book came with at least some cooperation from the Prince of Wales so …does that mean he’s checking his heir?
The book of course is part of a larger strategy. And we’ve been seeing that strategy unfold over the last year ago. Now Prince Charles is on the cover of Vanity Fair. If you’re into royal gossip, this a must-read. You’re not learning anything new here in plain text but, between the lines, there’s a LOT at play. There are several complementary narratives at play here:
First and foremost, Charles’s intention seems to be to remind people of how hard he works, how busy he is, how many engagements he commits to, not just in the short term, but the projects he’s taken on over the last decade or more. Like climate change, the environment, architectural preservation. Underneath all of that is the suggestion that he would not have been able to have done all of that if he’d become king a while ago…which in turn is meant to dispel the long-held assumption that he’s desperate to be king.
Next, this is almost a reintroduction, or the first real introduction that answers the question Who is Prince Charles? You know him as the dude who cheated on Princess Diana with Camilla Parker-Bowles. But did you know that he’s actually really funny? That he’s easygoing? Or so they want you to think? He’s the kind of dude who stops in a crowd in France when a random person shouts at him so that he can hand him a piece of sausage – and Charles is the kind of guy who’d eat it…? This is an anecdote shared in Vanity Fair, observed by the writer, and while it’s obvious and transparent as f-ck, what’s more interesting is the motivation and how it’s being presented. Take this paragraph for example about what reporters who are on the royal circuit actually think of Charles and Camilla when they’re not trying to deliver storylines that will appease the greater audience:
Occasional grumbling aside, these royal-watchers esteem Charles and Camilla. “She’s my favorite royal, by a country mile,” I’m told by one correspondent. “She knows all our names, she fosters a sense that we’re all in this together. She always gives you a little gleam in her eye and will find a moment to look at our cameras,” says another. William and Kate, by comparison, go out of their way not to look at the “fixed point” where photographers gather. In general, this correspondent goes on, the younger generation of royals are “control freaks” about their coverage, whereas Charles is “far more relaxed.” As is Camilla.
There it is again, a piece on Prince Charles that compares him to his sons, and he comes out favourably. That bit about where Will and Kate look and don’t look, by the way, when they’re being photographed, is totally true. The Cambridges always want to seem “candid” while micromanaging every detail. Still, this is Charles claiming he’s way more easygoing than his children. And also, possibly, reminding everyone that even though his children are way more popular than he is, he’s the one who’s going to be wearing that crown on his head, eventually.
Remember, this is the man who quite famously resented that Diana was the centre of attention. As soon as his sons became adults, they were the centres of attention, followed by their wives, and their children. Charles at 70 is making a claim for his share of the spotlight. With a decidedly 2018 approach, by royal standards. He’s not the first royal to cover Vanity Fair. Annie Leibovitz photographed his mother a few years ago for her 90th birthday. Charles’s portraits, however, were shot by Alexi Lubomirksi, the photographer who worked with Harry and Royal Meghan on their engagement and wedding photos. The style of the photos is also …well… kinda Sussexy too? (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)
Look. Camilla’s hand!
That’s a young royal move, that is not a senior royal move. Or at least it wasn’t, until now.
Is this…the Sussex Effect? Interestingly, both Charles’s and Camilla’s involvement in the Harry and Meghan wedding is mentioned in this Vanity Fair piece. Charles was the calming influence, apparently, while Camilla and Meghan supposedly get along “aces”. Charles would, of course, have observed how the coverage of Harry and Meghan, and how they have performed their relationship over the last year, played outside of England. That’s what I thought about as I read this VF piece and scrolled through the pictures – of Charles and Camilla walking contently through a park, not unlike how Harry and Meghan did in their engagement photos, the two of them, in black and white, gazing affectionately at each other, and this quote, overheard on a walkabout, that same walkabout where Charles was offered a piece of sausage (SAUSAGE!!!):
“Try this, darling,” he coos, as onlookers smile and photographers click.
Darling is a lot more Sussex than it is Cambridge. But, maybe the idea they’re trying to push is that “darling” has actually always been Wales, the OG royal PDA couple? To clarify – Wales v2.0.
I wonder how all of this is being received at Kensington Palace. I wonder what Prince William in particular thinks of his dad’s recent PR. After over two weeks of Harry and Meghan’s glamour and with Prince Charles now trying to show so much “personality”, will he feel like he’s the one looking like the dullard in the group?
Click here to read the full Vanity Fair feature on Prince Charles.