How can our future King be so badly out of touch?
By CHRISTOPHER WILSON
26th August 2007
Friday 31st August is the 10th anniversary of the death of Princess Diana
What's extraordinary is that Charles, in insisting that his wife should be by his side at the Guards Chapel, was about to inflict more damage to her public standing than virtually any other single act in the last ten years.
It does not augur well that a future sovereign, whatever his attainments, is so out of touch with public opinion. The art of monarchy, as those kings (such as Charles I) who lost their heads on the scaffold came to learn, is staying one step ahead of public opinion - not four steps behind.
Diana said there were 'three of us in this marriage'
Common sense, always in pitifully short supply at Clarence House, has finally prevailed.
The Duchess of Cornwall has been let off the hook and, along with the rest of the nation, can breathe a sigh of relief that she won't be attending Princess Diana's memorial service on Friday.
What remains, in the vacuum created by her absence, is the colossal damage done to our reigning royal house which has, once again, been made to look hopelessly out of touch with the ordinary people of Britain.
One can only hope that the emollient voices and uplifted harmonies of Friday's service at the Guards Chapel will in some way serve to soothe the country's battered emotions.
What should have been a loving tribute had turned into a minefield.
The duchess herself had been reluctant to attend from the very outset, concluding (correctly) that it would be inappropriate.
In this, she was supported by the Queen, who advised that some compromise might be found whereby Camilla could claim that she was not yet strong enough, after her hysterectomy earlier this year, to attend such a public event.
Both were overruled by the headstrong Prince of Wales. For him, Friday's service had become a personal issue: one of facing down his second wife's critics.
In his own mind, to win this particular battle would have been to rewrite history to his own advantage, by showing that nobody really believed that Camilla was in any way to blame for the break-up of his first marriage.
His attitude - in blind disregard of public opinion - became not so much "My country, right or wrong" as "My Camilla, right or wrong".
His dutiful sons, it's reasonable to suppose, went along with the fiction - and making public their desire for Camilla to attend - for the simple and admirable reason that they wish their father to be happy.
At the weekend a source close to Prince William was even quoted as saying he didn't believe Camilla broke up his parents' marriage: it was "solely down to them, and the Press".
Well, the Press has come in for a considerable kicking over the whole Diana-Charles-Camilla imbroglio, but it was never a situation of its making.
The prince, our future king, continues in his conviction that he should be excused the sort of scrutiny which is to be expected of public figures in the 21st century.
If he truly believes his private life is sacrosanct, he's tragically detached himself from the way the real world works.
What's more alarming is that Charles, who was the driving force behind the nature of the memorial service - even if he was not its instigator - managed to sucker the rest of his family into this exculpatory exercise.
By inviting the Queen, Prince Philip, and up to 30 of his close relations he was in effect putting them to the test: he was saying, in effect: "Back me, and back Camilla, because we are all in the same boat."
Heaven knows why they went along with it. For had Camilla attended on Friday, they would all have been damned, along with the future head of their dynasty.
Camilla will not be at her husband's side at the service
Will they never learn? Ten years ago it was public opinion which forced them to raise a flag over Buckingham Palace in the face of mounting public fury.
Many assumed that they had learned a lesson from this disgrace. Yet a decade on, the voice of the people clamoured for months for Camilla not to attend Diana's memorial service - and only now, only at the last moment, has that voice been heard.
A gross tactical error by the Prince of Wales has thus tainted what should have been an innocent and loving tribute.
Somehow, saying Camilla won't be going is no longer enough. The Mail's Richard Kay, in a moving tribute to his friend the princess, wrote on Saturday: "To me, her death seemed impossible to grasp - just as it did to the countless millions who woke up on that Sunday morning of August 31."
In a nutshell, he captured the personal and national sense of shock and mourning which, evidently, the eternally self-absorbed Prince of Wales is still incapable of recognising or acknowledging.
Diana is the focus of Friday's service, and to have had Camilla in attendance would have been not only been a misjudgment but a gross insult to her memory.
Before yesterday's announcement, Diana's loyal friend Rosa Monckton coolly spoke out for the nation when she described Camilla's planned attendance as "inappropriate".
Of her departed friend she added: "None of us can have any idea exactly what she would have thought about this peculiarly belated service, but it does not take much imagination to believe she would have been astonished that one of the guests of honour is the Duchess of Cornwall."
Well, Diana might have been astonished, but not so Clarence House: even as late as Saturday its attitude was still: "Crisis? What crisis?"
A statement was issued blandly listing the order of service, with no reference to the issue which was agonising the nation. Now, finally, the penny has dropped.
And what of the woman at the centre of it all? Camilla herself was said to be "dreading" the thought of turning out on Friday in her specially-commissioned-dark-blue Robinson Valentine dress.
Blessed as she is with a thicker skin than most, that's probably overegging the case.
Only recently, she authorised a terse letter to be sent on her behalf to a member of the public, who had complained that Camilla's presence at the memorial would be inappropriate.
She pointed out that William and Harry had personally asked her to attend, and therefore she planned to do so.
Thanks to this last-minute change of heart, she will at least be relieved that her uncertain steps forward in the public esteem have not been utterly diminished.
For what's extraordinary is that Charles, in insisting that his wife should be by his side at the Guards Chapel, was about to inflict more damage to her public standing than virtually any other single act in the last ten years.
It does not augur well that a future sovereign, whatever his attainments, is so out of touch with public opinion.
The art of monarchy, as those kings who lost their heads on the scaffold came to learn, is staying one step ahead of public opinion - not four steps behind.