Prince's long, long wait
By Gregory Katz
London - Talk about an apprentice. Prince Charles, who turns 60 today, has spent 56 years waiting to become king.
The longest-waiting heir in British history is to ascend to the throne only when his mother dies or steps down.
Queen Elizabeth threw a birthday party for him at Buckingham Palace on Thursday. The Philharmonia Orchestra, of which the prince is patron, played for invited members of the extended royal family and society figures.
Charles's wife, Camilla, is throwing a more private bash, with a performance by sexagenarian rocker Rod Stewart, at the prince's rural home, Highgrove, tomorrow.
But the queen, 82, won't be giving Charles the present many believe he craves most - the crown. She has said she intends to keep the job for life.
"Most of us can look forward to our new jobs, but the circumstances under which the queen's reign will come to an end means Charles can't, emotionally and psychologically," historian Andrew Roberts said.
Experts and friends say Charles realised decades ago he would make his mark as Prince of Wales rather than as an octogenarian king, and so decided to develop that undefined role.
"He's made a real job of it," Roberts said.
"He's spoken out on what matters most to him, championing organic food over genetically modified crops, backing architecture that is human in scale, pursuing better relations between the Islamic world and other faiths, and starting the Prince's Trust, which has helped many young people in trouble."
The trust helps young people gain education, work and training.
The Prince of Wales controls the lucrative Duchy of Cornwall, the 55 000-hectare estate established in 1337 by King Edward the second to provide income for his heir.
Official accounts show the prince's property and investments brought in £16-million last year.
"In effect, he is king in his own kingdom," Patrick Jephson, former private secretary to Princess Diana, said. "He has all the trappings and perks and, one might argue, none of the responsibility. This takes some of the sting out of waiting."
Some people believe Charles should forgo the chance to become king and pass the crown to Prince William.
But Vernon Bogdanor, a professor of government at Oxford University who has written extensively about constitutional matters, says: "That's not possible without legislation in Britain and 15 other Commonwealth monarchies. The monarchy is not something you can choose whether to accept."
Although polls show Charles remains less popular than the queen, Bogdanor says the public's view of him has improved since the failure of his marriage to Diana.
"He's the first heir to the throne to have found a role for himself. He's connected with outsiders the politicians sometimes ignore. I think people now appreciate what he's done. He could have sat back and done nothing."