Poor Prince Charles. 2012 wasn’t supposed to be like this.
It was meant to be a glorious year of royal pageantry, the year of the Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics, and the year in which the reins of power began to be handed over to Charles at last. A chance to make his mark.
For Charles, it has arguably been even worse than for the family in general.
In recent weeks he has finally been forced to give up his long-cherished dream of making his wife Camilla queen when he inherits the throne and, to complete Charles’s dreadful year, he has just been voted the least popular senior royal, with just 21 percent naming him one of their “two or three favourite members of the royal family” in a Mori poll.
Even worse, his aim of rehabilitating Camilla in the public perception is revealed by the poll, which questioned more than 1,000 people, to have been an utter failure, with just 2 percent naming her as one of their favorites. William, by contrast, is the most popular royal with 69 percent approving him. Unsurprisingly, treacherous murmurings are starting to be heard again of the crown skipping a generation.
Even if 2012 doesn’t quite qualify as an annus horribilis for Charles, it is still a year he would probably rather forget.
It all began to go wrong with the Jubilee washout.
The famous riverboat pageant was Charles’s pet project, and it was he who pushed the plan forward despite the reservations of others who thought that making the central event of the Jubilee dependent on the famously unpredictable British weather was a bad idea.
Unfortunately for Charles, the naysayers were right; the day dawned gunmetal grey, it poured with rain, a freezing wind blew across London and down on the banks of the Thames it felt more like February than May. Prince Philip was hospitalized twice after the event, during which he and the Queen were obliged to stand for three hours on a boat decked out with all the sophistication of a floating Chinese restaurant. The remainder of the celebrations were completely overshadowed by Philip’s absence and speculation that he might actually die.
Despite the best efforts of the royals ably assisted by the BBC to spin the pageant as a triumph of British spirit, anyone who was there will tell you that viewed from the riverbank the riverboat pageant was a miserable affair.
After the Jubilee, it was time for the Olympics, and it seemed the Royals had a chance to get their groove back. Barely a day went by without a gorgeous picture of the young royals gracing the front pages, including one of William and Kate hugging each other in the Velodrome as another British cyclist claimed gold.
Harry was also riding high. On his jubilee tour of the Carribean, he had reinvented himself as an easy-going statesman, racing Usain Bolt and hugging the prime minister of Jamaica who had previously been planning to hive her country off from the Commonwealth.
Charles was intimately involved in the decision to send Harry off on tour, enhancing his son’s role as part of his master plan to squeeze his brother Andrew and his daughters Eugenie and Beatrice off the royal payroll.
(Indeed, it is rumoured that Prince Philip’s sudden turn for the worse during the Jubilee gave Charles a golden opportunity to present his changes to the nation. At the closing of the Jubilee celebrations, with no Philip to overrule him, Charles argued that only the new slimmed-down monarchy—the queen, himself, William, and Harry, plus spouses where applicable—should feature in the balcony appearance.)
But then, hubris struck, and Charles appointed Harry to stand in for the Queen at the closing ceremony of the Olympics when plainly a job of this importance should have gone to the next in line, Charles, or, at a push, William.
After his triumphal turn closing the Olympics, Harry went off on holiday to Las Vegas, got roaring drunk, and stripped off in front of a group of girls he had met hours earlier in the casino who had not been deprived of their camera phones.
For Harry’s personal reputation, the ensuing nude picture scandal was, actually, rather a positive turn of events, displaying the naughty, fun-loving side to his personality that is such a hit with audiences worldwide.
For his dad, Prince Charles, however, Harry’s latest and most spectacular misstep was an unmitigated disaster.
Succeeding in having Harry officially representing the Queen in front of a global audience of billions to close the Olympics must have been a moment as triumphant for Charles as it was galling for Andrew, who was recently, according to the Mail’s Richard Kay, overheard “angrily telling a senior figure how he and others in the family are being pushed to the margins of royal life … for Andrew, according to one close figure, being excluded from the balcony scene was a sudden and totally unexpected demotion from front-rank to peripheral royal. It was ‘like a dagger to his heart and he hasn’t got over it.’”
In the aftermath of the nude pics, however, there was egg all over Charles’s face. Harry was promoted too fast, too soon by his father. Putting so much trust, confidence, and duty in the hands of his youngest son, a well-known “loose cannon,” as former press secretary to the Queen Dickie Arbiter publicly called him after the event, now looks like almost as bad a judgment call as asking a bunch of girls you just met in a casino Las Vegas up to your room for a game of strip pool.
Just weeks later, the Kate Middleton topless photographs hit, and William reacted by issuing legal proceedings against the magazine and launching a criminal case in France against the still-unnamed photographer.
It doesn’t take Sigmund Freud to see in William’s action a direct challenge to Prince Charles’s failure to take action against the photographers who hounded his mother to her death. Charles would have preferred the family to ignore the photos, but was unable to rein in his famously hot-tempered eldest son, who, on tour in the South Pacific with Kate, determined to push ahead with legal action on a flight between tour locations, against what he knew would be his father’s course of action.
There was more embarrassment for Charles when the attorney general had to step in to block publication of lobbying letters—‘black spider memos’—he had written to government being published, on the grounds that releasing them would have damaged his claim to impartiality when he became King.
Then days before he went off on tour to Australia, Camilla was revealed to have checked into a $5,000 a night Indian ayurvedic center. Hardly what austerity-hit Britain wants to hear. Charles's extravagance is undoubtedly a factor in his low popularity ratings.
There is no rift between Charles, William, Kate and Harry, but after the summer of scandal there is a sense that it is time for the young royals to move on. They want to do things differently than their dad.
To this end, William, Kate, and Harry are moving their staff and center of operations to Kensington Palace, setting up a mini-court there early next year.
And after the year Charles has had, who can blame them for wanting to manage their own affairs rather than leaving them at least partially in the control of their dad?
Sixty years and hardly a slip.