You adore Prince Charles, America? Keep him | Catherine Bennett

Without his biscuits, homoeopathy and Madonna-like dancing, Britain will struggle. But perhaps it takes a greater nation to appreciate this perennialist sage

It is a measure of how little the heir to the throne is cherished at home that, until President Obama said that American people like British royals “much better than their own politicians”, some of us had barely registered that one of our princes was missing.

True, there has been some noise about a private jet Charles chartered for the trip (at an estimated cost of £250,000) so as to keep himself and his courtiers fresh on their latest ecological mission. But for the man who spent £255,000 on a jet to Nelson Mandela’s funeral and almost £20,000 on a round trip to Worcester, this was merely in character. What will make headlines is the day Charles and Camilla subject themselves to public transportation – if only because, as he said recently, we must “treat our planet like a sick patient”. And to be fair, he won’t be the first consultant to drive an Aston Martin.

Whether the explanation is British neuralgia about Charles’s galloping environmental hypocrisy or just the effect on the susceptible of his heritage suits and accent – say sustainably again, sire! – the old celebrity monk routine plainly goes down a lot better in Washington than it does around here. In fact, even if Obama did not mean much by his comment, the only appropriate response, as well as the polite one, is surely: if you like him as much as all that, keep him. Please.

Yes, we insist, somehow the British will struggle on without Charles’s biscuits, his architectural guidance, his deeper thoughts on nanotechnology, homoeopathy and “the beingness of things”. Ideally a direct exchange would allow Obama to change places with the entire house of Windsor; but even a straightforward emigration would be better than nothing, and allow US subjects (as they would shortly learn to call themselves) to discover that an enthusiasm for other people’s restraint is among the least of Charles’s talents.

As Catherine Mayer writes in her admirable biography, Charles, The Heart of a King: “He and his aides are understandably frustrated that some of the best things he does go unrecognised.” The US would be gaining – we know from his friend Emma Thompson – a superb, sexually mesmerising dancer, the closest thing Britain has to Madonna, to the point of having his own signature philosophy: perennialism.

Again, until Mayer’s book came out, only his intimates were aware that the future king almost never needs the bathroom. “He knows exactly how to hydrate his body to just the right degree,” his godson Nicholas Knatchbull told her. “It’s an incredible talent.” And maybe, in the US, one that can, at last, be celebrated.

Admittedly, some of our politicians could be hard hit. No fewer than one of them says he benefited from Charles’s handwritten letters. “Immensely helpful”, Tony Blair has insisted – surprisingly, given the complaints that feature in Alastair Campbell’s diaries of the time. Although we can only guess, courtesy of an ongoing legal battle to protect Charles’s manic interference in government business from public inspection, it’s likely, once he feels at home, that the White House too will benefit from what his supporters call “heartfelt interventions”. In a Charles-led US realm, that country’s GM project, for instance, would be instantly reversed, for “meddling with the building blocks of life”.

If Obama’s compliments to Charles indicate a genuine readiness to overlook what the US constitution holds to be self-evident about equality, and what Charles holds to be self-evident about his own magnificence (so long as it’s reflected back at him in “sirs”, bows and curtseys), then the only significant obstacle to his permanent installation outside Washington is likely to be financial. Do his US admirers have any idea what their delightful visitor costs to run?

As much as his relocation might resemble a brilliantly simple solution – for his son, for us, for Charles, for royal-starved Americans – it seems only fair to spell out to the US treasury that ecologically aware defenders of faith do not come cheap. Along with the jets and royal train, and a minimum six properties to match those Charles already owns (even before coming into his mother’s palaces) – two in England, one in Scotland, one in Wales, two (don’t ask) in Transylvania – the US administration would be looking at replacing the Duchy of Cornwall: an £800m business that, with Waitrose’s help, pays Charles an annual £19m (on top of his subsidies from taxpayers), and on which he pays no corporation tax. Alas, Charles could not, any more than his great Uncle Edward VIII in 1936, take the salary with him on emigration; the duchy is public property.

These are petty complaints, perhaps, when the dignity of a prince is at stake, but they may explain why, like so many prophets before him, this perennialist sage has not always been honoured in his own land. But don’t let us put you off.


Catherine Bennett

The GuardianTramp

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