THE KING’S REACH: Prince Charles

He is compassionate, active, intelligent and inquisitive — a man of taste and culture who wishes, like most, to be ‘of the world’. He also happens to be the longest-serving heir to the British throne. The Prince of Wales has sometimes struggled to balance his private instincts and public obligations — and his biggest test awaits him. How will the reign of King Charles unfold? Originally published in Issue 41 of The Rake, royal biographer Hugo Vickers writes that it could be a fascinating late-life flowering.

There are often sharp contrasts in how we perceive ourselves and how others see us. There is no greater example of this than the Prince of Wales, who considers himself the most misunderstood man of modern times. Maybe it is so. There are those who admire him in full measure while others have reservations.

In some ways it is a pity that this very caring and earnest man was born with a princely title. As such, it was expected of him to fulfil certain prescribed roles as heir to the throne. In his case there is the additional dilemma that he has carved out a useful role as Prince of Wales, involved with copious enterprises. He has to work out how to dovetail this into his future role as monarch, with all the contrary demands this will impose.

Much of the good he has done has been eclipsed, in the public mind, by his two marriages. Both have been the subject of considerable controversy and divisiveness in the past, though there is no doubt that after years of turmoil, a calm plateau has finally been reached. Had he been a private individual, no one would have taken much interest in whom he married, or, indeed, whether he married at all.

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Only because he is a member of the Royal Family do people also take an interest in how he dresses. Admittedly, this is not as intense as the interest in the clothes of Diana, Princess of Wales, but still the interest is there.

The front-cover portrait of Prince Charles puts me in mind of the imposing David Wilkie portrait of George IV in Royal Stewart tartan, painted to mark his first visit to Scotland in 1822. In this instance the Prince of Wales looks equally magnificent and substantial, in the uniform of Colonel-in-Chief of the Toronto Scottish Regiment (Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother’s Own).

If his fashion sense had to be summed up in a word, that word would be ‘conventional’. The Prince of Wales rarely appears without a tie (unlike his sons, Prince William and Prince Harry). He wears smartly cut suits from Anderson & Sheppard, on Savile Row, to whom he was directed soon after his first marriage, by the Princess of Wales. He has remained loyal to them for more than 30 years, and favours their double-breasted jackets. He likes the double-vents at the back of his suits, a style invented by Frederick Scholte, whose son Dudley was at Heath Mount school with Cecil Beaton. Mr. Hitchcock, their top cutter, will still come out of retirement to fit Prince Charles, visiting him at Clarence House.

Anderson & Sheppard also provide him with his morning dress suits. Like other members of the Royal Family, notably the late Sir Angus Ogilvy, he wears the white line in the black waistcoat, which delineates the tie better. (Tailors have been known to say to clients: “We don’t get much call for that these days, Sir.”) Royalty have a habit of hanging on to their clothes. The Duke of Windsor wore the same suit in which he married in 1937 at Princess Marina’s funeral in 1968 (and it still fitted him perfectly). The morning coat Prince Charles wore at his wedding in 2005 was made seven years before, and his fawn-coloured overcoat was made in 1987. At Royal Ascot, where the Prince can be slightly more rakish, he wears a grey morning suit but with a black top hat. Some of his suits have been patched.

When travelling abroad in hot climates, the Prince has been known to wear a lightweight, light-coloured suit, even sometimes when adorned with his medals. He has never learnt how to avoid being accosted with unconventional head gear on his overseas visits, so there is a host of photographs of him variously adorned with Red Indian feathers, Arab headgear, or J.R. Ewing hats.


    January 2021


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