Charles, 60

So Chas is 60. I seem to have grown up in the shadow of His Nibs, being just a few years younger. I’ve seen him in action just the once, at a County Fair, in which he was glad-handing some local pheasant-pluckers and cheese-graters. The serious local boys were not interested, being intent on the judging of some dexters, and their pedigree – ironic, really, since the one thing Chas has is a pedigree. He is a rare breed. He can produce a family tree which takes him back, amongst others, to Egbert of Wessex, the Prophet Mohammed, and, if you believe the mythmakers of the middle ages, Arthur, Brutus, and Adam (by way of King David). The royal family has been claiming Arthur in its lineage for a long time – since it first became fashionable in the twelfth century – and Arthur is one of Chas’s four names.

There was a great book which came out about ten years ago, about Queen Victoria’s genes, which pointed out that both porphyria and haemophilia were hereditary, and that, since Victoria, there have been no signs of the porphyria which afflicted her grandfather, and also that, until Victoria, there had been no signs of haemophilia (the strain of which continues in some of her descendants). Ergo, Victoria’s father is not who it is claimed he was. This is not unlikely – he was an elderly duke, in a race with a brother (also elderly), to produce an heir. He had fathered several illegitimate children, but he was not a dead cert for further fatherhood. (It is also claimed, elsewhere, that Prince Albert’s parents are unlikely to have been who they were said to be.)

Not that this would matter – Chas can get back to Egbert and the dawn of time by thousands of other routes. His parents are third cousins, and the royal families of Europe have kept a fairly tight hold on their gene-pool for a long time. It is only half a century since the marriage of Princess Margaret to a ‘commoner’ caused a fuss.

But although Chas, who has employed all sorts of advisers, from Jonathan Porrit of Friends of the Earth (previously thought to be sane enough) to Chris Woodhead (the educationist generally thought to be dim as a brick, and alleged by the late, great Ted Wragg to have the mental capacity indicated by his surname), he hasn’t really taken many steps into the real world. He exists in a pink cloud of privilege, all expenses paid for, and has made a habit of pronouncing on ecology and education and architecture for many years. This is not surprising in the case of architecture. His whole family has had a preservation order slapped on it for a millennium and more.

It’s all sentiment. I am not suggesting that republicanism is a way of preventing hereditary dynasties – look at the USA and Bush, at North Korea – but it does seem as if the French have got this one right. The office of president preserves the continuity, not the people in power. The royal family is like the national china cabinet, full of all kinds of knick-knacks and souvenirs and brittle mementoes. But you don’t give a slightly chipped figurine the power to speak, nor lavish authority on it. You just gaze at it through the glass.

I suspect, but do not know, that you could get poor odds at the bookie’s on Chas ever making it to the throne. The Bowes-Lyon longevity gene seems designed to propel Chas’s mum to very old age, and Chas himself to a massive beano of a state funeral. He will be remembered for the bank holiday he provides with his wake, and for the trestle tables brought out of the village halls for the occasion.

And I wish he’d stop wearing that daft brown coat.


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