The Interview – a short story
A change of career for Mr Windsor
“Would you welcome please, Mister Charles Windsor.” There is a pause while the audience applauds loudly. The guest twists his signet ring and looks a little lost still without cuff-links. He is wearing a t-shirt adorned with “Hilary for President” emblazoned across his chest.
The interviewer, a fair-haired man in a dark blazer and grey slacks looks from his guest to the audience and waits as the applause dies away. The Englishman speaks.
“Hi folks.” He lifts his right hand in acknowledgement then allows it to drop back onto the arm of the easy chair. He looks straight into the camera now and smiles a warm smile.
“It’s great to be here.”
He nods and smiles again, grins at his host, then remembers the signet ring.
“Your Royal Highness?” There is a pause. “Prince Charles?” – another pause – “Your Majesty?” – Charles is shaking his head. “Have I got it wrong? The audience laughs.
“You were right when you welcomed me. All I can ever be in this country is plain old Mister.”
This delights his audience; his very British vowels fit the down to earth phrase. Despite his appearance, despite the ears that generations of cartoonists have relied upon, despite the schoolboy grin set in a shaggy face, his voice is as hesitant and solemn as ever.
“There’s always, Senator, or Mister Vice-President – anyway Mister Windsor, you’ve already made congressman.” The interviewer manages a mock bow from a sitting position. “Tell me, Congressman Windsor, first of all, what made you come and involve yourself in our politics?”
Charles is about to laugh.
“Look, it’s serious question. Just over two hundred years ago we threw out the Brits. I just can’t remember any damn-fool Brits wanting to come over here and get involved in US politics.”
“I didn’t come over to get involved. I was invited to stay, after the presidential elections in 2000. All very democratic you know.”
Charles smiles at his own joke and his memory of the interview while the votes were being counted in the fall of 2000. The threats and dire warnings no longer counted. It was the warmth of so many responses that remained with him, the voices that said, you’re right – it’s an embarrassment to our country. It’s national disgrace that you had to point this out. But a lot of them had taken it from him, had warmed to him. Just like this audience. This was his first major interview for a while.
“Not like your ancestor, George the Third.” Charles nods. “But tell me, why did you accept?” Charles laughs, loudly, then becomes aware of polite, gentle laughter from the audience.
“But it is funny, from my point of view. Just imagine what might have happened if he hadn’t upset your ancestors. I wouldn’t have had to stand for election for public office here.”
“You mean you’d be King here anyway.” The interviewer laughs now and the audience follows. “But you ain’t going to be king here, so tell us Mister Plain Old Charles Windsor, why did you give up a pretty solid claim to the British throne to involve yourself in politics here?”
“But I didn’t give it up.” For a moment this man is very serious, very earnest. He ignores his audience’s sympathy and speaks out very directly to another audience, one that he can see very clearly, a world away.
“Impatience, I suppose, impatience with a lot of things. Her Majesty – my mother – was fit and well, still is I believe, and likely to live long, just like her mother.” Charles notices the interviewer look up sharply.
“Remember, when I made up my mind to make a life here, my grandmother was still alive and kicking.” Charles turns back towards the audience. “Anyway, for years I had played the role of heir apparent, waiting, patiently, loyally. Never had anything real to do. Over here – over here the president had just been elected, elected in circumstances that I know many of you found excruciatingly embarrassing. I found it incredible – the world’s greatest democracy choosing a leader, the most powerful man on earth if you like, and you had two candidates with not a shred of statesmanship between them. You had no system to resolve the matter impartially, no way that everyone would accept as fair. And you had the brother of one candidate controlling the counting of the vote in a key state. I tell you, it was a joke.”
The audience is very quiet now and the interviewer is clearly uncomfortable. He fidgets briefly.
“And you voiced your opinion on the Bill Daniel Show.” He wags his finger at his guest. “You naughty man you.” His guest grins. “That’s right. You broke one of the most important rules of diplomatic etiquette – don’t comment about a host nation’s politics.”
Charles is still grinning and nodding and the audience is chuckling.
“But it was flagrant. The country was making a fool of itself in front of the whole world – remember, you have the world’s most powerful media here.
The interviewer feigns mock surprise. Charles jabs a finger at him, smiles, then continues.
“Come off it, you’re not kidding me or anyone else.” He starts again. “You let everybody know exactly what you were doing.” He pauses. “You see, the trouble is, you can never do anything quietly. It’s no wonder the rest of the world laughs.”
Charles turns from his audience and stares straight at his host.
“Look, I’m telling you as it is. One pal of mine, he’s the staunchest Republican I know – he doesn’t speak to me these days of course – he said he had never felt so humiliated by his own country. He said that he would rather suffer another four years of Clinton than face friends overseas while his country was making a laughingstock of itself.”
The audience digests this very quietly. The interviewer leans forward again.
“So, you break this taboo and get invited onto any number of t.v. shows, then there was that lecture tour. Then sometime that spring, you’re consulted by Hilary Clinton about US foreign policy. By this time you’re lecturing at major universities. The next thing we know you’re settled somewhere down in the south and you’re running for Congress. You get elected and you’ve been shouting your mouth off ever since.”
A smile, a wayward, reveal-everything smile blooms across Charles’ face. Even his eyebrows look excited.
“It’s what I’ve wanted to do all my life. I’m really enjoying it – the crowds and the audiences. And people can tell me what they think and they ask me to keep on with what I’m doing. And if they like me, it’s because they like me, and not because they feel they’ve got to be polite to The Prince of Wales or some foreign dignitary.”
Both men are laughing now.
“But what about that election, the Presidential election in 2000?”
“I know nobody wants to talk about it now, but really, it was a bit of a pig’s ear. What was really awful was that neither candidate was prepared to admit that the whole business was flawed. They hadn’t the guts to withdraw and say that the whole thing should be re-run.” Charles is shaking his head a again, recalling the sense of disbelief. “Each of them was prepared to win a false victory rather than give the other man a chance to win clean. Think how that demeaned the office of President. Where’s the statesmanship in all that? It was a disgrace.”
“And boy, your comments didn’t please some people.”
“You’re not kidding. I thought that I was going to be put on the next plane back to London. But it was true. How could any decent servant of the people accept office in those circumstances? That’s what I can’t stand, people kidding themselves and other folk that they are the real victors. And if it had not been for September 11th, where would Bush have been?”
The audience waits.
“You’re a real democrat aren’t you?”
“I think I’ve been a democrat for a long time, but I’ve only just realised.”
“But how the heck do you square that with the idea of a monarchy?”
“The key idea is the tyranny of the majority.” The interviewer sits back and waits .
“Look, we know how a majority can bully a minority, so we have checks and balances on different groups so they cannot do that. It’s what the House of Lords, the upper chamber in Britain, is supposed to do. Now it’s reformed, of course, it seems to do very little unless the main political parties want it to. In Switzerland, where they’ve never had a monarch, they have referenda so that ordinary people can get together and throw out unpopular legislation; it makes it difficult for politicians to ignore the will of the people.”
“You mean their parliament can’t make its own decisions.”
The audience can’t believe this.
“Yep. If they propose unpopular legislation fifty thousand signatures can force a referendum. If the government is defeated by the people, that’s it.” He looks directly at the audience. “Well that’s democratic, isn’t it? The will of the people.”
“But how can a government govern in those circumstances?”
“Dead simple – by respecting the will of the people. Don’t propose things that the people you serve will not stomach. In Britain there was nothing like it really. The House of Lords could delay bills sometimes, but could not touch money bills.”
He pauses, looks around, and then continues.
“But then the Queen stole one of my ideas. This idea was that, as defender of her subjects, the monarch should insist that her government put all constitutional matters, and matters of conscience, to a referendum, to a popular vote, especially on matters to do with the European Union.”
“So you think a monarch should get involved directly in politics?“
The man is amused and serious, all at the same time. The interviewer teases him.
“You’re as bad as Old King George now, aren’t you? I guess we’d better put you back on that plane.”
“You can’t. You’re stuck with me. I’m a US citizen and I’m entitled to my opinions, like all of us.” He sweeps his hand around over the audience. “No, I don’t think it is direct involvement. It’s the job of a head of state to watch out for ordinary people, for citizens or subjects who do not have ready access to power, who can only vote occasionally, and then only for a party ticket and a whole raft of policies. Look at the power of the lobby, both here and in the UK. It’s the big vested interest groups that have power, not the ordinary people, not the little people.”
Charles knows that his audience is listening carefully. He continues.
“If you want to get elected to office in most democracies, you have got to be adopted by a large party to run for a seat that that party can win. And you need friends and influence and money.”
Most of the audience are nodding and Charles is watching them.
“That’s how I became a congressman. I suited the Democrats; I had money, clout, ideas and I was well-known, and,” Charles looks around the audience again to check that they are all listening, “the Democrats suit me. If I had really been washed up on these shores as plain little old Charles Smith or whatever, do you think I would have made Congress within three years?”
“You also had incredible luck: two established, local politicians who were running neck and neck until you came along and divided the vote.” The man grins. “You’re a bit of a carpet-bagger really.”
“The real luck was that, once I had broken that taboo and spoken out in 2000, the establishment back home really had the knives out for me – got me a lot of sympathy out here – and that way they really helped. Poor Tony Blair was beside himself with rage – I think Presidency of the EU was very much on his agenda at the time. Anyway, Mother pinches my referendum idea and turns it against me – I really have gone too far this time, mortified our greatest ally, embarrassed her throughout the diplomatic world, brought shame and disapprobation on the nation.” Charles is clearly revelling in this now. “It was abundantly clear that I was not fit to govern, that I was a traitor really. That’s when some one pushed her, and the idea of turning my referendum idea against me delighted politicians, especially that last Labour cabinet. A referendum on the heir to the throne.” Charles reaches slowly around to the back of his head and gently scratches it. “I am really pleased for my sister – she’ll cope fine, and look what a chance it gave me – the sympathy vote over here.”
Each man settles back for the next round.
“Well then Mister Congressman, are referenda going to make Britain more democratic? Can they make any country more democratic?”
“It’s certainly more dignified, something one can respect because it stops politicians making convenient assumptions about the views of the people they represent. No, that’s why I wished the Swiss would join the EU. They’re so damned cussed, they’d destroy bureacratic power in no time. No, a referendum leaves you in little doubt about the wishes of the people. It’s certainly more dignified than taking a chance on small pieces of paper that might tell you something.”
Charles smiles directly at his host who gets out a handkerchief and mops his brow. Charles turns from him and the camera and appeals to the audience.
“You remember all those little pieces of paper, shards, or chads or whatever you called them, don’t you? All those pieces mixed up higgledy-pickledy on a table, just like a kid’s television game. And there were adults examining them seriously to see if they could catch a voter’s intentions, somehow represented in tiny shred.”
Charles picks up a small piece of paper from the table in front of him and quickly tears it up into little pieces and throws them down in front of the interviewer.
“We’re back to the New England witch trials aren’t we, or the Romans examining a chicken’s entrails.” Charles is poking about among the white flecks scattered on the dark of the coffee table. The audience is stirring again and the interviewer can sense what is coming. With mock seriousness, Charles searches frantically amongst the tiny pieces of paper. He adopts an accent from somewhere in the Deep South.
“Governor Bush, Suh, Ah think Ah’ve found another one for young Master George, Suh.”
Charles looks up and out at the acres of friendly faces in front of him. Now he stares fixedly at the camera and we hear the familiar royal tones, the crisp, slightly sneering, patronising tones of a true Windsor.
“And this was happening in the world’s so-called greatest democracy, while the whole world watched, and laughed.” Charles pauses and waits for quiet. Despite himself, the interviewer is laughing too.
“I couldn’t believe it at the time, I mean, would you have known where Tallahassee was?” Now he is speaking directly to the studio audience and they warm to him again. Their smiles turn to ironic laughter. The interviewer’s glad to get a word in.
“So, like a lot of other folks, you lost patience with the old country and headed west.”
“Yes, I suppose that’s the top and bottom of it.”
“But you had a lot to give up. You won’t mind me reminding our audience that, by any standards, you’re a very wealthy man. Yes, I know you’ve given up your annual income from the Queen and you’re having trouble with the British tax authorities about moving large sums over here, but you still have enormous sums at your disposal.”
“And I wanted to put them to good use. You see, even if I became King, I would have to spend all my time trying to keep up with things, to really understand what was going on in politics, but, I would also have to make sure that I wasn’t caught trying to involve myself. I suppose it would be like going to watch a good strip show, then being blindfolded and handcuffed as soon as it was over so I could take no further interest.”
Laughter rises, then falls away – the audience knows that Charles has not finished.
“When the original colonies rebelled, what was it they said, “No taxation without representation.” In Britain, I wanted to insist that there would be, “No coronation without participation,” and the Brits would not wear that. I had to avoid involvement in politics, and politics is the one place where I could do the things I really want.”
“The environment, taking care of the planet where our children and grandchildren will want to live safely and comfortably. Education, families and spirituality – what we pass on to succeeding generations.”
“You’ve gone on record, I know on environmental issues. Which ones most concern you?”
The audience hushes. Charles pushes on regardless.
“I know that rural communities depend on their automobiles, but in urban America there are many areas that are ruined by the automobile and the squalor there makes part of our country look like a third-world country on a bad day.”
Charles senses the unease in the audience.
“Yes, I know you don’t like to be told things like this, but there are people in poor countries who see a lot of Americans on our t.v. programmes. They see the way we want to live, what we expect our living standards to be.”
He pauses and looks straight out at his audience.
“Television has a lot to answer for in this country. People overseas get their main impression of this country from our television output and it’s either trivial entertainment or very violent.” The interviewer seems ready to interrupt. His guest notices and takes another tack.
“Obviously there are notable exceptions – you have some very fierce political interviewers.” The two men exchange smiles. “But a lot of programmes show characters who are very comfortable, never spend a moment concerned with the essentials of life, are simply preoccupied with having a good time.”
Charles is riding a swell, or a buzz.
“Sure, people want to escape, but they’ve got the sense to realise that you can’t do it all the time. There are lots of folk in Eastern Europe who can remember living under communism. They are a well-educated, resourceful bunch, and they’re very realistic. They have little time for bread and circuses; they are insulted by hedonistic trivia. If they get the impression that that is the American way of life, you must not be surprised if they are not impressed by us and our wealth.”
“But we helped defeat communism, we helped them get re-established and we welcomed them into NATO despite Russian opposition. They appreciate that don’t they?”
“Sure they do. They really do appreciate your generosity because that helps a lot, but they also have a solid grasp of what they need to do for themselves. They have had reality in their faces for three generations and nobody’s going to kid them that John Wayne’s just over the hill, waiting to ride in and put their world to rights. They enjoy Disney in Europe, but they get sick of a diet of “Gee whiz, evrythin’s gonna be orl raht.” It isn’t all right and not even Uncle Sam has a magic wand to wave. They are grateful to us for our help, but they don’t want their intelligence insulted and they don’t like the US throwing its weight about in the world. The older generation lived through a period when their big neighbours did just that. Now they see the US dabbling in other countries, with little real cost, then moving on when there’s little t.v. footage worth having. Yes. Here he stops his host. “Afghanistan and Somalia – remember them – and look at what the UN has been able to do in the British–controlled sector of Iraq – the Iraqis asked the Brits to stay while their cousins up the road in Baghdad threw out our GIs.”
The interviewer swallows hard but allows Charles to continue.
“We had no option, did we? We had to pull our boys out and you must admit that the Poles have done a damned fine job there. How much longer are we going to take to pacify what’s left of the US sector?
The interviewer can restrain himself no longer. He cans sense that the audience is now listening to a whinging Limey rather than a congressman with a funny accent and doesn’t like this bit.
“But they’re not chopping bits off each other now. Saddam’s mass-killing has stopped and the Iraqis are starting to run things for themselves. What’s more, we’ve kept terrorism out of the States.” The interviewer has the audience now. “And considering how we had to get ourselves out there – you remember the French and their allies, the Germans and the Russians messing things up at the UN – we were the ones who got on with the business; we did them a huge favour, and our boys got themselves killed doing it.”
The audience is cheering now. Charles is a little agitated and feels for the absent cuff-links.
“As you say, the country is not directly effected by terrorism, but we also have neighbours to consider, closer to home.”
“Our neighbours, up in the north. They watch what we want to do in Alaska, a massive oil exploration – an attack on the environment that will affect them far more than it will us – yes, just look at the map folks, and that long land border. Imagine what a west wind off the Pacific would do. Most of the world finds it hard to distinguish Canadians and Americans.” He smiles back at the guffaws from the audience. “Come on, they’re all right – we cannot be seen to treat them like a Third World country – think of our other allies in the English-speaking world – Australia and New Zealand. You know we can’t always take their support for granted.”
The interviewer is looking uncomfortable again. The audience stirs, like a restless sea under a rising wind.
“Well, Mister Windsor, you look set to get involved in real controversy, but we must move on. Lots of our viewers want me to ask about the folks back home. You’ve done what no one in your family has ever done before, you’ve actually got yourself elected to something, to the Congress.” Here there is some sporadic applause. ”But the question some people are asking is why you’ve left a place where you were well-regarded, where you had a heck of a position, and now you’re brawling on some chat-show without anyone bowing and scraping because you’re his royal highness.” The applause is growing – the interviewer has touched a nerve. “You would have become head of the family in time, I guess. But what’s going on now? What is happening to the British Royal Family? Do they text you every once in a while?”
He relaxes and Charles smiles to himself.
“Mmm. Yes – okay.” He smiles directly at the interviewer.” But you can’t keep me away from real politics over here you know; you’re not a British prime minister.” They both laugh, then Charles’ face tenses and his mouth tightens.
“Yes, I know what you’re getting at. It’s the old folks back home, the family. Well, they are still not best pleased with me. My sister, you know, Princess Anne, she used to be the black sheep of the family. Now, I suppose it’s me.”
“What the heck’s the black sheep of the family?”
“A source of embarrassment, some one who’s unpredictable – usually some one who’s fairly clever and manages to avoid trouble by the skin of their teeth.”
The interviewer considers requesting a further translation then changes track. He must keep things moving.
“I used to envy her that role. Now I’ve got it; I can be my real self, the real black sheep of the family. In medieval times, I would have made a wonderful court jester.”
Charles hesitates for a moment and looks away from the audience and the interviewer. His control returns immediately and he continues.
“There was a time when the British press thought that my sister and I had no time for each other. In fact I simply used to envy her her greater freedom to speak out – she was almost too good at that, like our father.” The interviewer is listening and getting ready for his next set of questions. Charles continues.
“Now she’s by far the hardest working member of the Royal Family, even if she’s less outspoken.” The interviewer sits up.
“Well, Mister Congressman Windsor, do you mind being very American and giving me a straight answer. Just what sort of thing is the Royal Family saying to you?”
“Sure.” Charles laughs a quiet little private laugh. The audience responds while the interviewer watches Charles closely.
“The point is they have little to say to me really. It’s frightfully simple. It started with my grandmother’s death.”
“You mean the Queen Mum. “
“That’s right. We were very, very close and, as you know, she died in the middle of the mid-term elections. I was new to politics out here, wanted to be seen taking politics seriously and not being the spoilt rich kid running home as soon as things got tough. Some people thought I could just rush back and….”
Here the interviewer leans forward.
“But you were offered Concorde.
“I have always managed to avoid that contraption.”
“But you could have flown back to Britain just for the funeral?”
“No, that’s just it. Firstly, there was always the risk of some clever-dick attempt to indict me for treason.”
“Treason? You mean the Tower of London and off with your head?” Charles nods his head. “All that stuff? You must be crazy. I thought that was just for the movies. How would anyone manage that?”
“The law about treason and the Royal Family is really strange and hasn’t really been updated for centuries. It’s all to do with the person of the monarch and the power that the monarch has over the Royal Family.“
“You don’t mean the Queen actually controls her family?” The interviewer realises that this is exactly what Charles means.
“If only you knew.” Charles spreads his arms out wide in an appeal for sympathy. “Boy, if only you knew. For example, she has to approve of the arrangements for the education of every one of her direct descendants.
“You mean you and your children.”
“And my sister’s children and my brothers’ children.” He holds up his hand. There is more to come. “And any of their children.”
“You’ve got to be kidding.”
“Nope. The education, the choice of school or college of any of her direct descendants, great-grandchildren, even great, great grandchildren – and the way she’s going, she’ll have great, great grandchildren before she’s through. The trouble is that these laws were framed after the protestant succession, about a hundred years before our Declaration of Independence over here. Keeping control of the monarch’s family was considered very important then – the government was terrified of Roman Catholicism and British governments have had neither time nor interest to change the law since.”
The interviewer appeals to the audience.
“That’s terrible. Ladies and gentlemen, wouldn’t any of us be proud if one of our kids took themselves off overseas to a new country and got themselves elected to the national assembly?” He turns to Charles. “Aren’t your folks proud of you?”
“The truth is, I just don’t know. I never have known.”
The audience is aghast. This time they are shocked into a stunning silence. The warmth, the murmur of agreement, the scattered cries of appreciation and muted ululation stop, simultaneously. There is no gradual quietening as people realise that everyone else has shut up. No, it is physical. No one wants to make a sound. It’s as if they’ve just been told of an outbreak of child abuse in the family.
They are embarrassed, excruciatingly embarrassed, but they cannot leave, cannot avert their attention. They have stumbled in and are witnessing a situation that no one should witness. But they cannot turn and go back through the door, quietly, as if nothing has happened. Suddenly, the man on the stage is very much alone.
The interviewer leans towards his guest, gently, unsure but concerned. He extends his arm, hesitates then sits back again.
“Say, Charles, are you OK?”
Charles nods, then his hands leave the sides of his bowed head and turn themselves round in a request for sympathy.
“It’s not an easy thing to say about your own folks, but I never really knew where I stood. As long as my mother was alive, I was stuck with playing second fiddle. I could do nothing else. Now it’s very different for me. I’m incredibly happy over here.” The buzz returns to the audience. “I feel that I have really been made welcome, not as a guest who’s passing through, but as some one who’s here to stay, some one who means business.”
He smiles a smile of appreciation at the audience.
“I don’t think my family have got used to the idea that I have cut loose and made it on my own. I could talk to them much more readily now, now that I have a life of my own, but I don’t think they know how to talk to me. I never did fit in particularly well and now I don’t fit in at all. The really sad thing is that I wasn’t able to speak to my father after my grandmother’s funeral and my mother has such a coterie of advisors and courtiers around her that I can’t get anywhere near her.”
“But before we continue, can you tell us about your father’s funeral? What really happened behind the scenes? All we heard about were differences inside the Royal Family. Did that funeral cause you as much embarrassment?”
“Not really. My grandmother was very close to many British hearts – lots of people sent all sorts of very angry letters when they realised that I was not going to be there for her funeral. But their anger was caused more by affection for her than by anger with me. My father was a different matter altogether.”
The audience senses more revelations and is very quiet again.
“No, it was just made clear to me that I would not be welcome at his funeral; the family did not want me there. Apart from matters of protocol and etiquette, there was the business of securing me from English lawyers – they’re nearly as bad as American ones, but not as expensive.”
The audience enjoys a welcome moment of relief.
“If I had gone over to London, there would have been no place for me, either as consort to my mother, or as an escort in the funeral party.”
“You mean they would have slammed the door in your face?”
“Yes. Just that.”
Charles is sitting very upright now.
“You said just now that you wished that you’d been able to talk to your father before he died. We always got the impression over here that the two of you had little in common, that your father was the iron-fisted naval discipline, especially with his sons, that he couldn’t get on with his sons. So, what did you want to talk about?”
Charles has spent much of the interview sitting back in his chair. While he had been relaxed, he has left his arms flat along the arms of the chair, rather like Abraham Lincoln on his plinth in Washington. Now he is leaning forward. First of all, he supports his head on one hand, then on both. He is not upset. His face can be clearly seen and it is plain to the interviewer and the audience that he is lost in thought and perhaps repeating the question to himself. He is just audible.
“All sorts of things really. The sorts of things I can talk about with my two boys, about what they are doing with their lives, which university, what careers they might follow. We talked a lot about military careers before Harry went to Sandhurst – that’s the counterpart of West Point. Then there were girlfriends, and their mother.”
The interviewer tries to interrupt here, but Charles ignores him. His body stiffens and for a moment he is upright again.
“I’m not discussing them here.” He pauses. “Now, where was I? Oh yes, I wanted to tell my father why I had left the UK and given up any hope of becoming king. I wanted to explain why it had been difficult to tell him all this over the years, why I had tried to do the things I felt were important. He always seemed so pleased with my sister’s independence, especially her equestrian career. I think he had only the monarchy in mind for me and that was not going to happen for years, if ever. I wanted to tell him at last why I had to come over here to do something with my life before it was too late. I know I couldn’t explain my particular interests, especially architecture and sustainable agriculture – they were never part of his generation’s interests. He found it difficult to see out beyond what he thought was important.”
The audience’s close attention reaches Charles.
“I was sad not to go to his funeral. He was a really good consort to my mother and he had a safe place in many hearts. I know that he could put his foot in it with his straight from the shoulder comments, but I think the British people expected his gaffs – he said some of the things they wanted to say. I did go back on my own to visit his grave.”
Charles glances across at the interviewer, anticipating a question.
“It’s in Windsor Great Park, by the castle – you fly over it on your way out of Heathrow. There are no guards, no fences, no patrols and there was no one to bother me when I went.”
Charles is slowing down now and the interviewer waits.
“I think he set himself high standards and tried to keep them.”
“I hope he’d be proud of you now.”
He waits again, conscious that an important moment has passed. The audience stirs and settles itself.
“Could we hear a little more about why you can’t suddenly pack a bag and take a break back in the UK?”
“Well yes – you see there are people, a bit like my father I suppose, who see me as a traitor to Britain. Some one from very near the top of the tree – that’s how they see things, from the monarch downwards – if some one from the top takes themselves off, they do far more damage than some one from lower down the pile. My departure reflects badly on the country – the image of UK Incorporated is harmed, by my applying for citizenship here, for one thing. Then there are the monarchy fanatics who have been upset by some of the things I’ve said. My lawyers advised me not to step on British soil. Even Canada would have been rather dodgy.”
The audience’s laughter has returned. It has a quick and lively tone to it.
“You’ve gotta be kidding.
“No, that’s what my American lawyers told me. There’s all sorts of stuff from revolutionary times that could have been used.
The laughter has become uproarious and Charles has to wait.
“Is that why there was such a fuss about you visiting a British warship?”
“Exactly. I went on board to visit the admiral – we were at Dartmouth together – and the poor man was expected to arrest me. I’m not sure why. It could be something to do with my being a traitor – something that it’s difficult to do these days unless you’re a member of the Royal Family. I didn’t wait to find out.”
“There was talk that the admiral helped you over the side.”
“You don’t really expect me to comment on that do you?” For a moment, Charles is all stiff upper lip, but his eyes twinkle. “There was a US coastguard cutter in the right place at the right time. The skipper was a real pal. Anyway, the other thing that’s upsetting the Brits might be my stand-off with the Inland Revenue, something to do with taxes.”
“Ah, taxes. How are things with your IRS?”
“Unchanged. I won’t pay them any tax until I am allowed to move more of my money over here. Now that I’ve sold my estates in the UK, I need to invest that money and use it over here. I’m a working man now.”
“Do you pay tax over here?”
A pained expression creeps over Charles’ face. His features are distorted by mock agony. He shakes his head between his hands and peers out at the audience. The audience giggles.
“I always got the impression that no one paid tax over here, that most everything was tax-deductible.“ A tide of laughter spreads across the audience. “Why didn’t you warn me? Do I pay taxes?” His arms are spread out again and the sympathy comes across.
“And this American lady we keep seeing you with.” For a moment, Charles is non-plussed. The interviewer points to Charles’ t-shirt.
“Oh, Hilary.” We see a slightly embarrassed smile slide across Charles’ face. Then he’s back into blustering mode. “Well, all good democrats have got to help her – she’s the best hope we’ve got. She’s a fantastic lady, doing a fantastic job and now’s the time to really start thinking about White House 2008.”
“Mister Windsor, you’re starting to sound just like an American.” His grin returns – he is really enjoying this interview – it’s one of his best. “And now you’re being seen a lot with your party’s hot political property. Everybody’s saying her chances are better with her ex teaching at Oxford.”
Charles’ face does not change. He does not falter. He positively relaxes; the shoulders rise and fall before he speaks.
“Well, you know, she calls by when she’s in town. We talk politics and she’s helped me set up house. She seems to know all the best stores.”
“Camilla – Mrs Camilla Parker-Bowles?”
“That’s over.” Charles’ anger flares again for a second. The audience hardly notice, but some of them catch the eye-contact between the two men.
“How are you finding Washington?”
“Wonderful, just wonderful. So many old friends enjoy dropping in; it’s a good place to keep in touch with folks from back home.”
“But not family?”
“Not family. Lots of politicians, mainly members of the opposition I must say.” Charles is proud of this. He has a foot in both camps. “People from my organisations, like the Princes’ Trust, a sort of umbrella organisation for charities.
“What about the princes? You’re their only parent. Will you be ale to stay close to them?”
“I intend doing just that. It’s difficult for them at times because their grandmother sees herself very much as head of their family, but at least they don’t have to worry as much about the succession. They’ll be over here pretty often.”
“Any chance of signing them up for the show?”
“Why not? They’d be great fun.”
“Well, any time.!” The interviewer looks pleased; he is relieved and can move on.
“And now, ladies and gentlemen, I just want you to watch a t.v. clip from a couple of weeks ago.”
The curtain at the back of the stage folds back. CNN news floods in. Over shots of the British parliament, an anchorman’s voice speaks to us.
“What the Prime Minister is making clear is that Her Majesty has cancelled her visit to the States, indefinitely. His press secretary has made it absolutely clear that the reason for this is Her Majesty’s recent illness. Rumours of a further rift with Charles are, apparently, without foundation. We spoke to the BBC’s court correspondent.“
The anchorman turns in his seat and addresses a twinset and pearls.
“Margery. Good evening. What do you make of all this? Why is the Queen not travelling to the States?”
“It’s a scarcely veiled secret. Her Majesty’s press secretary hinted yesterday that he was most unhappy about arrangements for the media on this trip. The press are convinced that Her Majesty does not want to be upstaged by her son.” There is the slightest of well-bred pauses. “Well, we have to face it, her son will have a naturally sympathetic audience on what has obviously become his home patch.” Margery hand goes up slowly to the broad, red mouth as she coughs gently. “There was supposed to be an understanding that the prince would be abroad during the visit – clearly, that’s not going to be the case. He is bound to be part of the coverage and it will not show Her Majesty in a particularly good light. Her Majesty clearly has no intention of competing with him. And, of course, there’s no sign of a rapprochement.”
“And then there’s the diplomatic fall-out. The President will not only be embarrassed by the country’s staunchest ally pulling out of a visit, but the whole charade will have been caused by a political opponent who is in a unique position to make trouble for him. Margery?
“Yes, and I think that will raise more questions in the States than over here. In the UK there are simply constitutional matters, and these are frozen, as it were until such time as the Prince returns home. Over there, you only have political questions surrounding the prince.”
“Do you expect him to return home?”
“Not in the foreseeable future. I think that he has been made to feel so welcome in the States, so much part of things. I suspect it took his breath away initially, the reaction to that first speech that got out of control.” The woman nods very convincingly. “It was a huge risk to take but he is clearly leading a much more fulfilling life now. “I think the big question is just where is home.”
The anchorman nods.
“One last question – how do ordinary people over there, the man on that red Clapham omnibus, how do they feel about the prince? Do they want him to become king one day?”
“Not really. That possibility faded once his sons grew up and people realised that the Queen was likely to reign for a good number of years to come. It would be too late for Charles to make a major career change, although events in the States have surprised some of his critics. And now of course the Princess Royal’s children are more directly involved. It’s a mess and there’s no easy answer in sight.”
“Well, there you are. Thank you Margery Slyne in the UK.”
The picture fades and the curtain slides back.
“So, Mister Charles Windsor, just where is home?”
“About three years back, I thought I was going to run two homes, one here and another in the UK. Lots of people do that if they have business in more than one place. I thought I’d be able to feel at home, have somewhere to retreat to in both countries – because I love both countries.”
“But, there’s that Act of….”The interviewer is cut off by his guest who continues.
“That is not possible – my family have seen to that.”
“So you’ll stay over here.”
Charles nods his head, slowly.
“Yes, of course.” He looks up and smiles at the audience. “You have a wonderful track record here with exiles – in a funny sort of way we’re a nation of exiles. It was only when I became an exile over here that I realised that I’d been an exile all my life.”
He stops now. For a moment it is quiet as the audience realise that Charles has finished.
Then they clap, sporadically at first, then applause takes over the auditorium and sweeps the stage. The two men face each other; the interviewer leans forward as if awaiting the next question. Charles looks at home, is at home, and leans back ready for more questions.