The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997


Mr Major’s Article on HRH The Prince of Wales – 17 March 2003

The text of Mr Major’s article on HRH The Prince of Wales, published on 17th March 2003.


Over recent weeks, much printer’s ink has been spilled over Sir Michael Peat’s inquiry into alleged misconduct within St James’s Palace. The pursuit of HRH The Prince of Wales has been unrelenting. It is also unjust.

Some of the wilder comments even predicted revelations that would shake the Monarchy itself. Others pre-judged the internal inquiry, and condemned it as a “whitewash”.

The reality, as any dispassionate reader must acknowledge, is that – throughout – the report is concise, detailed, comprehensive and critical. It acknowledges mistakes – some of them serious – but puts them in a proper context that illustrates how disproportionate much of the criticism has been. The report is cathartic and should help prevent future controversy. Sir Michael has done his job well and Prince Charles is wise to have accepted his recommendations in full.

Unlike many of his critics, I know the Prince of Wales. He is a man who cares, sometimes too much. He has a social conscience that can be uncomfortable in an heir to the Throne. His forthright views on architecture and the rural community lead him into controversy but there are as many who share his views as oppose them.

He does lobby Ministers – and Prime Ministers – but always within the bounds of propriety and, in my own experience, in support of very good causes. His charitable work is not simply a duty but, especially in the case of The Prince’s Trust, a commitment that matters to him greatly. He is not – and cannot be – above criticism. But some critics go too far. Their excessive zeal has wider ramifications than their personal criticism of the Prince.

There is a scene in the original film of “Goodbye, Mr Chips” in which Chips muses on the habit of exaggeration of one of his pupils: apparently the boy was apt to exaggerate a nought to a nine in his Latin marks. Similar exaggeration is often apparent in the lack of sympathy or understanding offered to Prince Charles with much of it magnified by the belief that an hereditary Monarchy is contrary to the spirit of the times in our egalitarian age.

Such a belief, though often peddled subliminally, does much to belittle the Monarchy. There is, for some, an agenda here: if Members of the Royal Family are undermined, then the Institution of the Monarchy itself begins to wither in public affection. I do not argue for the Royal Family to be above criticism, nor to be deferred to as a matter of course (having been raised in Brixton, I am myself a product of our egalitarian age) but I do ask for a sense of balance. I ask for any criticism to be just. For it not to be exaggerated. Nor, sometimes, invented. And for shortcomings to be weighed alongside virtues.

I am a Monarchist and I care for the Institution of Monarchy. I believe our country would be changed immeasurably for the worse if we were to become a Presidency. I see the intellectual case for such a change but reject it absolutely. Its advocacy is most often heard in the Westminster-Whitehall beltway but, like so much of that chatter, it is not an argument that resonates in the towns and villages of our nation.

One day, Prince Charles will be our King and the embodiment of the Monarchy. Around the world, he will be the symbol of our nation. In due time, Prince William will succeed him. This is the hope and expectation of the vast majority of our nation. There are only a very few who wish to see the unique fabric of our country damaged and the legacy of Monarchy wrecked – chipped away by innuendo and condemned to death by a thousand smears.

As Heir to the Throne, the role of any Prince of Wales is difficult. If he has views and expresses them publicly he is in danger of infringing his constitutional obligation to steer clear of controversy. Of course, he should not be seen to oppose Government policy – but nor, in a mature society, should every nuance of advocacy be seen as a political statement. If his observations are merely of the motherhood and apple pie variety, he is parodied for being without substance or, worse, ignored. If he remains silent, his critics are all too ready to pounce, claiming he has no purpose. For the Prince himself, it must be frustrating beyond measure.

Times are changing for the Monarchy: deference to it is out of fashion and so is tolerance of any human failings within it. But we, the public, can’t have it both ways. If we change our expectation of and attitude towards the Monarchy, then we must accept that they – in turn – must be allowed greater freedom of public expression and action than hitherto. Why should they not have the right to the tolerance so freely offered to others?

Let us suppose, for a moment, that the Prince of Wales were a Commoner. What would we see? A sensitive man, with no malice and much good intent. A man who takes an active interest in several hundred charities to benefit the young, the old, minority groups and the arts. A man who – almost thirty years ago – established his own charity, focused on helping the least privileged in our society: The Prince’s Trust (now the UK’s leading youth charity) has thus far helped almost half a million youngsters to overcome personal hardship or unfortunate circumstance. A man who shares, with so many of his fellow citizens, the pain of a failed marriage but who in the midst of his share of responsibility for that failure has retained the love and affection of his children. A man who has dedicated his life to the country he was born to serve.

The Prince of Wales has honoured that obligation with compassion, tolerance of human failing and a wish to support those most in need. We, as a nation, should at the very least extend to him a similar courtesy.