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 – 16 November 2003

The text of Mr Major’s article on HRH The Prince of Wales, published in The Sunday Times on 16th November 2003.


These have been dire days for the Royal Family. The “revelations” of a former butler have been followed by wholly uncorroborated – and deeply unpleasant – allegations about an incident involving Prince Charles.

I have known the Prince of Wales for nearly 20 years and believe the allegations to be inconceivable; indeed, they are so outrageous they should never have been aired without evidence – of which there is none.

They derive solely from a sick man known to be an unreliable witness; a man whose previous stories have been proved to be untrue; a man suffering from traumatic stress disorder; a man who has received psychological care; a man evidently in a poor mental and physical state who may not appreciate fully what he is saying and the pain and distress it causes. Poor Mr George Smith, the source of these stories, needs medical care not banner headline publicity and I am astounded that worldly-wise media outlets – whilst privately acknowledging the unlikelihood of the allegations – should have created such a storm. Ultimately, it will abate – not least because the claims are so fanciful – but there is debris and damage in its wake, together with further sordid cuttings to be drawn upon in the future.

Moreover, these allegations have not been confined to our own shores, but have created ever more sensational headlines around the world. As it becomes clear they are groundless, what corrective headlines will there be? Precious little, I imagine: headline material is not re-visited when stories are proved to be wrong; nor is much prominence given to the fact that the claims are discredited as well as discreditable.

I wonder sometimes at the motives of these tale bearers. What is it – money? The desire for publicity? Revenge? And why are such fanciful stories aired – is it the basic commercial need to create news and sell newspapers whatever the personal cost may be? How is it possible to ignite worldwide interest in something so obviously untrue?

Are we now in a world in which peep-hole journalism will print anything – true or false, that is said by anyone – sick or healthy, on the grounds that the subject is a public figure and therefore the public has a “right to know”? What sort of “right” is this? A right to know of lies; a right to know of smears and innuendo; if this is the future, it is a bleak one for us all.

When The Queen referred to 1992 as an Annus Horribilis neither she, nor anyone else, could have dreamt that members of Her Family would still be under sustained, and unjustified, attack a full decade later. Nor could the Prince of Wales have imagined he would still be a favourite target in the shooting gallery.

The Prince of Wales does not deserve this. Throughout the whole of his adult life, public duty and obligation have been his backbone. Nor is this simply his perception of the role of a Royal: he is a man who cares – perhaps too much – and must be left bewildered over how his best intentions can so often be distorted.

In areas where the Prince is open to criticism, it has been poured upon him in rich measure. No-one should imagine that his high position protects him: in fact, the converse is true and with each fresh batch of headlines, his critics become bolder and less inhibited by fact.

Nor is the Prince of Wales the only victim of this on-going feeding frenzy: the pain and distress falls upon wholly innocent shoulders as well. Prince William and Prince Harry have lived through a decade of storms. Notwithstanding their heartache at the break-up of their parents’ marriage – as traumatic for them as for any other children in similar circumstances – they had the added torment of seeing their mother hunted and haunted by the demands of an insatiable media up to the very moment of her tragic death. Now they see the full focus of calumny turned upon their only surviving parent to whom they are so close.

I have never written or spoken of the occasional privileged access that I have had to the Royal Family – but one small glimpse into their private lives might illustrate the concern I feel for the impact of publicity upon the two Princes. A few years ago, I called on the Prince of Wales early one morning. We talked over the breakfast table. Prince William listened avidly whilst the younger Prince Harry interested himself in the sports pages of the morning press. After a while, Prince Harry put the paper aside and both sons turned towards their father.

There was not a shred of doubt about the affection on those young faces; even less doubt that it was returned. Here was no dysfunctional unit but a family bonded by the humour, teasing and loving concerns that characterise the very best of family relationships. Perhaps those who have no mercy upon the Prince of Wales might reflect upon the secondary agonies they inflict upon his children? Most especially, perhaps, Prince William. As he moves into adulthood his obligations as second in line to the Throne will become a greater part of his life. Having witnessed through childhood the malicious treatment of those he has loved most in the world, he would have good reason to look into the future with a heavy heart. It is a measure of the man he has become that he does not.

I wrote earlier of the “right to know”: and there is much the world does have a right to know about the Prince of Wales. They should know he founded his own charity, The Prince’s Trust, to help the least privileged in our society. They should know this is a consuming interest for him and that, as a result, many thousands of young people are helped annually to overcome hardship and achieve their ambitions. They should know the Prince is a redoubtable defender of our Armed Forces; that he has the courage to speak out for unfashionable causes; and that he speaks passionately in private for those who cannot speak for themselves.

Inside the public Prince is a private man, a sensitive man, a man who hopes for personal tranquillity. Despite a brave outward demeanour, he must have been wounded by recent publicity because – knowing it to be untrue – he will not understand why it has been given such currency. If that is too innocent, too naïve, for a man born to be King, then I much prefer such human vulnerability, to the knowing cynicism that so often masquerades as worldly wisdom.

One day, Prince Charles will be King: the most visible presence of our Monarchy and the symbol of our Country to the world. To pull him down with false testimony is not only profoundly unjust to the Prince of Wales as an individual, it is also a grave injustice to the interests of the institution of Monarchy and our Nation as a whole.