As Prince Charles marks his 65th birthday this Thursday, November 14th, he reaches an age when most people prefer to focus on drawing a pension, blissful days of retirement and slowing down. Instead, Prince Charles has steadily increased his royal duties, including this week’s tour of India and Sri Lanka where he will be representing the Queen at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, Prince Charles is proving that he’s just getting started.
To mark the occasion, many publications are paying tribute and reflecting on Charles’s life as the oldest monarch-in-waiting in British history, surpassing William IV, who was 64 when he ascended to the throne in June 1830. An interesting quote from a tribute in Time magazine describes Charles as “a royal activist, deploying his influence to move the dial on everything from climate change to community architecture, integrated medicine to interfaith relations”. The article continues, “His supporters hail him as a visionary; his detractors dismiss him as a privileged crank. Inside the bubble of his strange existence that notion of privilege is undercut by a sense of lifelong isolation, a childhood short on parental warmth, a sinew-toughening education that separated him from his three siblings, a culture that still sees many of those close to him bending the knee and calling him ‘Sir’.”
In the Time article, Britain’s former chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks describes Prince Charles as “both ahead and behind his time. He is not of his time.” In the 1980s-1990s Prince Charles was ridiculed for his strong belief in organic farming, for protecting the environment by banning his then-wife Princess Diana from using hairspray that contained environmentally unfriendly chemicals and for preferring homeopathy and natural medicine instead of conventional medicine. Today, one could credit Charles as a visionary since many of these beliefs have now penetrated our mainstream culture.
During a speech when he was only 29 years old, Charles reflected on the many years before he would become King. “My great problem in life is that I do not really know what my role in life is,” he told an audience at Cambridge University, viewing the idea of a life with nothing to do as a form of torture.
In search of a role, Charles solicited advice from many people including his grandmother, the Queen Mother, his beloved great uncle Lord Mountbatten, and even Richard Nixon, who recommended Charles just be a “presence” (Charles rejected this advice). Finally, politician and diplomat Christopher Soames shared a life-changing secret with the young prince. Soames explained that few people would turn down an invitation to meet the heir to the throne, especially if a fancy dinner and high-profile guests were part of the mix.
Through these dinners, Charles lured many of the world’s most affluent guests to his table, extracting some of their wealth to fund his charitable endeavors. One example is a 2009 meeting where Charles brought to St. James’s Palace eight of the world’s elected leaders from Australia, France, Germany, Guyana, Indonesia, Italy, Japan and Norway, as well as then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, four British cabinet members, some non-elected leaders and heads of international institutes to discuss his idea for an emergency fund to protect the world’s rainforests. The meeting triggered an intergovernmental process that in 2010 created a $6.4 billion fund to help rain forest countries. World Bank head Bob Zoellick, who attended the meeting, said that any American witnessing this event would have voted at once for the restoration of the monarchy.
Charles has emerged into possibly the most productive period of his life. His work is meaningful, makes a difference and can be measured through some eye-opening statistics: From April 2012-March 2012, Charles raised $224 million for the 25 charities he founded. These same charities now employ 1,800 people. Since its founding in 1976, Charles’s flagship Prince’s Trust charity has helped over 650,000 young people. In addition to the 657 engagements he completed in 2012, Charles is now taking on some of the Queen and Prince Philip’s engagements, making him one of the busiest members of the royal family.
Charles’s personal life is thriving too. After the unhappy scandals and public fights with Princess Diana, he has found happiness in his second marriage to Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall. According to Time, Charles and Camilla share the same “sense of the ridiculous” that can make them lose their regal composure. This summer, during a display of clog dancing at Llwynywermod, their home in Wales, she laughed until her mascara ran, and he laughed with her, their affection palpable. In addition to his happy marriage, Charles is enjoying watching his sons become men. Overflowing with happiness at William and Catherine’s wedding, Charles has made no secret of his joy of becoming a grandfather. As son Harry prepares to trek across Antarctica with charity Walking With the Wounded, Charles has taken great pride in Harry’s efforts to balance his distinguished military career with his dedication to his charities.
Following the example of his mother, Queen Elizabeth, Charles’s strongest legacy to date may well be his dogged and determined efforts to make the world a better place. With shining eyes, he says, “I’ve had this extraordinary feeling, for years and years, ever since I can remember really, of wanting to heal and make things better.” When reviewing his long apprenticeship as Prince of Wales and the work he’s completed to date, Charles is proving that he can carve out a unique and meaningful role while also creating lasting change for the people he serves.
Happy 65th birthday, Sir!