I totally enjoyed reading "Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life" by Sally Bedell Smith, Random House, 2017.
Let's face it, the prince is a bit of a nerd but the more I read about him the more I enjoyed getting to know him. Of course, there are salacious things about his life that make good reading -- his unhappy marriage to Diana, his happy marriage to Camilla, his immense wealth, his passion for polo -- but he has a serious side, too.
He is the man who will be king, even for a short time, before the arrival of William and Kate.
Smith's treatment of the prince was even-handed, I think, and she certainly went to pains to describe his charities and his social interests. "After more than four decades on the job," she wrote, "the Prince of Wales could point to a substantial legacy. He was a tireless champion of poetry, the plays of Shakespeare, and new models for teaching and raising levels of literacy."
He also is an accomplished artist. Limited editions of his watercolor lithographs priced at $4,000 apiece and higher, have over 25 years contributed $9 million to his charities.
One one visit to England some years ago, I was lucky enough to buy two notecards -- copies of Charles' watercolors -- one of Windsor Castle and one of perhaps the Scottish highlands. I had them framed and they hang in my Colorado mountain home reminding me always of a romantic England. Charles was deeply influenced by the luminous 18th century painter J.M.W. Turner. My British friends tell me the notecards are no longer sold in National Trust stores so I treasure mine even more.
Charles also in his years in public life started schools for architects, artists, teachers and artisans. He debated myriad topics related to urban planning and architecture and raised awareness of his pet projects from the plight of small farmers to the need for interfaith understanding, from the restoration of industrial centers and historic sites to the sales and promotion of healthy foods. He involved businesses around the world in improving communities, and was and still is an environmental preservationist.
Against the early wishes of his family, he initiated a charity he called The Prince's Trust, which celebrated its 40th anniversary last year. He can point to more than 825,000 young people who learned skills and gained employment through his charity. One of the many success stories coming out of The Prince's Trust was Idris Elba, the TV star, who got his first break from a trust subsidy of $2,000.
Charles' belief in traditional human-scale, pedestrian-centered communities came to life with the creation of a town called Poundbury. As of 2016, Poundbury was home to about 3,000 people (many wealthy retirees) and 185 businesses employing 2,100 people. A primary school was under construction last year and its two factories -- Dorset Cereals and Dorchester Chocolates -- are thriving, according to author Smith.
I hope to visit Poundbury in Dorset and stay in the Duchess of Cornwall Inn and of course visit the pub. Charles called it "the project of my lifetime" and I want to support him. I would imagine that more Americans than Brits appreciate Poundbury, which was in part based on the plans and scale of Seaside, Florida. I will write about my visit slowly and in great detail after it takes place, that's a promise.
But what about Diana? Smith gives Charles the benefit of the doubt about his first marriage. "After five mostly unhappy years of marriage, Charles had indeed given up. He genuinely believed -- a point that Diana would dispute -- that he had...'turned himself inside out for her,' but her needs were inexhaustible."
Diana had no interest in the things her husband loved -- polo, painting, gardening, country pursuits. She was indifferent to architecture, alternative medicine and the environment. She sarcastically called her husband "they boy wonder."
"One of the saddest aspects of Diana's short and tragic life was the failure of those around her to convince her to get a proper diagnosis and treat her extreme symptoms of mental instability," wrote Smith. Diana was capable of putting on a great show while out in public but in private she was paranoid, depressed, attempted suicide multiple times, and kept those closest to her on tenterhooks with sudden mood swings, explosive rages and long sulks.
Charles, his advisers and staff, dealt with her "bewildering and often infuriating behavior" by trying to placate or distract her and ultimately, out of frustration, by abandoning her.
By comparison, the grounded if not boring Camilla must have looked like a welcome home. And by all accounts their marriage has been a happy one that has even brought the Queen solace as she heads a family including married grandchildren that appears to be loving and stable.
I suppose many people will take umbrage at the good press Charles receives in this book, but perhaps it's time that his side of the story was not just told but explained with compassion and hindsight. I enjoyed it.
-- Reach Elisabeth Sherwin at email@example.com
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