There is a paradox at the heart of Tom Bower’s latest biographical exercise. In the introduction he professes to be a committed monarchist who wants the Prince of Wales to inherit the throne; yet his account is so relentlessly hostile as not only to make Charles seem unfit to be king but to discredit the entire royal family and the institution it embodies. Rebel Prince reads like a republican tract and its hapless antihero emerges as the best advertisement for an elected head of state since Æthelred the Unready. With friends like Bower, the monarchy certainly doesn’t need enemies.
This is not to say that his account of Charles’s life since the death of Princess Diana is a complete misrepresentation. On the contrary, the prince he portrays here is quite recognisable and his descriptions of Charles’s struggle to make his former mistress acceptable to his future subjects are all too familiar. Charles emerges as earnest, woolly minded, petulant, pampered and self-pitying. He appears as a thick twit (to paraphrase Alastair Campbell) who sees himself as a shaman and a sage, heedlessly flogging his architectural, agricultural and medical hobbyhorses.
Charles is also a bundle of contradictions. He is keen to be accessible yet insists on keeping his distance. He combines progressive aspirations with archaic instincts, green impulses with gas-guzzling tastes, weakness with obstinacy. An avowed enemy of privilege and pomposity, he was offended by Tony Blair’s addressing