Prince Charles' tirade against people who aspire to lofty goals beyond their natural talent earned him a rare public rebuke from a senior government minister on Thursday - and gasps of disbelief from the British media.
Education Secretary Charles Clarke branded the heir to the throne "old fashioned" after details emerged of a royal memo written in response to an employee's inquiry about promotion prospects.
"People think they can all be pop stars, high court judges, brilliant TV personalities or infinitely more competent heads of state without ever putting in the necessary work or having natural ability," Charles wrote in the memo, which was read out Wednesday at an employment tribunal.
"Not like you eh, Charles?" countered The Sun, a popular daily that is normally highly supportive of the monarchy. The prince is next in line to the throne by virtue of heredity.
"Don't try to rise above your station," was how The Daily Telegraph newspaper, a pillar of the British establishment, summarized the prince's memo. Another conservative paper, the Daily Mail, devoted its first two pages to the story under the headline: "Don't get above yourself."
In his handwritten note, Charles attacked Britain's education system for encouraging young people to nurture ambitions they are unlikely to fulfill.
"What is wrong with everyone nowadays?" the prince wrote. "Why do they all seem to think they are qualified to do things far beyond their technical capabilities?
"This is to do with the learning culture in schools as a consequence of a child-centered system which admits no failure," Charles said.
"This is the result of social utopianism which believes humanity can be genetically and socially engineered to contradict the lessons of history."
Clarke said he thought Charles should "think carefully" before intervening in any debate about education.
"To be quite frank, I think he is very old-fashioned and out of time and he doesn't understand what is going on in the British education system at the moment," the minister told British Broadcasting Corp. radio.
It is very rare for government figures to publicly criticize members of the royal family, but Prime Minister Tony Blair's office played down the disagreement.
"I know that Charles Clarke values his relationship with the Prince of Wales and enjoys discussions on education with him," a spokeswoman for Blair's office said.
Charles' memo was read out at an employment tribunal where a former personal assistant in his private office, Elaine Day, claimed unfair dismissal. She also claimed sexual harassment by the prince's assistant private secretary, Paul Kefford.
The prince wrote the memo in reply to Day's suggestion that personal assistants with university degrees should be given the opportunity to train to become private secretaries - a more senior position within the royal household. Day excluded herself from the proposal.
Charles concluded the note by writing: "What on earth am I to tell Elaine? She is so (politically correct) it frightens me rigid."
Day, 45, who worked at Clarence House for five years before quitting earlier this year, told the tribunal that the royal household was run in "Edwardian" fashion.
"It's hierarchical, elitist, everyone knows their place and if we forget our place the system will punish us," she said.
Asked by her lawyer how she understood Charles' memo, Day replied: "I completely felt that people could not rise above their station."
Day claims she was effectively forced out of her job after complaining to superiors about the sexual harassment. The prince's office contests the claim.
By Michael McDonough