Prince Charles On Being Relevant

Being Prince Isn't Always Easy, England's Heir Says


As he approaches his 57th birthday, he sometimes feels misunderstood and undervalued. He was educated at Cambridge, can fly jet planes and helicopters, is extremely knowledgeable about the arts, and has tried to carve out for himself a number of different careers — environmentalist, urban planner, real estate developer, and social critic — deeply committed to a vision of what Great Britain was and should be.

His vision is laid out in bricks and mortar in Poundbury, a village of 2,500 people, which he created on his land near Dorchester in the south of England. All his ideas on architectural design, class structure, aesthetics and ecology are here. And what he sees as the future looks very much like the past: an 18th century village adapted for the 21st.

Prince Charles gave Kroft a tour of the village. "And that's a convenience store, which I'm very proud of, which everybody said wouldn't work. That's the pub, which again nobody wanted to touch. But now of course, the values are going up, and up and up."

Kroft remarked that the buildings looked as if they were built to last, lacking flimsy materials.

"Well, that's what I've been trying to encourage people to think about. … To break the conventional mold in the way we've been building and designing for the last, well, during the last century really, has all been part of a throw-away society," Prince Charles said.

Everything in the village is constructed of native or recycled materials, "sustainable development," he calls it, that conserves the Earth's resources.

Single-family homes are mixed with small apartments so there are people of all income levels here living side by side in a community with shops and light industry. The narrow twisty roads discourage automobile traffic, and cars are parked out of sight in landscaped lots.

"The whole of the 20th century has always put the car at the center," the prince explained. "So by putting the pedestrian first, you create these livable places, I think, with more attraction, and interest and character. Livability."

He believes that the modern world with its cars and computers is slowly eroding our humanity, that we are losing touch with the world around us.

The British tabloids have made an industry out of his travails and love to portray him as an out-of-touch eccentric trying to stop progress, an Edwardian hippie with no real-life experience, who's never had to draw his own bath or take out the garbage. He's been constantly ridiculed for what have been called his "undergraduate ramblings," including his innocent admission that he talks to his plants.

"Are you familiar with any of the plants here? Talking to any of them?" Kroft asked.

"Yeah, I know some of them. No, no, no," the prince said, laughing. "No, I do all the time. Not here."

"You've gotten more mileage out of that, I think, than almost anything that's …" Kroft said.

"Just shows you can't make a joke. … Without them taking it seriously. So, it's the same old story," the prince replied.

His image is carefully managed by a communications staff of nine that also handles his umbrella. They made it clear the Prince would not answer questions about his wives, past and present, his sons or the Queen. He mistrusts the media for past abuses, and worries that no one takes him seriously.

"What is the most difficult part of your job? I mean except for talking with people like me?" Kroft asked.

"Yes, exactly," the prince said, laughing. "Oh, dear. I think, that the most important thing is to be relevant. I mean, it isn't easy, as you can imagine. Because if you say anything, people will say, 'It's all right for you to say that.' It's very easy to just dismiss anything I say. I mean, it's difficult. But what I've tried to do is to put my money where my mouth is as much as I can, by actually creating like here, models on the ground. I mean, if people don't like it, I'll go away and do it."

"You are in many ways a public advocate for the traditional. What are the great parts of Great Britain that are worth preserving, besides the monarchy?" Kroft asked.

"Well, there's an awful lot of things that are worth preserving," the prince said with a laugh. "The trouble, I think, in today's world is we abandon so many things unnecessarily, so often in the name of efficiency. If you make everything over-efficient, you suck out, it seems to me, every last drop of what, up to now, has been known as culture. We are not the technology. It should be our — you know, our slave, the technology. But it's rapidly becoming our master in many areas, I think."

Prince Charles says he is not trying to stop progress. "I'm just trying to say that we ought to redefine the way in which progress is seen. Is it progress to rush headlong into upsetting the whole balance of nature, which is what, I think, we're beginning to do?

"You know, if you look at the latest figures on climate change and global warming, they're terrifying, terrifying."