The Prince And His Pen

Britain's Prince Charles listens to delegates prior to addressing a Celebrating Achievement conference at St James's Palace in London in this Thursday, Jan. 26, 2006 file photo.
This story was written by CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips.

There was an unspoken hope around the time of the Charles and Camilla wedding last year that, with his romantic life finally resolved, the prince and heir would finally go away as a news story.

Fat chance.

Much as Charles had provided grist for the mill over the years, there was a genuine desire amongst British royalists and even the Charles-weary press that the world's longest serving apprentice (where's The Donald when we need him?) would, at last, drop out of the headlines and quietly get on with his job of waiting to be king.

It was not to be. Charles has been making headlines again.

This time the issue isn't whether he'll marry and what his wife's official status will be. It's whether the future monarch should be meddling in hot button political matters such as human rights and high-level diplomacy.

Charles, it turns out, is an irrepressible diary keeper and letter writer. And while he may maintain that his jottings are for private consumption only, they somehow keep becoming embarrassingly public. Not only that, the more the prince has tried to keep his writing out of the public domain, the more circulation they've received — and the more ridicule.

There have been two major, recent incidents.

The first was a diary — a kind of royal blog — that Charles kept as he went to Hong Kong in 1997 to be the Queen's official representative at the hand-over of the former British colony to the Chinese. It was inconvenient enough that an apparently disgruntled former staff member, who had a copy of the princely musings, supplied them to a British newspaper. It was even worse for what they contained.

Charles' description of the Chinese political leadership as "appalling old waxworks" was not only diplomatically unsettling, it immediately raised the "it takes one to know one" question. The impression was compounded by the fact that Charles also complained bitterly that he was forced to fly business class (in a specially cleared cabin) while government ministers flew first. "It's the end of Empire," he wrote. And not a moment too soon, some thought.

So what was Charles' response to the damaging publication? He made it worse. He went to court to seek an injunction against further publication. When his writings were placed on the court record as evidence, they became part of the public domain. So more newspapers published them.

I don't know if Prince Charles education included much discussion of the law of unintended consequences, but he's getting a crash course in it now.

Then, just as the diaries issue began to simmer down, the flames of indignation were stoked once again.

This past week, a letter was leaked (one of many, apparently) that Charles sent to a British cabinet minister complaining about government policy. In this case it was a criticism of new human rights legislation that Charles felt would lay the military open to litigation. The prince is the honorary Colonel-in-Chief of several British regiments.

Charles' point was that the new law would encourage more challenges to the authority of the military in what he views as an increasingly litigious society. When Lord Ervine, then Britain's chief legal official, responded in a letter to the prince that there was no evidence for his claims, Charles scrawled "rubbish" on his copy. Pity that the letter, complete with cranky royal comments, then showed up in The London Times.

The old adage about ceasing to dig when you're in a hole also seems to have been lacking in Charles' education. The prince, his friends said, sees himself as a dissident whose role it is to question popular convention or public policy when he feels so moved. Hence his public comments on the state of modern architecture, or the demise of sustainable family farming or the annoying tendency of some classes of people not to know their place.

Once he becomes king though, his friends also say, he'll know it's time to shut up. Or so they hope.
By Mark Phillips