Prince Charles and THE TRUTH ABOUT THAT cherry brandy affair
THE 14-YEAR-OLD PRINCE WAS CAUGHT ORDERING A FRUITY TIPPLE ON A SCHOOL TRIP
Gordonstoun was chosen as Prince Charles’ senior school and the Duke of Edinburgh drove him there on the opening day of his first term. Charles was left at Windmill Lodge, the house to which he had been allotted.
Windmill Lodge, a long, low stone and timber building with a green asbestos roof, stands about a quarter of a mile from Gordonstoun House.
The dormitories were bleaker than he had yet encountered – bare wooden floorboards, unpainted walls, naked electric light bulbs hanging from the ceiling and no furniture except the beds.
Clothes were changed and kept in the locker rooms; meals were taken in one of the dining rooms at Gordonstoun House, at a table shared with 13 other boys; for private study there were huts to be shared closer at hand.
They take turns waiting at the table; they weed the garden, they clean up the classrooms, making their own beds and cleaning their own shoes.
One of them is a dedicated “waker” to call the rest at 6.45am.
The chore that fell to the Prince of Wales most often in his first term was emptying the dustbins – a joke his housemaster also enjoyed playing on Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia. Prince Charles found it the most appropriate menial task to bring him down to earth with a crash!
As soon as they were awake, the boys paraded in the open air, dressed only in shorts and running shoes, for physical drills or a quick trot round the grounds, followed by a cold shower “to shake the sleep out of them”.
Breakfast was at eight.
Class began at nine and lasted through the morning, though twice a week was interrupted by another spell of physical exercise.
In his second term, the prince qualified for inclusion in one of the crews that replaced each other in succession on one of the two school ketches that sailed round the northern coast. Charles was posted to the Pinta and was on board when the ship arrived in Stornoway, on the Isle of Lewis, on Monday, June 17.
He and four other boys were given leave to have lunch ashore and then go to the cinema. As usual, they were accompanied by the prince’s private detective Donald Green, who had gone to Gordonstoun with him and was normally accommodated in Masters’ quarters.
As they walked to the Crown Hotel, it was soon evident that some of the people in Stornoway had recognised the Gordonstoun boat and had come along to see if the prince was on board. By the time the detective led them into the lounge of the Crown, there was a small crowd forming outside.
Donald Green went off to the cinema to book seats; the boys waited in the hotel lounge for him to come back and join them for lunch.
Meanwhile, the people outside continued to peer in and the prince, who hates being treated as a peep show, grew embarrassed and fidgety.
He recalls that he got “absolutely fed up” and took refuge in the next room of the hotel, where he could be no longer stared at from the outside.
But the next room turned out to be a bar and he realised that this was a place where one was expected to order a drink or go away. Having realised this, Charles was at a loss for what to do.
He was certainly aware that a 14-year-old boy could not drink wine on licensed premises without breaking the rules of Gordonstoun and the laws of the land. But he was not in a mental state to consider any of this at the moment. He
stepped up to the bar and, recalling the drink that he had sometimes been given when out shooting at Sandringham, ordered cherry brandy.
He paid his half-crown to the barmaid, then walked into what he can still only think of as “that dreadful woman” – a freelance journalist.
Other Gordonstoun boys on these sea trips were in the habit of taking a glass of something or other when they came ashore, and the practice was winked at. But the journalist had recognised this particular boy and by next day, the story had gone right round the world.
The uproar came as a sequel to several public criticisms of the prince over the previous year. In September, it had become known that he had shot his first stag on the hills above Balmoral, and the League Against Cruel Sports had passed a motion condemning this.
In March, Charles had been attacked by a minister of the Free Church of Scotland for “invading the Lord’s Day” with a party of other Gordonstoun boys, practising skiing in the Cairngorms on a Sunday.
In May, a Bill for the protection of deer had come before the House of Commons and in Standing Committee one Member referred to “the Duke of Edinburgh, who goes in for this loathsome kind of sport and even brings his child up to do it”.
To make matters worse, the newspaper reports of the Stornoway incident were followed by an official denial – based on a misunderstood telephone conversation with Prince Charles’ detective.
The denial was followed by confirmation of the news story, then the confirmation was followed by a withdrawal of the denial. It was a series of mishaps that served to keep the episode alive longer than it needed to be.
It would no doubt have been given even more attention but for the fact of the Profumo affair, after simmering since March, had now come to the boil. Scandal will still sell more newspapers than royalty.
There was, of course, still the question of what punishment should follow the crime. The Times commented that the headmaster of Gordonstoun would investigate and, if necessary, award punishment; and that a cane was kept for that purpose.
On his return to school, the prince climbed the broad wooden staircase that leads to the headmaster’s study.
On Monday, June 24, it was stated that “the incident was closed”. In fact, the prince was not beaten, though that was the atonement he would have much preferred.
Instead his Junior Training Plan was revoked and he was reduced to the ranks. Though he resignedly set himself to win back his place and succeeded by the end of the term.
It had been a very trivial storm in a teacup, but it made a significant impression on the Prince of Wales. The Queen is able to smile at all the hubbub and thinks that it in the end it did her son good.
Prince Charles learnt
“the hard way” something of the restraints that his position must always place on even his most casual behaviour.
The prince himself tries to laugh at it, but still finds it difficult to do.
After the storm had blown up, and before Charles had left Stornoway, some local wag come down to the quay and, pointing to the name Pinta on the ketch, shouted across: “She’ll belong to the Milk Marketing Board, no doubt?”
It was years before the prince could see anything funny in this.
Above: In 1967, the Queen was in Scotland to collect her eldest son on his last day. Right: Sensitive Charles did not enjoy the strict school.
Above: Prince Philip and Charles were shown around the grounds by Captain Iain Tennant. Below: A dormitory and classroom at the school.