CHARLES, THE PEACE PROCESS AND WHY HE PUT ASIDE HIS GRIEF OVER MOUNTBATTEN
A new biography of the Prince of Wales, published to mark his 70th birthday, reveals Charles’ absorption in Irish affairs, north and south. Its author, veteran royal-watcher Robert Jobson, tells Laurence White why the Prince considers the Queen’s visit to
After his beloved great uncle Lord Louis Mountbatten was murdered by the IRA — he and three others died when a bomb was exploded by remote control on their pleasure boat off the Sligo coast on August 27, 1979 — Prince Charles was heard to remark: “It made me want to die, too.”
Mountbatten was much more than just a relative. Charles described him as “the grandfather I never had” and throughout his life the pair were extremely close.
As well as a friend, Mountbatten was a mentor and one of the first people Charles went to for advice.
Yet, in spite of the horror of that August day Prince Charles, who turns 70 next week, has a deep affection for both parts of Ireland and, according to a new book published to mark his seventh decade, is hugely interested in what goes on here.
Author Robert Jobson says: “Many people regard the Commonwealth as the Queen’s greatest achievement during her lengthy reign, but Charles sees her mood-changing visit to Dublin in 2011 as her most important legacy.
“Both are fixated by Irish politics. He has been described to me by someone very close to him as a ‘political anorak’.
When it comes to the minutiae of Irish politics, the Queen is untouchable. After all, she was able to see, on a weekly basis, all kinds of top secret material about Ireland during the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties, when she met the various Prime Ministers during their terms of office.
“The Queen and Prince Charles have very long, detailed and totally private conversations about Ireland. Many people believe that the two only meet when royal duties have to be discussed, but that is not the case. They meet regularly and discuss all sorts of things.”
According to Jobson — a former royal correspondent, now author and broadcaster, who has spent nearly 30 years as a royal watcher — the interest in Ireland pre-dated Mountbatten’s death.
“While that dreadful murder obviously had a huge impact on the royal family, for the Queen and Prince Charles the creation of better political relationships between Ireland and the UK was more important than the personalities involved.”
Jobson in his book (it is not an official biography, but Prince Charles’ office, Clarence House, co-operated with the author, who also interviewed past and present members of the royal household) recalls how the Prince made an emotional journey to Mountbatten’s holiday home in Sligo in May 2015, passing the spot where a terrorist pressed the remote control switch that blew up the boat sailing in the bay below.
A small cross marks the spot and, as the cavalcade passed, it slowed almost to a halt before continuing to the castle. There, Charles whispered to a local villager: “It’s been a long time.
I never thought it would happen” — a reference to the length of time he had been waiting to make that pilgrimage.
But Jobson (right) reveals it was also a cathartic experience, with Charles later saying: “At the time, I could not imagine how we would come to terms with the anguish of such a deep loss.
“Through this dreadful experience, I now understand, in a profound way, the agonies borne by others on these islands, of whatever faith or political persuasion.”
Jobson adds: “He recognises that reconciliation is a difficult process. He believes that you have to forgive, even if you cannot forget, otherwise nothing will be achieved. What happened happened, and nothing will bring back those whose lives were lost.”
Jobson also gives an illuminating insight into the Prince’s feelings. In quiet moments of reflection Charles talks to his departed loved ones, including Mountbatten, and in that way keeps their spirits alive in his heart.
Mountbatten had ignored Garda advice when he went on that fateful fishing trip. According to Jobson, Charles has a somewhat fatalistic approach to his own mortality. “He once told me: ‘There is nothing you can do if your name is on the bullet’. However, he heeds the advice of those charged with ensuring his safety, but does not believe that he should take any additional precautions. He believes the professionals know their job and that enables him to get on with his job. Otherwise, he would never go out the door.”
Five years after the Mountbatten murder the IRA also tried to kill Charles and Diana as they were attending a Duran Duran concert at the Dominion Theatre in London. A bomb was planted near where they were sitting, but the plot was foiled because the device was never primed.
Sean O’Callaghan, the IRA man-turned-informer, claimed the couple owed their lives to him, as he had been charged with planting the device and ensured that it would not go off.
Perhaps one of the most astonishing images to emerge from his visits to the Republic was in Co Kerry, where he and Camilla walked on Derrynane Strand. She kicked off her shoes and walked barefoot on the sand, a “candid” moment that produced that different photograph that local photographers were hoping for.
In a way it showed how both the locals and the royals viewed the now fairly frequent visits with a warmth reflecting
Reconciliation is hard... he believes you must forgive, even if you cannot forget, otherwise nothing will be achieved
the changed political atmosphere. But his most frequent visits to this island have been north of the border. He and Princess Diana came to Enniskillen to visit survivors of the Remembrance Day bombing 10 days after that horror. Although Diana carried out several royal engagements in Northern Ireland, that was the only time they appeared as a couple.
Charles, as Jobson says in his book, is enchanted by the land, culture, poetry and Celtic history. While most people can recall the astonishment that followed the Queen speaking in Irish in her historic address during her initial Dublin visit, Charles also addressed an audience in the Republic with a few words of Irish in May last year.
But he showed his appreciation of the controversies over language during a visit to the Seamus Heaney HomePlace, when he revealed he had commissioned a new musical piece set to words by poets in English, Irish and Ulster-Scots. The Prince also recorded a reading of the Heaney poem The Shipping Forecast as one of the exhibits at the centre.
According to Jobson, Charles is frustrated by the public perception of his work and that he is somewhat flighty in his interests.
“He wants to see a better world and greater consideration given to the environment and the current problem with plastics in the oceans. He tries his best to get things done, but in a non-partisan way. He can be political in a small ‘p’ sense and, as Prince of Wales, he can make a difference. He can convene gatherings of people to get things done.
“There have been only 21 Princes of Wales before him and many of them were blaggards and drunkards and womanisers. This Prince of Wales is the most serious and political that we have ever had and I think he has made a difference.”
The author points out how the Prince is the second-biggest employer in the Dumfries part of Ayrshire, following the ending of coalmining and the closure of a boot-making factory. He headed a consortium which bought Drumfries House and estate and put up a £20m loan from his own charitable trust. It now provides educational and employment opportunities for young people in the area. He blames “pernicious lies”, including those put about by Princess Diana, for his sometimes poor public image, according to Jobson. A rumour that he had smuggled Camilla on to the royal train before his marriage for a night of passion was a fabrication, as is the suggestion that he has a flunky to squeeze toothpaste on to his toothbrush.
Jobson also reveals how Charles was deeply hurt when he was virtually airbrushed out of the lives of William and Harry in a film Diana: Our Mother, Her Life And Legacy, which his sons had endorsed.
It was a soul-bearing exercise by the two princes, but some disagreed with the omission of Charles. One insider told Jobson that it was accepted the film would be largely about Diana, “but it would have been nice if they had acknowledged his contribution to their upbringing. He was — and tries to be — a jolly good father, after all”.
Jobson also reveals that the princes, contrary to their public image, can be somewhat wilful at times.
He cites how William, as second-inline to the throne, expects even Harry to bear his status in mind and how Harry became so demanding of his staff before his recent marriage to Meghan Markle — “What Meghan wants, Meghan gets”, he said at one stage — that the Queen took him aside and asked him to show more respect.
As for the future, providing Charles outlives his mother, he will be king, says Jobson, no matter if there is a public stirring that the succession should skip a generation.
“Already he is the shadow king. He and the Queen see all the papers from the Government and he and other members of the royal family are undertaking more and more of her duties. He has about 600 engagements a year and the Queen will never make another overseas trip.
“This is not an X Factor monarchy. You don’t get the job by public acclaim. Already plans are being laid to make Charles Prince Regent when the Queen reaches the age of 95; she is currently 92. She will not abdicate, but simply step aside and let Charles effectively become king. The Regency allows for that.
“It is likely that Charles will be the oldest-ever person to ascend the throne and have one of the shortest reigns. Recently, in London, the Queen announced that he would be head of the Commonwealth in succession to her, but he is effectively that now, as Her Majesty will not be undertaking any further long-distance engagements.”
So, what is Charles like as a person? Jobson says: “Both a very funny man with good comic timing and also a serious person, but a warm one.
“He is a workaholic, frequently putting in 14-hour days and often falling asleep over his reading. No one can tell him to stop.
“Like me, he likes to paint to relax, but recently he told me he doesn’t have time to do it anymore. In some ways, he feels he is running out of time to get all the things done that he wants to do.”
Charles At Seventy: Thoughts, Hopes And Dreams by Robert Jobson, published by John Blake, £20
The Queen at Aras An Uachtarain in Dublin with Irish President Mary McAleese in 2011
Prince of Wales and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall visit Mullaghmore in 2015 where his great-uncle Lord Mountbatten (top) was killed in an IRA explosion in 1979. The tiny harbour(centre), and (above) the remains of the boat, Shadow V
Princess Diana visiting Enniskillen with Prince Charles in the wake of the 1987 bomb