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Thursday, 12 November, 1998, 12:43 GMT
Charles: Prince with passion
Prince Charles meets All Saints at the Prince's Trust's Party in the Park
Prince Charles meets All Saints at the Prince's Trust's Party
"All I do as Prince of Wales is make the most of it as I see it," Prince Charles once said.

The Prince in pictures
It's not exactly a piercing insight into the perceived duties of a king-in-waiting, but when it comes to job descriptions the role of heir to the throne will always be somewhat open-ended.

Nevertheless, faced with this blank canvas of a career, Charles, a keen watercolours artist, can look back at 50 and feel he has contributed more than a few, token brush strokes.

In the quaint tradition of British aristocracy, Charles is filled with a sense of duty to his country. His lasting achievement - for better or worse - has been to combine this upper-class conscience with causes close to his heart.

His views are often forthright
His opinions are often forthright
The result is a man who, in many ways, has come to be defined by a handful of passions: spirituality, the environment, young people and architecture.

His views are often forthright and candour inevitably courts controversy. But Charles is no-one's puppet and it is this treasured independence that grants a revealing insight into his character - something that is rare with most public figures.

When it comes to spinning good news without fear of backlash, the Prince of Wales publicity machine can best rely on his work with young people.

Leg-up for young

The figures speak for themselves. Since the Prince's Trust was formed in 1976, 33,000 disadvantaged youngsters have been given a leg-up by the charity to start their own business.

The 100 most successful businesses supported by the Trust now collectively turnover 60m a year and employ more than 2,000 people. Recognition of the fund among the public is slightly below Save the Children but on a par with Barnardo's.

The Prince's Trust projects Charles in the sort of warm and benevolent light that Diana achieved so effortlessly with all the causes to which she allied herself.

The Prince has his own organic farm at Highrove
The Prince's organic farm at Highrove
Its objectives appear to embody Charles's yearning to heal society's manifold modern-day ills, from drugs to unemployment. Recently the Prince is said to have suggested the idea of "surrogate parents" - role-model adults who would act as mentors to young people.

Prince Charles's tough standing on environmental issues ought to be just as populist.

He first argued for the benefits of organic farming 14 years ago, long before it became a mass consumer issue; while his recent outspoken attacks on genetically modified crops reflect widespread public scepticism about the practice.

Instead, he has all too frequently been cast in the mould of crank. After all, Charles is the future sovereign who talks to his plants; he's not adverse to hunting and likes taking long, solitary walks to ponder his thoughts.

His charity, Duchy Originals, which was set up by the Prince to sell wholesome organic food from his Highgrove farm, was reported earlier this year, to be on the verge of bankruptcy.

But Charles's environmental principles are not stuck in farming and the countryside. He has been a high-profile supporter of the urban regeneration projects that have helped transform some of Britain's inner cities.

His Urban Task Force, which works on regeneration projects throughout the world, is seen as one of his most effective initiatives.

Courting controversy

However, the inner city has also been hostile territory for Charles, who has been branded an arch conservative for his architectural opinions.

The Prince admiring church icons in Romania
The Prince admiring church icons in Romania
His infamous speech in 1984 - when he referred to the proposed National Gallery extension as a "monstrous carbuncle" - made him many enemies in modernist architectural circles.

It was hugely influential and while other major European states pushed ahead with radically modernist building programmes, Britain opted for the safer haven of neo-Georgian design.

But while his comment infuriated the architectural elite, the Prince undoubtedly tapped into a seam of public sentiment. He impact has been to widen the debate so that 14 years on architecture is a mainstream subject of conversation and regularly written about in the national press.

Elsewhere his efforts to shape Britain's urban landscape have been less assured. His Institute of Architecture is reported to have paid students to attend, so desperate is it to fill classrooms, while his "visionary" architecture magazine, Perspectives, folded earlier this year.

Poundbury, the Prince's "model" architectural village in Dorset, has also struggled to establish the mixed housing and business development he aspires to.

But any attempt to pigeonhole Charles as a narrow-minded conservative seeking some mythical Olde England falls flat with his liberal and progressive views on religion.

Charles visiting a Hindu temple
Charles visiting a Hindu temple
The man who is pencilled in as the Supreme Governor of the Church of England famously told a television interview that as king he wanted to be Defender of Faith rather than Defender of the Faith.

It was a crucial distinction that illustrates how whole-heartedly he has embraced multi-racial, multi-cultural Britain. Again, it is a sign of how Charles hopes to unite the British people.

Although he personally subscribes to the faith to which he was born, he has expressed broad interest in spirituality and called for a "sense of the sacred".

He has shown deep interest in Hinduism and Buddhism while in the late 1980s he said he was determined to learn more about Islam and Judaism.

Brave sentiments indeed, for a monarchy that has been plunged into identity crisis more than once in recent years. But whether Charles will ever get to be his kingdom's Defender of Faith remains to be seen.

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