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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 March, 2003, 18:13 GMT
Charles: A prince under fire

By Andrew Walker
BBC News Profiles Unit

Prince Charles
Allegations about his staff have been hanging over Prince Charles
The Prince of Wales' recent walking holiday in the Lake District will have presented him with the perfect opportunity to reflect on recent events which have rocked both his household and the monarchy itself.

At the age of 54, Prince Charles is still in that peculiar limbo which all Princes of Wales have to face. While other men might dream of early retirement, his greatest challenge - to be King - is yet to come.

Besides the fact that he is heir apparent, Charles' constitutional role remains ill-defined: he has to make of it what he will.

Though criticised for what some call his anachronistic lifestyle, especially his love of hunting, in other ways the prince is remarkably modern.

His espousal of organic farming, for instance, prefigured the current huge interest in the subject. And Charles' vociferous, almost evangelical, belief in the benefits of conservation is often ahead of, not behind, the times.

The prince's thought that, when King, he might change his title of "Defender of the Faith" to "Defender of Faith", in order to more closely reflect the multi-cultural nature of modern Britain, cheered many.

Dr Rowan Williams (l) with the prince
Dr Rowan Williams (l): "Glad Charles takes faith communities seriously"
Even so, it provoked criticism from churchmen including the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams.

In a recent interview, Dr Williams remarked, "I am glad the Prince of Wales takes faith communities as seriously as he does.

"But the actual title, there is a historical, constitutional framework for it which you don't just change by fiat."

The prince's public reputation, severely damaged during his estrangement and eventual divorce from his late wife, has been slowly but surely rebuilt - due in no small part to the efforts of his former deputy private secretary, Mark Bolland.

The seeming acceptance by the Royal Family of the prince's companion, Camilla Parker Bowles, has also been hard won.

However, new revelations of scandal, this time in the royal household, threatened to undo everything the prince has been working to achieve.

'No whitewash'

The collapse of the trial of Diana's former butler, Paul Burrell, last November, brought more unwelcome attention on life at the prince's official residence, St James's Palace.

Allegations that there had been a cover-up of a homosexual rape of a servant by another member of staff, that official gifts had been sold and that there had been "improper payments" to palace staff, stung the prince into action.

He asked his private secretary, Sir Michael Peat, to conduct an internal inquiry into the claims.

Sir Michael Peat
Sir Michael Peat has shrugged off criticism of the inquiry
At the time, responding to criticism that there would be no independent investigation, Sir Michael said: "Anyone who says it is going to be a complete whitewash doesn't know me very well."

The publication of the Peat report has not in itself ended the current crisis.

April will see a Channel 4 documentary presented by Diana's former private secretary, Patrick Jephson, which is said to contain more allegations about Charles' staff.

The prince has kept himself out of the limelight recently and was visiting Bulgaria when the Peat report was finally published, three months late.

Immediately prior to the report's release, his mood was reported to be gloomy.

This was not helped by other allegations, including those about a number of Highgrove dinners he and Mrs Parker Bowles are said to have enjoyed with the fugitive Turkish businessman, Cem Uzan, a generous sponsor of Charles' charities.

The report threw out some of the allegations it addressed, but criticised the running of the royal household.

Although Prince Charles' trusted aide Michael Fawcett was cleared of financial impropriety, the report said he did bend the rules by accepting numerous gifts without declaring them, and Fawcett resigned.

The Prince of Wales once quipped that, if he so wished, he could "simply go off and spend the rest of my life skiing".

If the crisis surrounding his household continues, that prospect may seem even more tempting.

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