Prince Charles with his mother, the Queen in the Blue Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace as the Queen hosts a dinner during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting
Wanted: Candidate who has a proven track record in diplomacy, public affairs and all things multi- cultural, an empathy for young people and a passion for the environment. Sense of history preferred. No salary.
Little wonder that the clunkingly obvious person for the job was formally endorsed as the next Head of the Commonwealth yesterday.
It had been the Queen’s ‘sincere wish’ that the Prince of Wales should be acknowledged as her chosen successor to this non-hereditary role.
So last night’s news, confirmed in the leaders’ statement at the close of the Commonwealth summit, will have come as an early present ahead of today’s celebrations for the Queen’s 92nd birthday.
Yesterday, she was doing what she has enjoyed doing for the best part of seven decades as she surrounded herself with the leaders of the 53 Commonwealth nations. She invited them for drinks during their informal ‘retreat’ – the traditional finale of these summits – at Windsor Castle.
She stayed well away from all the networking going on in the state apartments, where the politicians were berthed. Later, they were invited to her side of the castle for refreshments. The Prince of Wales, quite properly, was miles away.
He will no doubt be pleased that this delicate succession issue has been resolved now, at a time of the Queen’s choosing rather than the Almighty’s.
The Prince of Wales greets the Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah in a receiving line for the Queen’s Dinner for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting
Anita Sethi (right of photo, with glasses on her head) meeting Prince Charles at the Commonwealth People’s Forum in London
There has been no change to the process, however, and the Royal Family have not sought one. They understand that the headship must be earned, and not simply inherited. The Duke of Cambridge is well aware of that.
The only grudging footnote to Charles’s appointment as head-in-waiting was a bizarre claim in yesterday’s Guardian. A writer called Anita Sethi has written that she met the prince at this week’s Commonwealth People’s Forum.
According to her account, he deployed that trusty conversation-starter ‘And where are you from?’ – to which she replied: ‘Manchester’.
She then says the prince joked: ‘Well, you don’t look like it!’ As a result, Miss Sethi, who is of Guyanese heritage, now argues that the prince is unfit to lead the Commonwealth.
Ms Sethi says Prince Charles told her ‘you don’t look like you’re from Manchester’
She then says the prince joked: ‘Well, you don’t look like it!’
I am intrigued by this exchange for many reasons – not least the fact that I, too, happened to be at this event. I certainly can’t claim to have heard everything the prince said, but I heard a fair bit and I didn’t hear him say this.
The occasion, frankly, was a bunfight because so many people were jostling to meet him. He was doing the rounds of a London conference centre where thousands of delegates were attending four different forums.
When he walked in to a buffet lunch for the Business Forum delegates, a band of drummers made so much noise that it was impossible to hear the prince say anything. It wasn’t very different two floors up at the People’s Forum where Miss Sethi was in the melee.
The scrum got so bad that one veteran royal photographer simply gave up trying to take a picture and helped himself to a plate of curry. The organisers had tried to line up pre-arranged groups for royal introductions, but it turned in to a free-for-all.
Ms Sethi says she was ‘stunned’ by the prince’s gaffe and she could ‘show him her passport to prove where she was born’
In the midst of this good-natured shambles, Miss Sethi tried to draw the prince’s attention to her latest book – it was then the alleged exchange took place. Clarence House has opted for dignified silence. I can only say that the Sethi version of events bears no relation to the man I have seen in these situations over more than 25 years. The prince has always seen it as his role to act as a bridge between races and cultures, and has done so for longer than perhaps any politician or ‘community leader’ in Britain.
Take his thoughts on the Windrush generation of Caribbean migrants. ‘Thank you for coming and for your contributions to this country,’ he said to hundreds of families at a special Windrush party he organised at St James’s Palace.
Prince Charles greets Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
This wasn’t the other day. It happened in 1998, two decades before those buffoons at the Home Office learned about the legacy of the Windrush.
That same year, I followed him on tours of Sri Lanka and Nepal where he met thousands of people just like those he has been doing this week. No gaffes.
Two years later, I followed him to the Caribbean. We ended up in Guyana, the country where members of Miss Sethi’s family were once indentured workers. There were many engagements in run-down areas of the capital, Georgetown. The prince met the most deprived members of society and went to see a local version of his Youth Business Trust. No gaffes. Ditto in South Africa, Lesotho, Jamaica, Malaysia, Singapore and Trinidad – all Commonwealth countries where I have been glued to the poor man’s every move.
So is Charles, as he nears his 70th birthday, suddenly starting to lose the plot? I don’t think so. Having toured the Commonwealth since the age of five, he is manifestly suited to step in to the Queen’s oceanic Commonwealth shoes when the time comes. He must be the only person (except the Queen) who can identify all of the flags fluttering along the Mall this week.
This is an organisation which cannot open its mouth without banging on about the fact that 60 per cent of its people are under 30. And guess who established the biggest youth charity network in Britain? This week, the Prince’s Trust International, its global arm, was round for tea at Clarence House.
In fact, what is perhaps most striking about his appointment is the lack of controversy. When the EU, UN, Fifa or pretty much any other world body seeks a new head, there is usually a fratricidal dogfight. Here is an organisation spanning 2.4billion people which has just had a selection process devoid of any rancour at all – with the possible exception of Jeremy Corbyn and Miss Sethi.