Prince Charles likes to start his day listening to a Harry Potter audio-book in his bedroom at Highgrove as he does his morning stretches.
‘The tapes sat in a pile by my bed for ages, but as soon as I played them, I was hooked.
‘I’m a huge fan. JK Rowling is absolutely the best thing. I’m staggered that someone can write so beautifully.
‘I get swept up into a completely different world while I clean my teeth and do my exercises to keep my back going and to stay, you know, vaguely kind of fit.’
Afterwards, before a frugal breakfast, he prays.
‘That is vital, in order for me to achieve peace,’ he adds, but his face darkens as he broods on how his public lectures on the sacred are received.
‘As usual I am rubbished and ridiculed,’ he says bitterly.
Weekend magazine shared Mary Riddell’s 2001 interview with Prince Charles (pictured at Highgrove), his first since Diana’s death, in celebration of their Silver Jubilee
Who is the Prince of Wales? A joyful enthusiast or a melancholic doomed, in his own eyes, to be forever misinterpreted and misunderstood? At the outset, it is hard to know.
At 10am on a sunny day, a praetorian guard of royal aides musters outside the Highgrove function room.
An interview with ‘The Boss’ is a rare event, and there’s an undertow of tension.
‘We can’t have all these people walking around,’ hisses someone.
‘He will get agitated. He’ll go epic.’
A half-dismantled marquee, the venue for a charity party where Shirley Bassey sang two days before, sags in the heat.
Two dead rabbits heading for a casserole lie on the kitchen doorstep.
The man standing at the door of his small sitting room, hand outstretched in greeting, looks neither agitated nor epic.
His hair is parted, as if by micrometer, a strict two inches above his left ear.
He wears a gold and navy striped tie, a suit in Prince of Wales check and oxblood tasselled loafers.
In his lapel is a white chrysanthemum, and a knuckle-duster gold signet ring glitters from a big, spade-like, countryman’s hand.
Only a coral friendship band round one wrist dilutes the traditionalism. This is as casual as it gets. The look, I suspect, is part-uniform, part-camouflage.
This is the first major interview he has given since his televised confession of adultery in 1994.
In the intervening years, the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, provoked a clamour of public mourning and murmurs of dissatisfaction with a monarchy seen by some as inert, bloated or over-costly.
Prince Charles (pictured centre with Harry and William in 2000) said he felt very lucky to have his sons
The prince’s sons are growing up and he, once demonised as the bad husband, is now 52 and acknowledged as a devoted father who somehow steered his children through a minefield of grief and loss and scrutiny to become ostensibly carefree young men.
‘They are terrific, and I’m very lucky to have them,’ he says, but he would rather talk of other people’s sons.
It is 25 years since Charles set up his Prince’s Trust, which has helped 400,000 young people fulfil their potential.
‘I want to remove the dead hand of frustration and boredom,’ he told the House of Lords in his maiden speech, and he has worked ever since to help the homeless, jobless, young offenders, single parents and potential entrepreneurs.
I used to love Dire Straits, but that dates me. Then there’s soul, and I used to rather like the Spice Girls. Great fun, actually
The prince, I am told, will restrict himself to issues broadly surrounding his work, but in the 70 minutes we spend together, he talks, honestly and movingly, of his hopes and resentments.
The trust is his central mission and the one, I suspect, that holds more of a key to him than even he might realise.
From the outset, the ‘dead hand of boredom and frustration’ afflicting the deprived also threatened a prince destined to queue into middle age, and perhaps beyond, to fulfil his destiny.
‘I’ve tried to make the most of the position I’m now in. If that kills me in the process, then it does,’ he says, rather oddly.
For all his privilege, Charles also suffered a sort of exclusion.
He went to Cheam preparatory school, and then to Gordonstoun, which he loathed.
Fellow pupils allegedly lined up at rugby to kick the heir to the throne, who wrote home, pleading but to no avail, that school was ‘absolute hell’.
Did his work stem from personal deprivation? ‘It doesn’t matter how much money or how many possessions you have,’ he says.
‘People can still be lonely or unhappy. You’re not immured in some wonderful shell.’
Prince Charles (pictured in 2002) claims he was inspired to continue looking after people following his time in the Royal Navy
But did he personally experience loneliness and despair? ‘Obviously, when I was at school, I was lonely.
‘I suppose I was an oddity, and that made it more difficult. People were hesitant about making friends because they thought they’d be accused of sucking up.
‘But I like to think I have a fertile imagination about other people’s problems.
‘I spent some time in the Royal Navy and had to look after sailors from all walks of life.
‘I had to deal with their problems, look after them when they were drunk, and I wanted to carry on looking after people. I happened to mind about this country.’
Among his greatest plus points is the way in which he, a child starved of affection, has nurtured his sons.
William, 19, who returned recently from his gap year trip to Africa, and Harry, 16, his father’s polo team-mate, tease him endlessly over his old-fashioned ways.
Marry again? Who knows what the Good Lord plans
He, in turn, tries never to be an autocratic father.
‘You can attempt to impose rules and regulations, but those don’t always work.
‘I try to pull their legs before they pull mine off by the roots, I’m a great believer in teasing. But there’s also a position you try to hold.
‘You have to be very careful, I don’t think you want to be best friends with your children. It’s more about striking a subtle balance.’
Do the boys keep him up to date on clothes and music? ‘No, no, no. All they say is “You won’t like this.”
‘Occasionally they’ll say, “You will like this,” if they’ve found something that will make me laugh or some music they know I’ll be fond of, but mostly there’s just this duh-duh-duh beat of their music in the background.
‘I don’t complain. I get complained about by them, instead, over what’s on my book table or the music I listen to.
Prince Charles revealed he was grateful to have musicians including Tom Jones (pictured with the prince and Destiny’s Child in 2008) fly in for a fundraising concert
‘It’s hard to keep up. At my age, you tend to stay with what you like.
‘I’m not going to go around pretending I’m something I’m not. It isn’t right. It isn’t me to go to the Party In The Park dressed in denim.’
Though he is grateful to the bands flying in for this fundraising concert tomorrow, he has no clue who most of them are.
‘Who would I recognise?’ he says, flipping through the faxed list of artistes.
‘Ah, Tom Jones.’ At home he listens to jazz. ‘And I’m an admirer of dear old Phil Collins, and Jools Holland.
‘I used to love Dire Straits, but that dates me. Then there’s soul, and I used to rather like the Spice Girls. Great fun, actually.’
If his late wife Diana had lived, she would have been 40 a few days after we meet, and the publicity is building.
I want to put the great back into Britain
Does Charles think of her now, as old memories are reawakened? ‘The truth is that the children mind about the way in which she is dealt with.
‘It must be quite difficult for them, I think. I wish people could just let her soul rest in peace without all these constant reminders.’
Portraits of the boys sit on his mantelpiece – two little cameos taken years ago and pasted into what looks like a cheap brass frame.
In a formal room filled with gloomy oil paintings, shelves of books and a hoop of potted jasmine, this emblem of family life stands out.
I say, idly, that he seems a very normal dad, and he says, in a voice suddenly querulous and huffy, ‘I don’t see why people think I am abnormal.’
There is, he means, a vast gulf between his image and his work.
Prince Charles (pictured with his grandmother the Queen Mother, Prince William and Prince Harry in 2001) has spent an extensive amount of his own money on his Trust and claims people have written him speaking about how the Trust has helped their life
Over 25 years, he has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds of his own money on his trust.
‘My office is a gigantic charitable organisation,’ he says. ‘It costs a lot if you believe in doing it properly, and I do.
‘People write and tell me that if it wasn’t for the Trust, they’d have committed suicide, gone on drugs, continued a life of crime, or never been able to make anything of their life.
‘I’ve been trying to get through to people how you can deal with offenders without creating endless recidivism.’
The object of life is not to pursue personal happiness
The work he has done on US diagnostic techniques puts him, as usual, ahead of the debate.
Behind that talent for innovation is a bitterness, deeper than I had imagined.
‘On integrated healthcare, on urban regeneration, on sustainable agriculture and public and private partnerships I had to battle and battle against a wall of opposition.’
From government? ‘Everyone, everyone,’ he says testily. ‘All the professional bodies, the institutions, the media.
‘Now suddenly they’re all saying I’m frightfully modern,’ he adds scornfully, kicking his shoe angrily against the sofa as if laying into his foes.
‘I get terribly frustrated, but that’s the way things go.’
Prince Charles (pictured: first public kiss with Camilla in 2001) claimed that he is not ‘a party lover’ and that they are part of his duty rather than pleasure
In bleak times he dashes off memos his staff call ‘Black Spiders’, but nothing assuages his fury at seeing his wisdom ignored.
‘If you read history, that’s what happens to certain people,’ he says.
He does seem to feel persecuted. When I agree that he is misunderstood, he replies, with Eeyoreish gloom, ‘You see. You have confirmed all my worst fears that whatever I do, it will make no difference out there.
‘People have this extraordinary idea of me, from what I gather.’
In a new biography of Prince Philip, the Duke is alleged to have called his oldest son ‘precious, extravagant and lacking in dedication’.
When I ask Charles if stories about dissent with his father upset him, he says, ‘People love trying to find a rift. Anything to create a row. You know. I just ignore it.’
Later we walk through his beloved gardens to a glade called The Stumpery, filled with foxgloves, an oak tree and two wooden temples with the statue of a bare-breasted divinity in between.
This, though Charles does not say so, is the hideaway that Philip reportedly said he would like to set a match to during a rare visit to Highgrove.
While neither pedigree nor personality branded Charles a conventional man, it seems a miracle that he is so normal.
His charm is practised, but he also seems genuinely kind. Neither a zealot nor a bore, he is happy to discuss the minutiae of his life in frank detail.
When I ask him if it is true that he has only orange juice and a particular brand of wheatgerm for breakfast, he says, ‘No, what a ghastly combination.
‘I have a few items that I think are important to make one’s whole system function. Do you know what I mean?’
One day, he will be king.
Prince Charles (pictured visiting Cornwall in 2001) said the object of life to him is not to pursue personal hapiness
What does he think a modern monarchy is for: for charity, or tourism, or moral guidance? ‘God. All I can talk about is the way I think it should be.
‘That will not necessarily be how my successors will see it.
‘The problem nowadays is that some people want everything to change so fast.
‘I think that people subconsciously want stability and continuity somewhere in their lives – something that isn’t fashionable, but which is just there.’
Presumably his will be a reign focused on social justice? ‘Yes, very much. I mind very much about people having the chance to exploit their potential.
‘I want to put the Great back into Britain.’
Does he find duty a burden? ‘Of course it is. But what would life be if you didn’t have that burden to shoulder? Still, I do sometimes feel people won’t make the effort.
‘So this becomes a convenience society – convenience food, convenience life. It’s marvellous to reduce effort, but you lose something.’
While this seems rich from a man who has a valet to fold his pyjamas, there is a sense that, for all his wealth, his existence lacks something.
You could be much happier, if you didn’t have that sense of duty. There are certain things I’d much rather go and do
‘You could be much happier, if you didn’t have that sense of duty. There are certain things I’d much rather go and do.
‘I could indulge myself to the nth degree. I could have done so, quite happily, all my life, and not bothered about anyone, but it wouldn’t have got me anywhere.
‘I mind about this country and the people who live in it.
‘I want to put something back.’ Is he happy? ‘Ah. Well, that is a relative situation,’ he says, sounding as he did on his engagement day when, asked if he was in love, he replied, ‘Whatever that means.’
‘I don’t know. To me, the object of life is not to pursue personal happiness.
‘It sounds self-righteous, but I would rather pursue other people’s happiness. In a funny way, you achieve greater happiness by doing that.’
The cynical would say that the prince is hardly starved of fun.
In the days before we meet, he has been pictured, with Camilla Parker Bowles, at a celebrity-packed party at Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire.
The next day, Camilla was with him at Holyrood House, in Edinburgh, on her first visit to one of the Queen’s residences.
Seven helicopters, four private jets and a snake of limousines had delivered guests to a party he had hosted a couple of days before.
The night after our meeting, he was at a reception for Camilla’s charity, the National Osteoporosis Society, where he delivered his first, slightly awkward public kiss.
Prince Charles (pictured with Camilla in 2001) revealed he doesn’t believe it’s necessary to think about the journey ahead in life
Less ostentatiously, a blue estate car pulled quietly out of Highgrove just before our interview began. At the wheel, a bystander claimed, was Mrs Parker Bowles.
The parties, Charles says, are for duty rather than pleasure.
‘Macmillan Cancer Relief begged me to do the Waddesdon thing, otherwise they wouldn’t have raised £250,000.
‘If I hadn’t gone, the others wouldn’t have either. I’m not dying to do it.
‘I’m not a party-lover.’ I suspect there are evenings when the prince has to practically be buttoned into his dinner jacket by a sensible, almost motherly partner who understands both the gloom that haunts the prince and the visions that drive him.
His sons are said to have condoned his relationship long ago, telling him, ‘Whatever makes you happy, Papa.’
Perhaps contentment will teach Charles something he seems not yet to grasp.
Either the media odium of the past or a vein of self-pity has obscured from him how fast his popularity is rising.
The public increasingly accepts him for what he is.
A good father, an impassioned reformer, a dutiful altruist and the monarchy’s best chance of seamless continuance.
No doubt he can also be pernickety and cantankerous but he might be the first to acknowledge that.
He has quite probably dispensed more happiness than he has ever been given.
And he is brave. I ask him finally if he expects to marry again, and his aides are shocked.
‘Nice try, Mary,’ they say, as if there is not the faintest chance a future king would answer that.
But he muses on it and replies, ‘Will I be alive tomorrow?’ Who knows what the Good Lord has planned.
‘You can’t be certain about anything. I don’t know.
‘I don’t think it’s important, particularly as I get older, to think about the journey that’s coming next.’ That, I would guess, means: Yes, with a bit of luck.