Usually his arrival at Birkhall, his grandmother’s home on the Balmoral estate, which he has stylishly updated, is a moment of lipsmacking anticipation.
Increasingly as he gets older, the Prince of Wales views visits to this Scottish retreat as a necessary restorative.
But yesterday it was difficult not to have a flicker of sympathy for Charles as he waited anxiously at his bolthole for an opportunity to see his newborn grandson.
Instead, the first visitors to Kensington Palace were a progression of Middletons, led by Kate’s hands-on mother Carole, her pregnant sister Pippa, father Michael and bearded brother James. Even Fergie’s daughter Princess Eugenie turned up to welcome the arrival of her first cousin once removed.
For Charles, languishing in Scotland, the pain must be considerable.
To many puzzled observers it may seem that the neglect in not yet having seen his new grandson, when the Middletons have, must lie with the Prince of Wales. But is that the case?
Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge with their newborn baby son as they leave the Lindo wing at St Mary’s Hospital in London
On Wednesday, he understandably had to put duty first, travelling to northern France for the dawn ceremony marking Anzac Day and the centenary of the Second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux. A long-planned trip, it involved the prime ministers of France and Australia.
All the same, there was a sense of unease among courtiers this week as the prince found himself relegated behind William’s in-laws in the queue to see the latest addition to the House of Windsor.
Despite the fact no other senior royals have called in to see the baby, the prince’s absence shines an uncomfortable light on the tricky and perplexing relationship between father and son.
We have been here before, of course. Three years ago, Charles complained that he ‘almost never’ sees his first grandson, Prince George, and that he occupied a peripheral role in the little boy’s life.
The dismay at seeing less than he expected of his first grandson was amplified because he hoped to become a mentor to the future king.
Just a few days before George was born, Charles was happily asking a ladies’ circle for ‘any hints’ on being a grandfather.
The anticipation was clear, and it was obvious to those ladies that Charles was determined to be the attentive and loving grandfather he never knew himself.
The prince was only three when George VI died, and he never knew his paternal grandfather, Prince Philip’s playboy father Prince Andrew of Greece, who died in 1944.
It is not difficult to see how this sparked his desire to be involved in the development of young George, particularly as Charles feels they have a special connection.
For he knows that, like himself, George is probably going to have to wait almost a lifetime before he fulfils his destiny. But from the outset, according to insiders, William’s attitude was somewhat different. ‘Very strange,’ says one.
On the day Kate’s labour began at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, Charles was on a train en route to a day of engagements.
He had offered to cancel his duties, but was assured it was not necessary because William did not want visitors to come to the hospital immediately, fearing they would be disruptive. Instead, George’s first visitors were the Middletons, which established a pattern that, tellingly, repeated itself this week.
When Kate’s due date with Princess Charlotte emerged, the same instruction not to visit and not to cancel engagements followed. But as a royal aide noted: ‘The Middletons don’t do engagements, so it didn’t apply to them.’
Prince Charles has not seen the newborn Prince as he has been away on official duties
In the event, Charlotte was born at the weekend and Kate quickly went home to Kensington Palace. When it became clear to Charles that the Middletons would be visiting, he made an immediate decision to go, driving himself and Camilla from Highgrove.
According to a friend, he felt it would ‘look awful’ if he didn’t visit his new granddaughter at the same time as the Middletons.
He was said to have ‘hared’ down the motorway to London, and even radioed ahead to London for an aide to collect a gift from Clarence House which Camilla had chosen for the baby, to be sent over to Kensington Palace.
In the event, Granny Carole and Grandpa Charles arrived at the palace almost at the same time.
‘When it suits him, William can be friendly and welcoming, but he can also be aloof and icy,’ says a close figure. ‘With his father, he can be cordial or effusive, especially if he wants more money, as he did for work on Anmer Hall – his house in Norfolk. He dispenses niceties like he is the owner of a sweet shop to a small child.’
Nothing illustrates this wilful approach better than William’s reaction after Charles included a picture on his desk of him with George – alongside photographs of William and Harry – for one of the regular in-house videos the Prince of Wales makes for his charities in Commonwealth countries.
William complained bitterly, even though the picture was one that had been issued publicly.
Nor, say friends, has he made any secret of the fact that he views the relationship that Carole and Mike Middleton enjoy with their children as being just what he covets for his own family.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that he doesn’t think he has had that kind of relationship with his father.
For Charles, who wants only to be a mentor and sounding board for his sons and his grandchildren, it is not just a puzzling situation. It is also a sad one.