The prince's diaries: trouble for the heir to the throne

Thursday, February 23rd 2006, 2:36 pm
By: News On 6

LONDON (AP) _ Prince Charles wasn't happy about being forced to sit in an ``uncomfortable'' seat in business class on a flight to Hong Kong. But he didn't want the world to know about it.

The heir to the throne is seeking to block publication of diaries he kept during trips abroad. But so far the exercise in protecting royal privacy has been a flop.

A judge on Wednesday ordered the immediate release of a 1997 journal, which revealed the prince's dislike of the Chinese leadership, his view of U.S. and British politicians and his chagrin at having to fly business class.

``It took me some time to realize that this was not first class (!) although it puzzled me as to why the seat seemed so uncomfortable,'' the prince complained in one excerpt about the June British Airways 747 flight to Hong Kong.

``I then discovered that (politicians) were comfortably ensconced in first class immediately below us,'' he wrote. ``Such is the end of the Empire, I sighed to myself.''

More embarrassing revelations could be on the way if a High Court judge rejects the prince's claim for breaches of confidentiality and copyright regarding seven similar journals from other royal trips.

Judge William Blackburne said Thursday he would give his ruling on those ``as soon as possible.''

Charles, 57, is suing the publisher of the Mail on Sunday newspaper, which in November published portions of the diary kept during a 1997 trip to mark the handover of the Hong Kong _ then a British colony _ to China.

The prince's lawyers say the document, intended for distribution to a few close friends, was leaked by a former palace employee. They are claiming invasion of privacy and copyright infringement, and are seeking to stop the newspaper publishing the seven other journals.

The Mail contends that publishing the diaries is in the public interest because they reveal the political beliefs of the man who would be Britain's head of state as king.

Publication of the prince's sometimes curmudgeonly political opinions _ and the claim by a former aide that Charles often writes to politicians to offer his ``dissident'' opinions _ also raised questions about the role of the monarchy in modern Britain.

Members of the British royal family traditionally keep their political views to themselves. Charles, however, has cast himself as an advocate for heritage, tradition and the environment.

In speeches he has backed alternative medicine, condemned genetically modified food, grumped about modern education, called for action on global warming and referred to some modern architecture as ``a monstrous carbuncle.''

He complained to a U.S. interviewer in October that Britons haven't been grateful for his efforts, saying: ``I only hope that when I'm dead and gone, they might appreciate it a little bit more.''

In a witness statement released in court Tuesday, the prince's former private secretary, Mark Bolland, said Charles considered himself a ``political dissident'' who frequently wrote letters to ministers expressing his views.

Bolland said he agreed that the prince's behavior was ``constitutionally controversial.''

The prince's current private secretary, Sir Michael Peat, stressed that Charles ``avoids making public statements on matters which are the subject of disagreement between political parties.''

``The Prince of Wales has not 'bombarded' ministers with his views but has written to them from time to time on issues which he believes to be important,'' Peat said in a statement.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said Thursday that he found the prince's opinions helpful and nonpartisan.

``I think he's perfectly entitled to express his views,'' Blair told reporters at his monthly news conference.

But critics of the monarchy said Charles _ often portrayed as well-meaning but out of touch _ had gone too far.

``We only tolerate a monarchy in this country because the monarch should be neutral in political matters and should stay out of them,'' said Stephen Haseler, professor of politics at London Metropolitan University and chairman of the anti-monarchist group Republic.

The entire contents of the prince's Hong Kong diary were made public after the judge's ruling Wednesday, following an appeal by newspapers.

The 3,000-word document, entitled ``The Handover of Hong Kong or The Great Chinese Takeaway,'' also contained scathing comments about the Chinese leadership, whom he called ``appalling old waxworks.'' The handover ceremony, he wrote, culminated in an ``awful Soviet-style display.''

The prince wrote that he found Blair ``a most enjoyable person to talk to _ perhaps partly due to his being younger than me.''

Then-U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was ``good value _ seemed to be well disposed towards the U.K.''