For all of our pride in being citizens of the United States — a nation founded on the very idea that a free people should not be ruled by kings and queens — there is an undeniable and lasting allure associated with monarchies. That’s particularly true when it comes to the constitutional monarchy of the United Kingdom.
One of the most mysterious and, arguably, most misunderstood members of the British royal family is Prince Charles, the man next in line to become the King of England. He’s the subject of Sally Bedell Smith’s New York Times bestseller, “Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life.” It’s now out in paperback.
A personal acquaintance with the royal family and some 300 interviews inform Bedell Smith’s highly readable 600-page tome. She does much to dispel the mystery surrounding the Prince of Wales, who turns 70 in November and is the oldest heir to the throne in more than 300 years. Charles has spent a lifetime preparing for a job that he has yet to inherit at an age when most people have already retired.
Bedell Smith takes readers through Charles’ childhood, including his struggles as a lonely boarding school student and his efforts, mostly unsuccessful, to win the favor of his demanding father, Prince Philip. We learn of Charles’ college years at Cambridge. While the Vietnam era was roiling with protests around him, the 1960s were for Charles “like a diorama,” writes Bedell Smith, something seen at a distance.
The prince’s romantic life is one vivid thread throughout the book, including his famous love affair with Camilla Parker Bowles, as well as his disastrous first marriage to Princess Diana. We learn, too, about his relationship with his own sons, William and Harry, and the many ways Charles has tried to forge his own persona by doing meaningful work for environmental causes and historic preservation during his long life-in-waiting.
Sally Bedell Smith was one of the speakers at the 2017 Sun Valley Writer’s Conference, where she shared insights — not only about her biography of Prince Charles, but about her earlier bestseller about his mother, “Elizabeth the Queen.” She is a longtime journalist and contributing editor at Vanity Fair. She has also written biographies about Princess Diana, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and John and Jacqueline Kennedy, among others.
With her nuanced and insightful look at the Prince of Wales, Bedell Smith once again reminds us of the power of personal stories to inspire and to shape how we view each other and the world. “Prince Charles” will fascinate passionate Anglophiles, as well as those who simply wonder what all the fuss is about concerning the venerable House of Windsor.
Bob Kustra is president of Boise State University and host of Reader’s Corner, a weekly radio show on Boise State Public Radio. Reader’s Corner airs Fridays at 6 p.m. and repeats Sundays at 11 a.m. on KBSX 91.5 FM. Previous shows, including an interview with Sally Bedell Smith, are at http://boisestatepublicradio.org/programs/readers-corner. Or download our free app from Google Play or the App Store to listen to this and other interviews anytime.
“Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life”
by Sally Bedell Smith;
Random House ($20)