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Will William and Harry refuse to let Camilla be Queen?

Prince Charles, who has just turned 69, was beaming with pleasure after the news of Prince Harry's engagement to actress Meghan Markle

Prince Charles, who has just turned 69, was beaming with pleasure after the news of Prince Harry's engagement to actress Meghan Markle

The birthday cards were still up the other day when a flunky at Clarence House murmured that the Prince of Wales, who had just turned 69, was ‘now in his 70th year’. 

Hardly the most penetrating observation, but one the aide knew he should not make a habit of voicing too often, and not in the Prince’s earshot.

Charles does not take kindly to being reminded of his mortality. He has always been proud of his fitness and the iron will that prevents him putting on weight — both qualities he inherited from his father Prince Philip, still ramrod straight at 96.

But in recent times, say friends, there has been a slight thickening of the princely waist, and the perennial back pain and old, nagging polo injuries have apparently been playing up a bit more. His face, reddened from the time he spends outside, has appeared somewhat drawn.

During a walkabout on a chilly day this week, the broken capillaries that have spread across his nose and cheeks were clearly visible, giving the unfair impression of a man who likes a tipple. His lips looked chapped.

Given all that, the news this week of Prince Harry’s engagement to American actress Meghan Markle was an undoubted tonic. He beamed with pleasure as he broke off from an official visit to Poundbury, his beloved new town in Dorset, to speak of his happiness. It was, he declared, ‘marvellous’.

The Prince has always worried more about Harry than William and, of course, has been troubled by him more, too. But he has also allowed him the freedom to make his own choices in life, an attitude he shared with Princess Diana.

Charles has always been more worried about Harry than William but has also allowed him the freedom to make his own choices in life

Charles has always been more worried about Harry than William but has also allowed him the freedom to make his own choices in life

Yet behind all the paternal bonhomie and genuine goodwill on show, there can be no doubt that the arrival of this poised young woman in the heart of the Royal Family represents a potential problem for Charles.

It’s pretty much a rule that opinion polls on the royals deliver results based on how much public exposure individuals have had, so Harry and Meghan will be the only show in town just now. 

It’s perfectly possible that if people were asked who should be the next monarch today, Harry would top the poll. But that will never happen, and Charles will carry on regardless anyway.

Much the same thing happened six years ago, remember, when Prince William married Kate Middleton and the two were dubbed ‘Charles and Diana Mark II’. 

For a Royal Family thin on glamour, the middle-class girl from Bucklebury, Berkshire, was a godsend. Tall and slim, she picked up as a royal icon where Diana so tragically left off.

Prince Harry’s fiancée takes the glamour stakes to another level. To have one photogenic royal couple sharing the limelight was one thing: now Charles must get used to eking out what little is left.

The question troubling courtiers is whether this means a new crisis for the Prince of Wales in terms of the public’s view of him. 

Prince Harry this week announced his engagement to American actress Meghan Markle and it is perfectly possible he would top a public poll of who should be the next monarch

Prince Harry this week announced his engagement to American actress Meghan Markle and it is perfectly possible he would top a public poll of who should be the next monarch

Certainly he hated being upstaged by Diana, and never came to terms with the fact that after his own , the crowds who flocked to them wanted to see his wife, not him.

Paradoxically, the competition with Kate and William has largely not been an issue. 

This in part has been down to the soothing presence of Charles’s second wife, Camilla. 

The Duchess of Cornwall has been grateful at the spotlight shifting onto the young couple and their children, because it means she does not have to endure such an intense public gaze.

It is worth pointing out that the last time there was any serious talk of Charles stepping aside — and the Crown skipping a generation to allow William to follow the Queen — was just as Kate arrived officially on the scene. 

But ever since, those concerns have subsided as the focus has been on the Prince of Wales taking on more duties from an ageing monarch.

Which is why the arrival of Meghan Markle has been concentrating minds at the Palace.

At the heart of the issue is Charles’s

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