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Even so, the royal family has the affection of the British public. Elizabeth, the Queen Mother (King George VI's widow), is still unfailingly gracious and good-natured and, at the age of 77, every Briton's good old mum. Prince Philip's occasional bits of bad public temper have long since been forgiven by Britons, who admire his spirit. They also recognize his steadfast support of the Queen and his own independent accomplishments as a champion of environmental causes and lobbyist for British technology. Prince Andrew, 18, the handsomest of the royal progeny, is beginning to attract notice by bringing home dazzling young women for weekends at Windsor and following in his older brother's bootstraps as a daredevil: last month, in fact, he preceded Charles in qualifying as an army parachutist. Schoolboy Prince Edward, 14, has not yet reached the age of publicity, but is reputed to be the family's budding intellectual; he is fascinated by history and photography and given to nothing more strenuous than cricket.
Charles, though, is by far the most popular of the young royals. "He is first-rate," says Jack Diment, a porter and World War II veteran. "He is sensible, down to earth of that there is no doubt.
He is a thoroughly good bloke."
It is sobering to remember that another Prince of Wales Charles' greatuncle David, Edward VIII, who was to abdicate the throne and live out a sybaritic life as the Duke of Windsor once inspired similar enthusiasm. Photographs from early in the century, of the young Prince of Wales donning Indian headdress or greeting tribal chiefs in colonial Africa, bear an eerie resemblance to pictures of Charles on almost identical missions. But the resemblance is superficial:
David was later seen as a dandified snob with pro-fascist leanings who probably did his country a favor by abdicating. If Charles is different, it is the happy result of a carefully wrought education for kingship and, perhaps more important, of the Prince's good-natured response to it.
Charles was already an heir apparent once removed when he was born at Buckingham Palace in 1948, four years before his mother became Queen. The world nodded democratic approval when she and Prince Philip decreed that Charles should become the country's first heir to the throne to be packed off to school like other upper-class British lads rather than shielded at home among royal tutors. His first boarding school was Cheam in Berkshire, then Gordonstoun in Scotland, both schools that Philip had attended. At Gordonstoun, students start each day, rain or shine, with a brisk, shirtless outdoor run followed by a cold shower; the school was designed in 1933 by its late founder, Berlin-born Kurt Hahn, to be a place where "the sons of the powerful can be emancipated from the prison of privilege."