9 Things Prince Charles Does With His Time

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On the day the new royal prince—his first grandchild—was born, Charles, Prince of Wales, was going about business as usual, all the British papers reported. But what, if you’re heir to the British crown in one of the world’s oldest constitutional monarchies, exactly is business as usual?

Well, for Prince Charles that day, that meant he was up in Yorkshire shaking hands and accepting the felicitations of a happy people while touring York’s National Railway Museum. That sort of thing is pretty much par for the course for Prince Charles, and a number of other members of the British royal family. But what else does he do all day?

Before we get started, a bit of background: Charles, Prince of Wales, is Queen Elizabeth II’s son and heir (although there’s always chatter about him getting passed over for or abdicating in favor of his son, William). Charles isn’t entirely supported by the state; he earns his income from the hereditary estate of the Duchy of Cornwall, which has been given to successive Princes of Wales since 1337. Currently, it encompasses some 53,154 hectares of land in 24 counties, as well as major venues like the Oval cricket ground and a host of other solid investments. This June, it was reported that the Duchy of Cornwall earned Charles a record £19 million that fiscal year alone. He does, however, receive some funding from the government and from the Sovereign Grant (government aid to the royals, totaling £36 million), to the tune of £1.2 million a year.

So that’s how he makes his not inconsiderable money. But what’s his job description? In a constitutional monarchy, as Britain has been since the end of the 17th century, the monarch is the Head of State in name only—the ability to pass legislation is in the hands of Parliament. According to the official website of the British Monarchy, “The Sovereign acts as a focus for national identity, unity and pride; gives a sense of stability and continuity; officially recognises success and excellence; and supports the ideal of voluntary service.” The same basically goes for the heir apparent. And that means…

1. A Lot of Charity Work

The Prince’s Charities is an umbrella group of more than 20 charitable organizations of which HRH is president (read: mostly a figurehead, but a well meaning one); according to his press materials, he founded 18 of them himself. These charities range in character from the Prince’s Drawing School, an educational initiative he co-founded with artist Catherine Goodman that offers free, high quality drawing instruction to worthy students; to the Prince’s Regeneration Trust, which works to preserve historic buildings; to the British Asian Trust, which helps funnel donation money to local charities in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the UK. Also according to his press materials, the group is the largest multi-cause charitable enterprise in the UK and brings in more than £100 million annually. But that’s not all—the Prince is patron or president of some 400 other charities. Sound like he’s bitten off more than he can chew? Maybe—but again, it’s mostly a figurehead thing. The Prince’s projects that appear to be nearest and dearest to his heart involve sustainable agriculture and environmental preservation, so look for him to be more hands-on there. 

2. Representing the Queen—and accepting gifts

If the Queen is busy and can’t meet some foreign dignitary or another, Prince Charles is your man. In 2012 and 2013, he and his wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, hosted more than 7000 guests at events at their royal residences, and attended 108 seminars, luncheons, and dinners in the name of duty. He’s also frequently called on for overseas travel; last year, for example, he travelled more than 58,000 miles on official business (think shaking hands with important people in other nations, or rallying troops serving abroad). In a nod to these strained economic times, Charles agreed to foot the bill for his overseas travel; according to The Guardian, his cost to taxpayers fell 50 percent in the last financial year.

On the upside, all this travel and visiting foreign nations means that he, like the Queen, has been the recipient of some rather odd but welcome gifts. Each year, the royal family releases a list of gifts they’ve received during their overseas visits; in 2013, Prince Charles received a silk tie, a portable water filtration kit, and a bag of dried organic apple rings (among other things). The royal family doesn’t usually disclose what happens to the individual gifts; sometimes they’re used—especially in the case of perishable items—but other times, they’re simply packed off into storage.

3. More visiting … things

So a big part of the royal life is visiting. Just visiting. Just showing up and waving. Between 2012 and 2013, Charles and Camilla made appearances in more than 100 British towns and cities. The week after the royal prince was born, Charles and Camilla were back at it, first putting in an appearance at the Royal Welsh Show, a massive agricultural fair, before opening the new garden at Kemble Railway Station in Windmill Hill, Kemble, Gloucestershire on Thursday. Such is the life of a royal—official duties often consist of visiting schools, opening new business ventures, christening railway stations, and touring the studios where Doctor Who is filmed. Which is actually pretty exciting.

4. Supporting his sons

All parents support their children, but Charles really puts his money where his mouth is. According to recent reports, Prince Charles pays out £1 million a year to support his two adult sons, Princes William and Harry, as well as their dependents and staff. Both sons have real jobs: Harry, in addition to being a keen nude billiards player, is a soldier and a qualified Apache aircraft commander, and William is an RAF search and rescue helicopter pilot—but neither make enough to support the kinds of travel and living that royalty requires. It’s also possible that William may quit his job to become a fulltime royal in September, as his own royal duties are likely to continue to increase while the Queen and her husband Prince Phillip’s decrease. That means £1 million might not actually cover it anymore. Will Charles just tighten the belt, tell the kids to get their own money, or ask for more from the Sovereign Grant fund? Unknown. 

5. Making biscuits! And artisanal wool blankets!

Well, not really. In 1990, Prince Charles established Duchy Originals Limited, a subsidiary company of his Prince’s Charities, with the express purpose of promoting organic farming and selling produce and products made on his Duchy of Cornwall estate. They sold organic cookies (biscuits!) and cordials, sliced ham, even fresh turkeys, and shared the profits with his charities (kind of like Newman’s Own). But by 2009, as the global recession hit luxury foods hard, consumers stopped splashing out for Duchy and the company failed to make a profit—meaning that it was also unable to make its charitable donations. That same year, Duchy Originals made a deal with Waitrose, a pretty posh grocery store in the UK, allowing the store to market its goods exclusively. Waitrose, in return, took over control of the company and began paying royalties back to the Prince’s Charitable Foundation. So far, so good.

Another of the Prince’s charitable businesses is Highgrove, a country estate that also produces high-end gift-type items, such as tea sets and wool blankets and wooden toys made from sustainable woods. Profits from the Highgrove shops and gardens go to the Prince’s Charitable Foundation, a grant-making charity that funds education initiatives, armed forces welfare concerns, sustainable living efforts, and others.

6. Not paying enough in taxes

So, the Duchy of Cornwall is a bit of a money-spinner—good for crown and country? Not exactly. According to recent reports in the British media, Prince Charles pays less tax on the massive £19 million annual income from his Duchy of Cornwall estate than his servants do. The Prince came under fire this year for paying just under 24 percent in direct and indirect tax on his earnings from the estate, as well as for legitimately writing off much of his expenses incurred from official duty as business expenses. Labour MP Austin Mitchell put the Prince in the same camp as “tax dodgers” Google and Starbucks, claiming that not classifying the Duchy of Cornwall as a corporation—a “medieval anomaly”—was just an opportunity for the Prince not to pay corporation tax.

7. Writing books

Prince Charles is, as we’ve mentioned, legitimately passionate about matters of ecological concern. He’s even written two books about the subject: Harmony: A New Way of Looking At The World, which describes itself as in the same vein as An Inconvenient Truth, and On the Future of Food, taken from his keynote speech at the Future of Food conference at Georgetown University in 2011. But that’s not all! In 1980, he wrote a children’s book based on a story he used to tell his younger brothers Andrew and Edward; The Old Man of Lochnagar is the tale of a gruff old man in a desperate search for peace and quiet and a hot bath. The book was made into a BBC animated film, with the Prince narrating, and later, with the Prince’s permission, a ballet. Perhaps with the birth of his first grandson, he’ll think about revisiting his career as a children’s storyteller? 

8. Painting

Charles is a keen watercolor artist, with a good eye for scene, coloring, and, of course, making money; limited editions lithographs of his paintings can be bought from his Highgrove shop for around £2500. This spring, 130 of his works were published in an online gallery; one critic denounced the Prince’s artistic efforts as “topor-inducingly conventional,” and “so pedestrian to be almost laughable,” though he did admit that they weren’t all bad, by any means, and that the Prince was indeed tapping into a longstanding British royal tradition—Queen Victoria herself was a watercolor artist.

9. Practicing magic

OK, probably not so much anymore. But this is one of my absolute favorite Prince Charles facts: In 1975, Prince Charles became a member of the Magic Circle, a society of stage magicians founded in London in 1905, after passing his audition with a “cup and balls” trick. The actual cup and balls are on display at the Magic Circle’s museum in London. Here’s hoping that Grandpa Charles brushes up on his magic tricks for the new little royal!

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July 27, 2013 - 4:00pm
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