9 Things You Might Not Know about Prince Charles

Stuart C. Wilson, Getty Images for Ascot Racecourse
Stuart C. Wilson, Getty Images for Ascot Racecourse

His Royal Highness Charles, Prince of Wales, has famously been the longest-serving heir apparent in British history. He was just 3 years old when his grandfather, King George VI, died and his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, ascended the throne for her historic reign as the longest-serving monarch in not only British, but world history. But for all the very public events of the prince's life that have played out on the world's stage (his marriage to and divorce from Princess Diana; his decades-long relationship with Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall; his oft-strained relationship with his father), he has spent years working behind the scenes to promote charities and fulfill his duties as a leading member of the royal family. And he even finds time to do some landscape painting. Here are nine things you might not know about Prince Charles.

1. HE WAS THE FIRST ROYAL BABY BORN AT BUCKINGHAM PALACE IN THE 20TH CENTURY.

A childhood portrait of baby Prince Charles, January 1949.
A childhood portrait of baby Prince Charles, January 1949.
Central Press/Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Princess Elizabeth was 22 when she gave birth to Charles Philip Arthur George on November 14, 1948 (just six days before his parents' first anniversary). Newspapers reported he was "a lovely boy, a really splendid baby," but Matthew Halton of CBC Radio reminded listeners that the newborn wouldn't be king any time soon. "If his grandfather, the King, and his mother, the princess, both live the full span of life," Halton reported, "he may well be 50 or 60 years old before he ascends the throne."

2. HE WAS 9 WHEN HE WAS OFFICIALLY GIVEN THE TITLE PRINCE OF WALES.

Prince Charles wearing a crown and a blue and ermine cape as he is invested as the Prince of Wales, with Queen Elizabeth II at Caernarvon Castle, Wales, July 1, 1969.
Prince Charles wearing a crown and a blue and ermine cape as he is invested as the Prince of Wales, with Queen Elizabeth II at Caernarvon Castle, Wales, July 1, 1969.
Fox Photos/Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Though he is already the longest-serving Prince of Wales, he could have held the title for a few extra years if he'd been appointed earlier. The title "Prince of Wales" is only given to a male heir apparent, but it is not an automatic appointment. Charles went from third to second in line to the throne when his grandfather died in 1952, but it wasn't until 1958, when he was 9 years old, that he was granted the title Prince of Wales and its conjoining title, Earl of Chester.

3. THERE'S A CHANCE HE COULD CHANGE HIS NAME WHEN HE TAKES THE THRONE.

Prince Charles attends a naval event in uniform.
Chris Jackson, Getty Images

Many monarchs choose a regnal name (as popes do) that is different than their birth name, such as Charles's grandfather George VI, who had been christened Albert Frederick Arthur George and went by Bertie for most of his life. And though the prince has been the most famous Charles in the UK for seven decades, the previous two King Charleses did not go down well in British history. Charles I was executed for treason and the monarchy was briefly abolished because of his actions; his son, Charles II, spent time in exile until the monarchy was restored 11 years later. He was generally beloved, but was known as a philanderer who acknowledged at least a dozen illegitimate children. And to some, Charles Stuart—best known as Bonnie Prince Charlie and for the Jacobite rebellion in Scotland that attempted to put him on the throne—was called Charles III.

According to the BBC, Charles has considered going with his third middle name and reigning as George VII, though Charles’s camp denied this, saying "No decision has been made and it will be made at the time"—meaning, after the queen’s death.

4. HE CAN PLAY THE CELLO.

Prince Charles playing a cello, April 1969.
Prince Charles playing a cello, April 1969.
Fox Photos/Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Charles learned piano, trumpet, and cello as a child, and though he described himself as "hopeless," he stuck with the cello and played in the Trinity College Orchestra while in undergrad.

5. HIS SECRET SERVICE NAME IS "UNICORN."

Prince Charles, in his role as the Duke of Rothesay, attends a Sunday church service at Canisbay Church near the Castle of Mey in August 2008 in Canisbay, Scotland.
Prince Charles, in his role as the Duke of Rothesay, attends a Sunday church service at Canisbay Church near the Castle of Mey in August 2008 in Canisbay, Scotland.
Jeff J Mitchell, Getty Images

Certain visiting dignitaries to the U.S. are given code names of their own, and Charles was given Unicorn. The fanciful name is oddly fitting—the unicorn is the national animal of Scotland and has been part of its coat-of-arms for some 600 years. But the first recorded example of a Scottish monarch using a unicorn as a symbol of strength was from the late 1300s, when either Robert II or III used unicorns as part of the arms and gateway of Rothesay Castle on the Isle of Bute, Scotland. Among Prince Charles's earliest titles, which he received at age 5, is Duke of Rothesay.

6. RICHARD NIXON TRIED TO SET CHARLES UP WITH HIS DAUGHTER TRICIA.

Prince Charles sits with Tricia Nixon during a baseball game at RFK Stadium while on a trip to Washington, D.C. in July 1970.
Prince Charles sits with Tricia Nixon during a baseball game at RFK Stadium while on a trip to Washington, D.C. in July 1970.
David Cairns/Daily Express/Hulton Archive, Getty Images

In 1971, President Nixon's eldest daughter, Tricia, had the first outdoor White House wedding in the Rose Garden. But the summer before, her father was trying to play matchmaker with the future king of England. Charles and his sister, Princess Anne, were 21 and 19 at the time when they took an unofficial trip to Washington, D.C. They were feted as royal dignitaries, taken to various museums and D.C.-area sites, and given rooms in the White House (Charles slept in the Lincoln Bedroom). And, according to Sally Bedell Smith's 2017 biography Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life, "The president arranged to have Tricia seated next to Charles at every occasion, which annoyed him."

Even though he didn't hit it off with the First Daughter (Bedell Smith says "he would describe her, ungenerously, as 'artificial and plastic'"), Charles was still bemused by the president's endeavors. "Many years later on a visit to Washington with Camilla, he was still laughing about Nixon's attempt at matchmaking."

7. HE FIRST MET DIANA WHEN HE WAS INVOLVED WITH HER SISTER.

Prince Charles and Sarah Spencer (right, facing camera) on the sidelines after he played in an international polo match, July 1977.
Prince Charles and Sarah Spencer (right, facing camera) on the sidelines after he played in an international polo match, July 1977.
Dennis Oulds/Central Press, Getty Images

Charles had a playboy reputation in his twenties, and any girl with a family pedigree was considered a potential princess, and therefore media fodder. In June 1977, he met Lady Sarah Spencer at a party at Windsor Castle, and the two invited each other to polo and shooting events. That November, Charles went to the Spencer estate Althorp, where he met Sarah's younger sister. Diana was 16.

According to Bedell Smith in her 1999 biography Diana in Search of Herself: Portrait of a Troubled Princess, after going on a Swiss ski vacation with Charles in February 1978, Sarah told a tabloid that she was not falling for the prince, saying "There's no question of me being the future Queen of England. I don't think he’s met her yet."

8. HE WROTE A CHILDREN'S BOOK.

In 1980, Prince Charles wrote a children's book called The Old Man of Lochnagar, based on stories he would tell his younger brothers, Princes Andrew and Edward. It centers around an old man who went to the caves near Balmoral looking for a quiet place to take a hot bath. The book was later turned into an animated short film, narrated by the prince.

9. THERE IS A FROG NAMED AFTER HIM.

Prince Charles holds an Ecuadorian stream tree frog species, named 'Hyloscirtus princecharlesi' in honor of the Prince's support to conservation and environmental campaigns.
Prince Charles holds an Ecuadorian stream tree frog species, named 'Hyloscirtus princecharlesi' in honor of the Prince's support to conservation and environmental campaigns.
Arthur Edwards/WPA Pool, Getty Images

In 2012, a newly discovered (and endangered) species of Ecuadorian tree frog was announced as the Hyloscirtus princecharlesi, or the Prince Charles stream treefrog, in the journal Zootaxa [PDF]. It was named after him to recognize his rainforest conservation work—HRH has long been outspoken about the dangers of climate change, and he set up the Prince's Rainforest Project in 2007 as a charity and awareness campaign.

11 Memorable Facts About Cats the Musical

Mike Clarke/Getty Images
Mike Clarke/Getty Images

“It was better than Cats!” Decades after Andrew Lloyd Webber's famed musical opened on Broadway on October 7, 1982, this tongue-in-cheek idiom remains a part of our lexicon (thanks to Saturday Night Live). Although the feline extravaganza divided the critics, it won over audiences of all ages and became an industry juggernaut—one that single-handedly generated more than $3 billion for New York City's economy—and that was before it made a return to the Great White Way in 2016. In honor of Andrew Lloyd Webber's birthday on March 22, let’s take a trip down memory lane.

1. The work that Cats the musical is based on was originally going to include dogs.

Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, published in 1939, is a collection of feline-themed poems written by the great T. S. Eliot. A whimsical, lighthearted effort, the volume has been delighting cat fanciers for generations—and it could have become just as big of a hit with dog lovers, too. At first, Eliot envisioned the book as an assemblage of canine- and tabby-related poems. However, he came to believe that “dogs don’t seem to lend themselves to verse quite so well, collectively, as cats.” (Spoken like a true ailurophile.) According to his publisher, Eliot decided that “it would be improper to wrap [felines] up with dogs” and barely even mentioned them in the finished product.

For his part, Andrew Lloyd Webber has described his attitude towards cats as “quite neutral.” Still, the composer felt that Eliot’s rhymes could form the basis of a daring, West End-worthy soundtrack. It seemed like an irresistible challenge. “I wanted to set that exciting verse to music,” he explained. “When I [had] written with lyricists in the past … the lyrics have been written to the music. So I was intrigued to see whether I could write a complete piece the other way ‘round.”

2. "Memory" was inspired by a poem that T.S. Eliot never finished.

In 1980, Webber approached T.S. Eliot’s widow, Valerie, to ask for her blessing on the project. She not only said “yes,” but provided the songwriter with some helpful notes and letters that her husband had written about Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats—including a half-finished, eight-line poem called “Grizabella, the Glamour Cat.” Feeling that it was too melancholy for children, Eliot decided to omit the piece from Practical Cats. But the dramatic power of the poem made it irresistible for Webber and Trevor Nunn, the show’s original director. By combining lines from “Grizabella, the Glamour Cat” with those of another Eliot poem, “Rhapsody on a Windy Night,” they laid the foundation for what became the powerful ballad “Memory.” A smash hit within a smash hit, this showstopper has been covered by such icons as Barbra Streisand and Barry Manilow.

3. Dame Judi Dench left the cast of Cats when her Achilles tendon snapped.

One of Britain’s most esteemed actresses, Dench was brought in to play Grizabella for Cats’s original run on the West End. Then, about three weeks into rehearsals, she was going through a scene with co-star Wayne Sleep (Mr. Mistoffelees) when disaster struck. “She went, ‘You kicked me!’” Sleep recalls in the above video. “And I said, ‘I didn’t, actually, are you alright?’” She wasn’t. Somehow, Dench had managed to tear her Achilles tendon. As a last-minute replacement, Elaine Paige of Evita fame was brought aboard. In an eerie coincidence, Paige had heard a recorded version of “Memory” on a local radio station less than 24 hours before she was asked to play Grizabella. Also, an actual black cat had crossed her path that day. Spooky.

4. To finance the show, Andrew Lloyd Webber ended up mortgaging his house.

Although Andrew Lloyd Webber had previously won great acclaim as one of the creative minds behind Jesus Christ Superstar and other hit shows, Cats had a hard time finding investors. According to choreographer Gillian Lynne, “[it] was very, very difficult to finance because everyone said ‘A show about cats? You must be raving mad.’” In fact, the musical fell so far short of its fundraising goals that Webber ended up taking out a second mortgage on his home to help get Cats the musical off the ground.

5. When Cats the musical came to Broadway, its venue got a huge makeover.

Cats made its West End debut on May 11, 1981. Seventeen months later, a Broadway production of the musical launched what was to become an 18-year run at the Winter Garden Theatre. But before the show could open, some major adjustments had to be made to the venue. Cats came with an enormous, sprawling set which was far too large for the theatre’s available performing space. To make some more room, the stage had to be expanded. Consequently, several rows of orchestra seats were removed, along with the Winter Garden’s proscenium arch. And that was just the beginning. For Grizabella’s climactic ascent into the Heaviside Layer on a giant, levitating tire, the crew installed a hydraulic lift in the orchestra pit and carved a massive hole through the auditorium ceiling. Finally, the theater’s walls were painted black to set the proper mood. After Cats closed in 2000, the original look of the Winter Garden was painstakingly restored—at a cost of $8 million.

6. Cats the musical set longevity records on both sides of the Atlantic.

The original London production took its final bow on May 11, 2002, exactly 21 years after the show had opened—which, at the time, made Cats the longest-running musical in the West End’s history. (It would lose that title to Les Miserables in 2006.) Across the pond, the show was performed at the Winter Garden for the 6138th time on June 19, 1997, putting Cats ahead of A Chorus Line as the longest-running show on Broadway. To celebrate, a massive outdoor celebration was held between 50th and 51st streets, complete with a laser light show and an exclusive after-party for Cats alums.

7. One theatergoer sued the show for $6 million.

Like Hair, Cats involves a lot of performer-audience interaction. See it live, and you might just spot a leotard-clad actor licking himself near your seat before the curtain goes up. In some productions, the character Rum Tum Tugger even rushes out into the crowd and finds an unsuspecting patron to dance with. At a Broadway performance on January 30, 1996, Tugger was played by stage veteran David Hibbard. That night, he singled out one Evelyn Amato as his would-be dance partner. Mildly put, she did not appreciate his antics. Alleging that Hibbard had gyrated his pelvis in her face, Amato sued the musical and its creative team for $6 million.

8. Thanks to Cats the musical, T.S. Eliot received a posthumous Tony.

Because most of the songs in Cats are almost verbatim recitations of Eliot’s poems, he’s regarded as its primary lyricist—even though he died in 1965, long before the show was conceived. Still, Eliot’s contributions earned him a 1983 Tony for Best Book of a Musical. A visibly moved Valerie Eliot took the stage to accept this prize on her late spouse’s behalf. “Tonight’s honor would have given my husband particular pleasure because he loved the theatre,” she told the crowd. Eliot also shared the Best Original Score Tony with Andrew Lloyd Webber.

9. The original Broadway production used more than 3000 pounds of yak hair.

Major productions of Cats use meticulously crafted yak hair wigs, which currently cost around $2300 apiece and can take 40 hours or more to produce. Adding to the expense is the fact that costumers can’t just recycle an old wig after some performer gets recast. “Each wig is made specifically for the actor,” explains wigmaker Hannah McGregor in the above video. Since people tend to have differently shaped heads, precise measurements are taken of every cast member’s skull before he or she is fitted with a new head of hair. “[Their wigs] have to fit them perfectly,” McGregor adds, “because of the amount of jumping and skipping they do as cats.” Perhaps it should come as no surprise that, over its 18-year run, the first Broadway production used 3247 pounds of yak hair. (In comparison, the heaviest actual yaks only weigh around 2200 pounds.)

10. A recent revival included hip hop.

In December 2014, Cats returned to the West End with an all-new cast and music. “The Rum Tum Tugger,” a popular Act I song, was reimagined as a hip hop number. “I’ve come to the conclusion, having read [Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats] again, that maybe Eliot was the inventor of rap,” Webber told the press.

11. Another revival featured an internet-famous feline for one night only.

On September 30, Grumpy Cat made her Broadway debut in Cats, briefly taking the stage with the cast. Despite being named Honorary Jellicle Cat, she hated every minute of it.

11 Words That Started Out As Spelling Mistakes

A woman sneezing, which in Middle English would have been called a fneze instead.
A woman sneezing, which in Middle English would have been called a fneze instead.
iStock.com/Dirima

The word irregardless might not be to everyone’s taste, but there’s no denying that if you were to use it in a sentence, you’d be perfectly understood—and that’s more than enough evidence for it to have been accepted into many dictionaries (albeit flagged as non-standard or informal), including Oxford Dictionaries, Merriam-Webster, and even the hallowed Oxford English Dictionary, which has so far been able to trace it back as far as 1912. So despite it having its origins in an error, and irregardless of what you might think of it, there’s no denying irregardless is indeed a word—and it’s by no means alone.

1. Expediate

Meaning “to hasten” or “to complete something promptly,” the verb expediate is thought to have been invented by accident in the early 1600s when the adjective form of expedite, meaning “ready for action” or “alert,” was misspelled in an essay by the English politician Sir Edwin Sandys (it was later corrected).

2. Culprit

There are several different accounts of the origin of culprit, but all of them seem to agree that the word was born out of a mistake. Back when French was still the language of the law in England in the Middle Ages (a hangover from the days of the Norman Conquest), the phrase Culpable, prest d’averrer nostre bille—literally “guilty, ready to prove our case”—was apparently the stock reply given by the Clerk of the Crown whenever a defendant gave a plea of not guilty. In the court records, this fairly long-winded phrase was often abbreviated just to cul. prit., and, as the Oxford English Dictionary explains, “by a fortuitous or ignorant running together of the two,” the word culprit was born.

3. Despatch

Despatch is a chiefly British English variant of dispatch, often used only in formal contexts like the name of the political despatch box in the House of Commons. The e spelling apparently began as a phonetic variation of the original I spelling, but after Samuel Johnson included it in his Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, its use was legitimized and thrived in the 19th century. Because Johnson himself preferred the I spelling in his own writings, however, it's supposed that he included the e spelling by mistake and inadvertently popularized the error.

4. Nickname

Nicknames were originally called eke names, with the verb eke used here in the sense of “to make longer” or “to provide an addition.” Sometime in the 13th century, however, “an eke-name” was mistakenly interpreted as “a neke-name,” and the N permanently jumped across from the indefinite article an to the verb eke. The same error—known linguistically as “rebracketing” or “junctural metanalysis”—is responsible for nadders, numpires, and naprons all losing their initial Ns in the Middle English period.

5. Ammunition

Ammunition derives from a faulty division of the French la munition, which was incorrectly misheard as l'amonition by French soldiers in the Middle Ages, and it was this mistaken form that was borrowed into English in the 1600s.

6. Scandinavia

Scandinavia was originally called Scadinavia, without the first N, and is thought to take its name from an island, perhaps now part of the Swedish mainland, called Scadia. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the extra N was added in error by the Roman scholar Pliny the Elder, and has remained in place ever since.

7. Syllabus

If all had gone to plan in the history of the word syllabus, those two Ls should really be Ts: Syllabus was coined as a Latin misreading of an Ancient Greek word, sittybos, meaning “a table of contents.”

8. Sneeze

Oddly, sneeze was spelled with an F and not an S, fneze, in Middle English, which gives weight to the theory that it was probably originally coined onomatopoeically. At least one explanation of why the letter changed suggests that this F inadvertently became an S sometime in the 15th century due to continual misreadings of the long lowercase f as the old-fashioned long S character, ſ.

9. Ptarmigan

The ptarmigan is a bird of the grouse family, found in mountainous and high-latitude environments. Its bizarre name with its initial silent P is something of a mystery, as the original Scots word from which it derives, tarmachan, shows no evidence of it and there’s little reason why one should ever have to have been added to it—except, of course, if it were a mistake. The P spelling first emerged in the late 1600s, and is thought to have been a mistaken or misguided attempt to ally the name to the Greek word for a wing, pteron, and eventually this unusual P spelling replaced the original one.

10. Sherry

Sherry takes its name from the southern Spanish port of Xeres (now Jerez de la Frontera in Cádiz) and was originally known as vino de Xeres, or “wine of Xeres.” This name then morphed into sherris when sherry first began to be talked about in English in the early 17th century, but because of that final S, it didn’t take long for that to be misinterpreted as a plural. Ultimately, a mistaken singular form, sherry, emerged entirely by mistake in the early 1600s.

11. Pea

Another word that developed from a plural-that-actually-wasn’t is pea. One pea was known as a pease in Middle English, but because of that final “s” sound, pease was quickly misinterpreted as a plural, giving rise to a misguided singular form, pea, in the 17th century. The actual plural of pease in Middle English, incidentally, was pesen.

This list first ran in 2016.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER