In November 2018, Prince Charles reached a milestone birthday. "It is a privilege for any mother to be able to propose a toast to her son on his 70th birthday," the Queen said of her eldest son during his birthday bash at Buckingham Palace.
Charles’ mother had nothing but sweet things to say about her son at the formal event. "Over his 70 years, Philip and I have seen Charles become a champion of conservation and the arts, a great charitable leader — a dedicated and respected heir to the throne to stand comparison with any in history — and a wonderful father," praised Queen Elizabeth II.
Charles may very well have had a complicated relationship with his parents, especially his father, growing up. But when the prince himself became a father, did he choose to raise his firstborn differently? Has he really been a "wonderful" parent as the Queen described? Here’s what you should know about Charles’ relationship with his son Prince William.
Was William’s mind "poisoned" against his father?
In 1996, after being separated for several years, Princess Diana agreed to an "uncontested divorce," according to Andrew Morton’s biography of the late princess. Diana described that February day as "the saddest day of [her] life."
Prior to the separation, though, the couple were regularly at odds with each other. "At home the battlegrounds were their children and Charles’s relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles," wrote Morton. Diana’s close friend James Gilbey is quoted in Diana: Her True Story — in Her Own Words as saying, "She thinks he is a bad father, a selfish father." Ouch.
In the biography Rebel Prince: The Power, Passion, and Defiance of Prince Charles (via People), British investigative journalist Tom Bower alleges that Charles’ relationship with William and Harry became strained during the divorce. According to Bower, Charles believed "Diana had poisoned the boys’ minds towards their father." Whether Charles believes that to this day, the prince has not stated.
Charles was often "a remote figure"
In 2017, at the age of 69, Charles fulfilled more royal duties than anyone else in the British royal family: a whopping 546 engagements. Charles’ dedication to work is nothing new, according to royal biographer Penny Junor. When speaking to The Daily Beast, she divulged that the prince "has always been consumed by work." Because "Charles has always been quite a remote figure," Junor defined his relationship with Prince Harry as "slightly tricky." And one could imagine that Prince Charles and Prince William have a similar relationship.
While he always made sure his children were well cared for, they allegedly did not develop a very close father-son relationship. Junor was quick to point out this is not because he doesn’t love his children, but because he’s singularly focused on his work that he has "sometimes overlooked friends and loved ones beside him."
Sadly, Charles’ work ethic is what makes him such a great prince, but it’s also what prevented him from becoming the doting father he likely could’ve been.
Prince Charles could be an embarrassing dad at times
Although often busy, Charles would make time to attend his sons’ school plays. Though, when William was little, there were times when he probably wished his father hadn’t shown up.
"I was in … some sort of Christmas play and I was a wizard and I came on and I narrated it," William revealed in a documentary (via The Telegraph). The play called for a small explosion to happen in front of the young prince, but it didn’t go off. William decided to keep going despite being "quite panicky." Eventually, the pyrotechnics did go off — during William’s reading. The Duke of Cambridge said his father couldn’t stop laughing for the rest of the play. He admitted to giving his dad "a big death stare," but apparently even that didn’t work.
Harry echoed his brother’s comments, saying, "And no one else — no one else laughs, he always laughs at the wrong moment, and doesn’t think ‘Oh I shouldn’t — I should probably stay quiet,’ he just thinks it’s the best thing ever." Oh, dad.
They kept in touch while William was away at school
Following in his father’s footsteps, Prince William attended boarding school. The prince’s biography on the royal family’s official website states that the young heir attended Ludgrove School, a pricey all-boys boarding school, in the early ’90s. By 1995, William was attending another boarding school, Eton College, which actually is not a college but a high school.
While away at Eton, William, and later Harry, received letters from Charles. In a documentary about their father (via The Telegraph), the princes said the letters contained his famous "black spider" handwriting — handwriting so bad it was hardly even legible.
Prince Harry divulged, "At school, we regularly swapped letters and said ‘erm, I think I know what it says, can you read it to me?’ And it was just drivel." William joked, adding, "Just in case it was a b********* we didn’t know about."
Charles was "always sensitive" about William’s feelings regarding Camilla
Processing their parents’ separation and divorce would’ve been hard enough for William and his younger brother, Harry. Learning of their father’s affair with Camilla Parker Bowles likely only complicated things further. And then, of course, the boys later suffered the loss of their mother in 1997.
After Charles and Diana’s divorce and just two months before the princess passed away, Charles sat his boys down to explain his relationship with Camilla, royal biographer Penny Junor wrote in The Telegraph. It was then that the father of two realized "William in particular didn’t want to know." So, Charles dropped the issue and "didn’t attempt an introduction until William himself asked to meet Camilla a year later."
Junor described Charles as being "always sensitive" to William and Harry’s feelings regarding their now-step-mother. Eventually the boys realized how happy Camilla made their father and that his happiness "was more important than anything else."
Silence speaks volumes — or does it?
In July 2017, William and Harry participated in the ITV documentary Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy to commemorate their mother’s life some 20 years after her death. Although the central focus of this film was, of course, Diana, it didn’t go unnoticed that the boys failed to mention their other parent during the nearly hour-long documentary.
However, it is entirely possible that William and Harry did talk about their father, but that those exchanges just didn’t make it into the documentary. According to the book Writing, Directing, and Producing Documentary Films and Videos, a film that is fairly straightforward may require a shooting ratio of five to one, meaning that for every one minute of film that makes the final cut, five minutes of filming is necessary. Complex films may have a much higher ratio, like 14 to one.
Of course, if the boys did happen to remain mum about their dad, well, you know what they say: silence speaks louder than words.
He was there for William and Harry after all
After the ITV documentary about Diana was released and people started to notice that Charles wasn’t mentioned in it, Harry and William performed some damage control. Speaking on behalf of himself and his brother, Harry told ITV News that their father "was there for [them]" following their mother’s death. The prince also added, "He tried to make sure we were protected."
Harry also spoke with the BBC (via Reuters), saying, "One of the hardest things for a parent to have to do is to tell your children that your other parent has died." Although some have criticized Charles and the rest of the royal family for having both William and Harry walk behind their mother’s coffin at the funeral, Harry told the network, he was "very glad" to have been involved. It seems Charles was indeed there for his sons after their mother’s death.
A fictional "cold war" between father and son
In a scathing article by The Daily Beast, anonymous palace sources were said to have claimed that Prince Charles and his sons were embroiled in a "cold war." One such source said that Charles "hates" when William and Harry publicly reveal their feelings about the loss of their mother. It was also alleged that the father and sons rarely see each other outside of "official business." Journalist Christopher Andersen weighed in, telling the publication that, although William loves his father, he "hates being told what to do."
While there’s definitely some juicy tidbits in this article, is any of it actually true? According to the royal family: absolutely not. And that’s saying something, given how they very rarely comment on accusations made against them.
Clarence House emphatically denied the father-son "cold war" and told Express that the claims are "complete fiction." Clarence House also released a statement to People, calling the allegations in the article a "total fabrication."
Charles is proud of his eldest son
Perhaps the best way to learn the status of Prince Charles and Prince William’s relationship is to take it straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. ITV’s royal producer Lizzie Robinson shared some of Charles’ own words in a speech he gave at the opening reception of the International Wildlife Trade Conference in London. Prince Charles addressed the crowd, saying, "I can only say here how proud I am of the role my elder son, William, has played as a leader in this area, helping to raise the issue higher up the global agenda, including working with the Chinese Government on the introduction of the ivory ban."
Since 2013, William has been working to protect endangered animals across the globe by taking big steps to combat the illegal wildlife trade. In addition to helping save the lives of many animals, he’s obviously made the Prince of Wales one proud papa.
William does wish his dad would do this more
With Prince Charles fulfilling hundreds of engagements every year, he’s as busy as ever. Prince William revealed in the BBC One documentary, Prince, Son & Heir: Charles at 70 (via Entertainment Tonight), that he wants his father to slow down a bit and create a better work-life balance.
"I would like him to have more time with the children," William admitted. "Having more time with him at home would be lovely, and being able to, you know, play around with the grandchildren. When he’s there, he’s brilliant, but we need him there as much as possible."
Prince Harry agreed that he should spend more time with the family. "When we were kids, there were bags and bags and bags of work that the office just sent to him," he explained. "We could barely even get to his desk to say goodnight to him." Hopefully Charles will take some much needed time off and foster great relationships with his grandkids.