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Herald on Sunday editorial: Still an heir - after 60 years

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There is no doubt that Charles will be King if he outlives his mother. Photo / Getty Images
There is no doubt that Charles will be King if he outlives his mother. Photo / Getty Images

The arrival of Prince Charles and Camilla last night brings the royal jubilee to New Zealand rather late in the year. We have watched London's summer concerts and fireworks from afar, enjoyed the elderly Queen's contribution to the Olympic opening festivities, watched Prince William and Catherine tour Malaysia, Singapore, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu in September and wondered why they could not also come here.

Prince Charles is probably not the sort of man who minds being overshadowed by his son. Quite the opposite, he can be proud of the way William has revived popular regard for the monarchy and proud of the way the young couple handled their first royal tour despite the publication of sneak pictures of Catherine sunbathing topless sometime earlier.

Such is life for an heir to the throne. Charles and Camilla know it well. This is New Zealand's first chance to meet Camilla. She should discover this is a country that accepts people as it finds them.

If Charles' first marriage, to Diana, was a product of the pressures and restrictions of royalty, his second is one of lifelong commitment. Charles and Camilla have survived the odds against their marriage and broken a royal mould. There is much to admire in that. If Charles becomes King, Camilla will deserve to be Queen.

And Charles will be King if he outlives his mother. The palace has put paid to all speculation that he might abdicate in favour of his more popular son.

Monarchy does not work like that. Inheritance is central to its status and its survival. If the crown was to be passed to the most popular candidate every time, an elected head of state would make more sense. We should enjoy the tradition and if Charles, or any subsequent King or Queen, does such a bad job that it turns us off the royal family, so be it. That time is not now though, even if it appears to be down to the younger breed coming through.

The monarchy survives in New Zealand, Australia and Canada purely for historical reasons. The royals are visitors who represent a heritage we share and value as well as being a family we feel we know.

We welcome Prince Charles with a certain sympathy for someone who, by his own admission, is beginning to feel his age yet he is still waiting for the role he has been promised since birth and prepared himself to inherit for all of his life.

He will mark his 64th birthday while he is here. It will be a moment to acknowledge that being heir to the throne for 60 years is worthy of note too. We can only wonder what it is like to have waited so long, no doubt with ideas of how he might perform the role in ways subtly different from his mother.

Charles is an intelligent man with interests and concerns that have sometimes worried observers. But his occasional comments on the likes of modern architecture, healthcare, education, culture or the environment need not shake the constitutional foundations of Westminster if he uttered them as King.

The Queen and her father have been the only British monarchs known to anyone alive today and they have possibly been quieter than their forebears. They may think they had to avoid any contentious comment for the sake of the monarchy's survival in a democratic era, but Charles might yet test that idea. Again, he will make his own legacy and the impact that has on our affection for the royalty is his to contemplate.

We wish that while here he might give a hint of how he would develop the role of monarch given the chance.

If the Queen, now 86, lives to the age of her mother, 101, Charles would be nearly 80 before he succeeds.

May he loosen up here, share his hopes and have a happy birthday.

- Herald on Sunday

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