Prince Charles, who arrives in NZ tomorrow with his wife, Camilla, has fashioned a respectable career as the Queen's apprentice.

"To be heir to the throne is not a position," wrote Alan Bennett in The Madness of King George. "It's a predicament."

The English play is said to be a favourite of Prince Charles and the often-quoted line sums up the situation he finds himself in.

The Prince of Wales is born with one task, to become head of state, and yet he has spent most of his adult life waiting to be king.

At nearly 64 years of age - he will celebrate his birthday in New Zealand on Wednesday - Prince Charles is the longest serving heir apparent to the throne in British history but has been overshadowed at a time when the monarchy is experiencing a resurgence of popularity.


Millions of Brits lined the streets this year to honour his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, as the country commemorated 60 years of her reign in the Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

She (and her corgis) then had a star turn in the opening ceremony of the London Olympics with James Bond actor Daniel Craig, a lighthearted segment which culminated in the 86- year-old monarch "parachuting" into the stadium.

From a PR point of view, the jubilee celebrations were timed to perfection, just 12 months after the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Hundreds of millions of people watched the live broadcast of the wedding.

And many in Britain could not care less about Prince Harry's antics in Las Vegas. He is considered a loveable rogue who inherited his mother's free spirit.

Prince Charles doesn't intend to have a lower profile, says Camilla Tominey, the royal editor of the Sunday Express newspaper.

It's just that the younger, more glamorous royals are commanding more column inches, as they have a wider appeal than Charles and Camilla.

"In many ways, Charles and Camilla are the sandwich generation that everyone seems to forget about," says Tominey.

"It won't be like that when Charles is King though, so he is happy to bide his time."

The public adoration on display over the past 18 months is a world away from the unhappy marriage of Charles and Diana, the adultery by both parties, and the car crash that killed the "People's Princess" in 1997.

The saga brought the monarchy to its knees, in particular the public anger directed at the royal family for how they mishandled Diana's death.

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall arrive in New Zealand tomorrow for a week after visiting Papua New Guinea and Australia as part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

Among other events, the couple will inspect a Royal New Zealand Air Force guard, meet war veterans at the Auckland War Memorial Museum, watch a performance of Hairy Maclary, attend a party for New Zealanders who share the Prince's birthday and tour the earthquake-ravaged Christchurch CBD.

Their presence is not expected to stir the masses as much as Prince William's most recent trip to New Zealand in the wake of the 2011 Christchurch tragedy.

While William's marriage has boosted the popularity of the royal family, suggestions that he should be the next King, not his father, are dismissed as "idle gossip" by veteran royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliams. "There is absolutely no chance whatsoever that the succession to the throne could skip a generation; monarchy simply does not function in this way."

Fitzwilliams, who was editor of The International Who's Who magazine from 1975 to 2001, says the wide appeal of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge is obvious - good looks, charm, a sense of duty and the common touch.

But he believes Prince Charles is misunderstood by the public.

"The Prince has had to endure an unbelievably long apprenticeship. You aren't the leader, you are in waiting, you have to create your own role. He has done that wonderfully well but he can appear fogeyish," said Fitzwilliams.

While Charles can be perceived as out of touch, Fitzwilliams put that more down to his age. "That he cannot help. Of course he isn't William and Kate but they represent the future for the monarchy."

Ingrid Seward, the editor-in-chief of Majesty magazine, also thinks the perception of Prince Charles is mistaken. She described him as "visionary and forward-thinking", particularly in his voiced opinions on climate change and architecture, and his hard work for charities.

"But people only understand what they can see and that is an eccentric late middle-aged man with a jolly wife who lives in the lap of luxury," Seward said.

Fitzwilliams and Seward agree that it took years for the image of Prince Charles to improve after his divorce from Diana and her death.

Charles first met Camilla Parker Bowles at a polo match in 1970 and, despite marrying other people in the 1980s, they never ended their long-running affair, which was exposed by Diana in Andrew Morton's book Diana, Her True Story.

The adultery was later confirmed by Charles and the British press also published bugged recordings of a passionate telephone conversation between him and Camilla in 1992, the same year the royal couple formally separated.

With the relationship in the open, Diana was asked if she thought the ties between Camilla and her husband contributed to the breakdown of their marriage.

She replied: "Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded."

While the now Duchess of Cornwall kept a low profile during the bitter break-up of Charles and Diana, the revelations of an affair made her an unpopular figure.

The royals divorced in 1996, and a year later Diana was dead.

The outpouring of public grief was unprecedented; Charles and Camilla were blamed for triggering events which led to the tragedy.

So she continued to keep out of the public eye and was not photographed with Charles until 1999.

Their relationship was stated to be "non-negotiable" and a long-running campaign was orchestrated to improve their public image.

This started with her appointment as the patron of the National Osteoporosis Society and then accompanied Charles to Scotland for a series of official engagements.

She later met the Queen for the first time since the relationship became public and was subsequently invited to the golden jubilee, where she sat - at the rear - of the royal box for one of the concerts at Buckingham Palace.

In 2005, the couple were married in a civil ceremony, and the Duchess has kept busy in her royal role since.

"Of course, his marriage to Camilla was always going to be controversial," says Tominey "but I think the public realised at the wedding that if the Queen and William and Harry could accept Camilla, then we all must."

Fitzwilliams added: "People could see that Camilla was ideal for him.

"They had the same friends, sense of humour, similar age and would make each other happy. She sees her role as supportive of him. It's worked well. She's accepted by the public."

Camilla's warm relationship with William and Harry has also helped.

"They love Camilla as she keeps their dad happy and doesn't interfere with their lives unless they ask her," said Seward. "She makes them all laugh and creates a happy atmosphere in their homes."

Prince Charles' relationship with his parents has also improved since the nadir of his divorce and he works hard to raise 100 million ($195 million) each year for 17 core charities through the Prince's Trust.

"He is the foremost charitable entrepreneur in Britain and superb at networking for his causes internationally," said Fitzwilliams.

For years he has championed organic farming and raised world awareness of the dangers for the environment, such as climate change, and been outspoken on the role of architecture in society and the conservation of historic buildings.

The Daily Telegraph also crowned him the "hardest working royal" with more than 600 official engagements in 2011, including a memorial service at Westminster Abbey for those who died in the Christchurch earthquake.

Yet he still seems to be given little credit for his endeavours.

"Prince Charles is more low profile than he would like to be," said Seward. "He wants his ideas heard."

She believes he is a sincere person who will make a good King despite the clamour for his eldest son.

"The goodwill towards the royal family comes and goes. It is quite possible it might go into a downturn when Charles appears on the throne, or he might be seen as a modern saviour and get rid of a lot of the dead wood."

He is in the unenviable position of following the Queen, says Tominey, a "hugely admired and respected figure who really hasn't put a foot wrong in her 60-year reign".

"That said, Charles has had a lot of preparation for becoming King. Whatever happens, he is his own man and will do it his way."

Camilla perfect fit for role when the time comes

She's undergone a transformation from one of the most despised women in Britain to the Queen's right-hand lady - and there's growing speculation that Camilla will be crowned Queen when her husband takes the throne.

According to 1000 years of constitution and history, the wife of a King becomes the Queen Consort.

But at the time of the marriage in 2005, Clarence House announced that Camilla would assume the title Princess Consort when Charles became King.

That was when several newspaper polls indicated a lack of support for her ever being known as Queen Camilla. The memory of Princess Diana was also still fresh at the point.

But in November 2010, in a United States interview, when asked if the Duchess of Cornwall could ever be Queen, Prince Charles said she "could be. We'll see, won't we?"

Since then, the Duchess has become even more prominent in the royal family.

During the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, when Prince Philip fell ill, she sat beside the Queen in the 1902 State Landau - seen as a royal seal of approval.

In April, the Queen also gave her daughter-in-law the highest personal royal honour, making her a Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order.

"The public certainly accept Charles and Camilla as a couple, but they will never forgive Prince Charles for his apparent callous treatment of Diana. It is too well ingrained in the memory," said Ingrid Seward, editor-in-chief of Majesty magazine.

"This means Camilla will never be as popular as she would like to be. Globally - particularly in the United States - they don't like Camilla for similar reasons."

Seward said that as well as her approval by the Queen, Camilla had a warm relationship with Prince William and Harry.

"They love Camilla as she keeps their dad happy and doesn't interfere with their lives unless they ask her.

"She makes them all laugh and creates a happy atmosphere in their homes.

"Camilla is a charming lady and works hard for her various causes, but she will never ever be near Diana - she can't be, and sadly that is how she is judged."

Busy schedule - Highlights of the royal visit:
Sunday: 10.10am:Mihi at the Auckland Museum; Armistice Day commemoration; meet veterans. Monday: 10.20am: Meet NZ Olympic athletes at AUT Millennium, 17 Antares Place, Mairangi Bay; 11.15am: Attend a performance of Hairy Maclary, Bruce Mason Centre, Takapuna; 12.30pm (approx): Prince Charles crosses Waitemata Harbour on a Sealegs amphibious vehicle used by the New Zealand Coastguard and visits Britomart; 1.30pm: The Prince attends events highlighting the New Zealand wool industry and innovative technologies at The Cloud, Queens Wharf; 1.50pm: The Duchess meets students and teachers at East Tamaki Primary School; 2.40pm: Prince Charles visits the Owen Glenn Building, University of Auckland; 7pm: The couple attend a Diamond Jubilee Trust event at SkyCity.

Wednesday, in Wellington: 12.45pm: The official opening of NZ's Diamond Jubilee gift to the Queen, a new visitor centre at Government House; 1.30pm: Meet members of the waka crew from the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant during a walk along Wellington waterfront; 2.35pm: Prince to visit Weta Workshop; meetings with the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition; the Duchess attends a reception at Government House to celebrate women in the community; 4.30pm: Prince celebrates birthday at Government House with New Zealanders also celebrating their birthdays that day.

Thursday: 12.20pm: The couple attend a community celebration in Feilding; Charles visits a Manawatu farm; 2pm: The Duchess visits the Equine Research and Wildlife Centres at Massey University in Palmerston North. 3.15pm: Couple visit RNZAF Base Ohakea; 7pm: Prince Charles at Government House (Wellington) reception for New Zealand's science and conservation community.

Friday, in Christchurch: 12.40pm: Meet former residents, then head to the Diamond Jubilee Clock, then Colombo St entrance to Cashel Mall; 2pm: Meet volunteer groups, cnr of Cashel St and Oxford Tce; 2.35pm: Attend the 150th Canterbury A&P Show.