Shropshire Star

Toby Neal: What sort of King can we expect now Charles' long apprenticeship has ended?

No Queen anecdotes I'm afraid, as I have none, only having seen her once.

Charles and the Queen

That was as a little schoolboy. The school was an old chapel with just two classrooms and we all marched the short distance to the bend on Madeley High Street, which was still a proper High Street as they hadn't yet knocked it all down, to watch the Queen's car pass.

My memory is that the royal car seemed to be illuminated from the inside which, figuratively or in reality, may have been the case.

Shamefully, perhaps even treasonably, if I have seen the Queen in the flesh in the years since I can't remember having done so.

In the absence of any real recollections of Her Majesty, I can do rather better with some of the royal others, including the King, having covered some of his local visits in the course of my journalistic duties.

There was the case of the Missed Photo Opportunity. During one of his visits to Ironbridge Gorge Museum, of which he became patron in 1979, Prince Charles was exploring one of the museum sites and happened to look behind something or other and emerged holding a feather duster, which no doubt had been used in the operation to spruce up the place in advance of HRH's arrival.

There he stood consciously, I suspect, looking like Ken Dodd, as we all know our new sovereign is blessed with a sense of humour, holding said feather duster.

What a great picture. It would have gone round the world. Imagine the tattyfilarious fun they would have had writing the captions. Alas, the photographer posse had not yet caught up. They were probably delayed admiring some of the exhibits, or whatever, and the moment was lost.

It may have been on the same visit that the then prince suddenly turned to me. I thought he was going to say something. Then he must have seen my notebook and realised I was not the sort of person princes should speak to.

If that's all a bit thin, I have some secondhand stories. It seems that he was horribly and outrageously bullied by some fellow pupils at Gordonstoun, the public school which used to give cold showers in the morning to toughen up its charges and that sort of thing.

Another person told me how shy he was at Aberystwyth University, and would blush easily. I've always thought being shy is an unrecognised form of disability, and being shy and being a prince in the public eye means that his much talked-of apprenticeship to the crown must often have been painful and difficult.

On the subject of bullying, the tabloids of the 1980s and 1990s were prime exponents, setting about their task with glee and gusto, and their often unfair, cruel, and extreme attacks, including quotes and stories which I suspect in some cases were simply made up, will have hurt a sensitive man for whom royal protocol made it impossible for him to defend, rebut, or explain, even when the bile was rooted in what we now know to be falsehoods.

So now we say goodbye to the Elizabethan era and enter the Carolean era, which doesn't have the same ring. The origin is Carolus, the Latin word for Charles.

What sort of King, and what sort of reign, can we expect? Having ascended to the throne at the age of 73, inevitably his reign will be nothing like the chronological span of his late mother's.

While nobody really knew what the late Queen thought on various issues, we have a good idea of what King Charles III thinks, as he has not been afraid to express his views which in many cases were ridiculed at the time but have now become the orthodoxy.

The talk at the moment has been of stability and continuity, but the change of monarch is also an opportunity for those seeking wider changes.

Their voices have been heard in protests here and there already. If they can protest at the time of remembrance and respect and shout abuse at the bereaved, there is no reason to suppose that when the period of national mourning ends that such voices will not become yet louder and more strident.

As for the King, he has come through that long, tough, apprenticeship without any apparent bitterness.

It augurs well. Generally magnanimity is a trait of the great.