King Charles’ highs and lows as a teen – from bullied to becoming an eligible bachelor

King Charles’ highs and lows as a teen – from bullied to becoming an eligible bachelor

As a member of the royal family, you might presume that life is a breeze, but King Charles has let it be known in the past that his upbringing was far from easy. He was often lonely, bored and found it hard to make friends among his peers, coming from a life of immense privilege but stifling protocol.

Royal expert Duncan Larcombe says, “Charles went through quite a harsh childhood and I don’t think he started off in life particularly well. He was desperately unhappy at boarding school in Scotland, and his parents were archetype examples of the ‘stiff upper lip’ generation who’d both gone through a war. He had a tough upbringing in the lap of luxury.”

Even though his mother had yet to ascend to the throne during the first four years of Charles’ life, she was still a distant parent. Ingrid Seward recounts in her book Prince Philip Revealed: A Man Of His Century that both his parents were busy elsewhere.

She writes, “The love of his mother and father was severely rationed. It had to be fitted in between their official duties… the emotional needs of the little prince were not always paramount on their agenda.”

In fact, Philip, busy with navy duties, did not even attend his son’s birthday parties until he was four years old, while a young Princess Elizabeth was occupied with her official duties and filling in for her father, King George VI, whose health was in decline. Charles was brought up by nannies, overseen by his grandmother, the-then Queen, who he said “taught me to look at things”.

He was a quiet and sensitive child, prone to colds and very unlike his hardy and boisterous younger sister Anne, who arrived on the scene two years later, in 1950.

The young children had to get used to life without their parents. In 1953, the year after Elizabeth became Queen, Charles and Anne were left behind as the royal couple embarked on an epic seven-month tour of the Commonwealth.

In Jonathan Dimbleby’s authorised biography, the author notes the young prince was “easily cowed by the forceful personality of his father”. Philip was a great believer in stern discipline and had a great love of the outdoors.

He had little time for his son’s more considered, artistic nature, instead focusing on teaching him to shoot, fish and swim in a chilly palace pool. While Anne thrived and did not seem to miss the lack of physical affection, Charles suffered. His late wife Diana reportedly said of him, “The only thing he learned about love was shaking hands.”

However, worse was to come. While affection from his parents might have been limited growing up, at least when he was at home he was mollycoddled by his adoring nannies and nursery staff. His governess, Miss Katharine Peebles, noted that a young Charles “was very responsive to kindness but if you shouted at him, he would draw back into his shell and you would be able to do nothing with him”.

That period of Charles’ life came to an abrupt end when he was sent to a boarding prep school, Cheam, and then to Gordonstoun, his father’s alma mater.

Neither school was a success, with both focusing heavily on outdoor sports at which Charles did not excel. The Queen noticed his reticence about his schooling at Cheam – in 1958 she wrote to the-then Prime Minister Anthony Eden, “Charles is just beginning to dread the return to school next week – so much worse for the second term.”

The young prince struggled to make friends at his prep school, and was reportedly bullied for his sticking-out ears and a rather pudgy appearance. Becoming Prince of Wales at the tender age of nine did not improve matters.

Things might have been different for Charles if the Queen Mother had got her way and managed to persuade her daughter to send Charles to Eton, which she thought would be “ideal for his character and temperament”. But the Duke of Edinburgh had been heavily influenced by the teachings of Dr Kurt Hahn, the founder of Gordonstoun, and his emphasis on “out-of-classroom” activities. He enjoyed his own time at the school, and his experience eventually led him to creating the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme.

However, it was utterly wrong for Charles. Boys slept with the windows open at all times and had to take part in a gruelling morning run followed by a freezing cold shower.

Prince Philip may have wanted to toughen his son up, but the regime seemed to have the opposite effect of making Charles retreat more into his shell. In 1964, he wrote a letter detailing his hatred of the school he called “Colditz in kilts”.

“It’s such hell here especially at night,” he said. “I don’t get any sleep practically at all nowadays. The people in my dormitory are foul. Goodness they are horrid, I don’t know how anyone could be so foul.

“They throw slippers all night long or hit me with pillows or rush across the room and hit me as hard as they can, then beetle back again as fast as they can, waking up everyone else in the dormitory at the same time. I still wish I could come home. It’s such a hole this place!” Royal expert Duncan says, “From his formative years, Charles had to put up with being portrayed as an awkward young guy with big ears, pretty much aloof from the rest of his planet.”

As an adult, Charles did revise his opinion of Gordonstoun, saying in an address to the House of Lords in 1975, “It was only tough in the sense that it demanded more of you as an individual than most other schools did, mentally or physically.

"I am lucky in that I believe it taught me a great deal about myself and my own abilities and disabilities. It taught me to accept challenges and take the initiative.”

Still, the fact that he sent his own two sons to Eton College instead suggests he wasn’t willing to try the Gordonstoun experiment on them. But there was one element of his schooling that he enjoyed, which had a more profound effect on his character. For two terms in 1966, Charles was sent thousands of miles away to Timbertop school in Australia’s Outback. Despite it being as tough as Gordonstoun, he loved it.

Sally Bedell Smith writes in her book Prince Charles: The Passions And Paradoxes Of An Improbable Life, “The prince was liberated by the informality of a country where, as he quickly discerned, ‘there is no such thing as aristocracy or anything like it’. For the first time, he was judged on ‘how people see you, and feel about you’.”

At the same time, he was starting to excel at one sport his father thoroughly approved of – polo. After Prince Philip’s death last year, it was notable that Charles shared an image of himself as a youngster playing polo with his dad. The implication was clear – the pair both shared a passion for the sport, and bonded over their mutual enjoyment of it.

Polo, of course, would have an impact on Charles’ life in other ways. After his student days had come to an end in 1970 – he studied history, archaeology and anthropology at Trinity College, Cambridge, a much happier time for him – he met the woman who would shape his life, Camilla Shand. Their brief relationship lasted until Charles joined the Royal Navy in 1971.

To the outside world, it looked like Charles was finally finding his feet as a royal. Pictures from his time at Cambridge and in the Royal Navy show a much more assured young man, no longer awkwardly shuffling or looking down at his feet.

Finally, the country was now seeing the Action Man side of Charles giving the thumbs-up from a Royal Navy helicopter to looking dapper on deck in his standard issue RN jumper.

Suddenly, he was the world’s most eligible bachelor, with a string of aristocratic beauties on his arm – dubbed “Charlie’s Angels”. His influential great-uncle, Lord Mountbatten, was said to have advised him to “sow his wild oats and have as many affairs as he can”.

With Camilla off the market, having married in 1973, Charles dallied with, among others, Lady Jane Wellesley, Davina Sheffield, Sabrina Guinness and Lady Sarah Spencer.

He even proposed to some of his girlfriends, including Lady Amanda Knatchbull and Anna Wallace. Crucially, the latter called off the relationship when Charles reportedly spent too much time dancing with Camilla at the Queen Mother’s 80th birthday party – even though he had popped the question twice to Anna.

They had only just split when Charles finally set his sights on Lady Diana Spencer.

Having spent a decade on the dating scene, it’s no wonder that the prince – now over 30, and under pressure in the press to find a bride – thought he had found the perfect solution in the teenage Diana.

Sadly, the ill-suited marriage would leave him feeling as lonely as he had once done in the dormitories of Gordonstoun.

Feature taken from OK!'s Royal Collector's Edition on King Charles III: Our New Monarch, available in store now for £5.99 or to purchase online click here.


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