A royal party to remember

Prince Charles certainly knows how and where to host a party: at a magnificent, medieval castle on a mountain-top in Wales with lots of champagne — and CARPNews was there.

The gold-embossed invitation from Buckingham Palace read: “His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales requests the pleasure of the company of Mr. John Macdonald at Powis Castle at 6.00 p.m. Monday, 28th July 1997.”

The invitation was not a surprise. I had previously been sounded out by a British government official to see if I would accept the Prince’s invitation. In this way, invitations from high-ranking royals are never RSVP’d “unable to attend.” Also, I was honored, as I was one of only four Canadian journalists invited to the event.

Besides being a great host, Prince Charles also has guts. He invited journalists from 15 countries to join him at Powis Castle, an ancient but still lived-in castle in southern Wales to promote the country. Over the years, Charles has taken a fair bit of abuse from British journalists — he’s been the target of muck-racking tabloids every time he turns around. Even his most laudatory tasks and accomplishments, of which there are many, are often sneered atI found him to be a nice guy. He asked thoughtful questions and appeared genuinely interested in each individual. The Prince took his time, strolling around the castle courtyard with very little protocol as he made sure to chat with each of us. In addition to the four Canadians, there were representatives from South Africa, Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, Ireland, Singapore, Australia, USA, Dubai, Spain, Portugal, Norway, Sweden and Belgium. All in all, it was an intimate gathering for a royal function, only 40 or so invited guests.

Before going to Wales, we were informed this was not a press conference. “Nothing that the Prince may say to a guest individually is to be quoted, reported or reproduced in any way,” we were told. However, he would be making a short statement at the end of the reception which could be quoted. Also, we were not allowed to bring cameras or tape recorders — it was a social affair — but the Prince had his own photographer on hand.

Without cameras flashing and journalists recording his every word, the Prince was relaxed and seemed to enjoy himself. He and I chatted, as he did with others. I can’t report what we said — however, it was just social chit-chat, nothing momentous.

It was a glorious, sunny day. Luckily so, as the reception was held outdoors in the castle courtyard with six harps and a Welsh male choir providing a musical backdrop. The castle’s medieval walls loomed above us, below were glorious gardens, a riot of color. In the distance, the picturesque Severn Valley.

It wasn’t all play for the Prince. He was working — as a spokesman for the glories of Wales. Prior to his departure he told us he takes advantage of his right as Prince of Wales to stay at Powis Castle once a year. He also mentioned the steady increase in Welsh tourism: It generated $4.3 billion for the economy in 1996 and employs nine per cent of the workforce.

Wales has beautiful landscapes, medieval castles, ancient myths and legends, said the Prince. “But Wales is more than this,” he remarked. “With her own rich and distinct culture and language, and a famously welcoming people, she offers unforgettable experiences… I hope I can persuade you to take an interest, not only in Wales as a place to visit, but also as an example of the ways that tourism can insure the survival of rural communities and threatened cultures. The diversity Wales seeks to preserve and offer to visitors is what we must achieve throughout the world.”

As the Prince walked up the castle steps to leave, the choir started to sing the old Welsh hymn “God Bless The Prince of Wales”. He stopped, turned and looked over at the choir. When the choir hit the hymn’s last line, “God Bless The Prince of Wales,” he broke into a huge grin, turned to his guests and appeared to give a thumbs-up sign, as if to say “That’s my song!”