Opinion: Defender of the prince's faith

Peter Stanford

Prince Charles's recent clash with ministers over his remarks on education reveals the ignorance that still thrives in our news-saturated culture. There is little that we don't know - or imagine we know - about the heir to the throne's life. In papers, magazines, on radio and TV, we've picked over his failed marriage and we've listened in to his phone calls with Camilla.

Yet, despite this barrage of froth, we remain curiously in the dark about the serious work the Prince's Trust has been doing for the past 20 years.

It is important that we should, not as a sales pitch for the organisation, but because if we had had a clear picture of the range of its activities, we would never have bothered with reports that Prince Charles said something to the effect that people ought to know their place. Which, of course, he didn't, but that is the spin put on his words in a private memo, read out in court on behalf of an aggrieved ex-employee.

I've conducted a brief straw poll among friends on the Prince's Trust.

What does it do, I asked? "Runs Cornwall", a few respondents suggested.

"Makes those nice organic sausages for supermarkets," said another.

Only about half knew that the trust's work was with the young, but even then few had any precise idea. Just for the record, it gives encouragement to youngsters from 14 upwards who are failing at school. It offers mentors to young people to get their lives back on course. And it provides support for young people setting up a business or embarking on a career.

Armed with such information, we might have seen government ministers' attacks on the Prince in another light. They, for example, tackle the problem of excluded 14-year-olds by slapping anti-social behaviour orders on them which only serves to criminalise them.

We know so much today, but oddly we choose to know so little. Faced with global, intractable problems, we tend to dwell on the trivia and the personalities.

It's all we can deal with. For all his apparent faults, putting his head in the sand is not a charge that could be laid against Prince Charles.

- Peter Stanford is a writer and broadcaster. He chaired the trustees of the national disability charity Aspire and now sits on various trustee boards.

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