Charterhouse

Richard Ingrams: The Prince’s windmills

Like Don Quixote, Prince Charles set out to put everything to rights (Getty)

“Haz, we will change the world!” With these words, it is reliably reported, the American television actress Meghan Markle put the seal on her engagement to Prince Harry – or Haz, as he was henceforward to be known to his beloved.

It may sound romantic to some, yet any admission on the part of anyone to a desire to change the world ought to set alarm bells ringing among the rest of us.

For me, a declaration of this sort will always call to mind the prototype of would-be world changers, as described by the great Spanish satirist Miguel de Cervantes. His name was, of course, Don Quixote, the “knight of the woeful countenance” who set out one day from his humble home on a self-made mission to put everything to rights.

Cervantes writes:

Now these dispositions being made, he would no longer defer putting his designs to execution, being the more strongly excited thereto by the mischief he thought his delay occasioned to the world, such and so many were the grievances he proposed to redress, the wrongs he intended to rectify, the exorbitances to correct, the abuses to reform and the debts to discharge.

Significantly, Don Quixote was middle-aged when he began to feel this way, and it was when approaching middle age that our best-known would-be world changer, Tony Blair, started to see himself as someone who had a duty to put everything to rights. It was to lead to all manner of accusations, particularly that he had lied to justify his invasion of Iraq in 2003. But what did it matter whether Saddam had weapons of mass destruction? Was it not a worthy cause to rid the world of this evil tyrant?

Fifteen years later the terrible consequences of Blair’s intervention are still being felt. But his conviction of the rightness of his actions has never once wavered. And he has even managed to rewrite history to identify himself with other statesmen acting in the same spirit as himself. Thus, he has maintained, the reason Britain went to war with Germany in 1939 was to stop Hitler persecuting the Jews. So Chamberlain and Churchill were blood brothers, united with him in their determination to do battle with the forces of evil.

If young Prince Haz is looking for a world-changing role model, he need look no further than his own father who, like Blair, has convinced himself that he has a God-given duty to put things to rights – “so many wrongs to rectify”.

Our politicians, the Prince of Wales insists, have failed to rise to the challenge. So it will be up to him to shoulder the responsibility, even if it makes him unpopular. “People think I’m mad,” he is fond of saying, according to his latest (disrespectful) biographer Tom Bower; whereas the reality is that even his well-wishers find him more of a comic character, with his passionate attacks on GM crops, New Age architects and his advocacy of herbal remedies to cure cancer.

All this as he travels around the world, not like Quixote on a decrepit old horse, but in a private jet, its hold piled high with his many suitcases, furniture, fancy organic foods and fruit juices.

Cervantes’s genius was to provide his high-minded hero with a more earth-bound companion in the bulky shape of his rustic squire Sancho Panza. And it is worth noting that both Blair and Charles have a similar figure at their side combining loyalty with an awareness of their master’s flaws.

Blair’s Sancho was Alastair “We don’t do God” Campbell, a hard-bitten, foul-mouthed tabloid journalist. Charles, meanwhile, has the burly, bearded Michael Fawcett, once a humble butler-cum-valet but now an indispensable factotum running all the Prince’s many charitable enterprises while making sure that his shoes are polished and that he has the requisite five daily changes of clothing.

Once bitten by the urge to change the world, you do not give up on the job. As I write, Charles is showing no intention of ceasing to interfere once he becomes king. Blair, meanwhile, is busy seeking to reverse the Brexit referendum result.

Prince Haz is perhaps fortunate that he is not sufficiently influential to cause any trouble. But the forceful and ambitious Meghan Markle may think otherwise. We shall see.

Richard Ingrams is a former editor of Private Eye and the Oldie