Prince Charles: My parenting role model?

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I’m not a royalist. At all. I definitely sit more in the ‘what’s the point of them?’ camp than the ‘I think I’ll order that decorative plate with the Queen’s face on from the Sunday mag’ side when it comes to the Royal Family.

Yet I’ve found my stance wavering on occasion. Wills and Harry and their own lovely families have done more to boost the Royals’ brand appeal than anyone would have thought possible, of course, but it’s often Prince Charles who gets me feeling a bit wobbly. (Not in that way.)

I find myself thinking ‘oh how lovely’ when I read about his relationship with his sons.

It’s the contrast that gets me – of his stiff upper lip demeanour and all the stupid pomp of the monarchy, against tales that demonstrate the Wales’ closeness. The sense that the younger princes probably roll their eyes a lot and take the mick out of their poor dad; embarrassment and exasperation unable to disguise pure love.

My heart was warmed again – despite myself – last week, when it was revealed that Charles used to take his sons litter-picking during school holidays. In a new BBC documentary marking Charles’ 70th birthday, William explained how they’d “be there with our spikes, stabbing rubbish into black plastic bags.”

“We both just thought: ‘Oh well this is perfectly normal, everyone must do it’.”

I bet that’s not what they really thought. I bet/hope they grumbled and pulled faces behind Charles’ back, wondering how much more cr*p he’d make them sift through before they could get back to the palace and watch The Really Wild Show on telly.

It made me think about the types of activities I might rope my son into when he’s older. Like most people, I feel angry when I see rubbish on beaches and streets, but I’ve never been on an organised clean-up.

Will being a mother make me more of an activist when it comes to politics or the environment? Will I take my boy on marches – despite the fact I’ve only ever been an armchair supporter of causes in the past – to show him that we must make a stand for what we believe in?

Will becoming a parent make me a better person?

Or will the endless demands of parenthood instead make me more apathetic and less involved than I am now? Worse, will tiredness and an increasingly packed schedule make me lose sight of the things I’m already passionate about?

The BBC documentary shows footage of Prince Charles in 1970, giving a speech where he warns of the dangers of plastic waste. His passion for the environment developed before he became a father, and he has since shared that passion with his sons. (Even if sometimes they would have preferred to have been watching telly. Probably.)

But how many of us lose our passions once we become parents, or at least can’t commit to them as fully as we once did? I suspect it’s unlikely that Charles’ dedication to environmental matters was ever compromised by childcare struggles, or because he was knackered after being up all night with a teething toddler.

I’m a writer, and my partner is a musician. I’m hopeful that we’ll have the patience and the luxury of time to share our passions with our son. We’ll encourage him to love gigs and festivals and travel as much as we do.

But what else can I teach him? Should I be marching and litter-picking and generally just doing more, in order to set a good example? Maybe.

And then he’ll grumble and pull faces behind my back and eventually go off and find his own passions anyway. And that will be just fine with me.

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About Laura O'Donnell

Laura is mum to Ted and partner of Graham Norton (yes really, and no, not that one). Laura left a glamorous life working in PR – first in London, then Sydney, Australia – to return to her less glamorous hometown of Hull, Yorkshire. She set up a PR consultancy and writes a column in Hull Daily Mail, which used to be about culture and going out; it’s now about culture and attempting a social life with a sleep-averse one-year old. Laura blogs at Only Teethin’, loves good guitar pop music and can be bought with donuts. Find her on Instagram @TheLauraOD.