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YOUR ROYAL HA-HA-NESS; Wisecracking Charles shows off his new sense of humour.

Prince Charles launched a new charm offensive yesterday and showed he can still crack jokes with the best of them.

Charles left his private aircraft cabin to chat to me and three other journalists and soon revived his old sense of humour.

He revealed he had spent a sleepless night on his flight from London to South Africa, quipping: "I can never sleep properly on planes. I shall have to carry a Lilo to spread out on the floor."

As we headed for Swaziland in a small charter plane, we asked him if he planned to take the controls.

Quick as a flash he replied: "Good God no. The last time I went off the end of the runway."

The prince was harking back to 1994 when he overshot the runway piloting a plane into Islay in Scotland.

Then he raised a few smiles when he mistook another journalist for the Mirror's royal correspondent James Whitaker. Charles asked him: "You've been doing this a long time. You're from the Mirror aren't you?"

Charles wasn't finished with his light-hearted banter.

Asked if he recalled the last time he visited Swaziland in 1987, he replied cheekily: "Did you remember that line-up of bare-breasted women? I think that's how they choose a wife here."

Then he pointed at an imaginary woman, crooked his finger and mockingly gestured "come here". As he headed back to his cabin, Charles turned to us and warned: "I hope you are all remembering to take your anti-malaria tablets."

The prince is on a three-nation tour, taking in South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho.

He flew from Britain with Prince Harry, who is spending part of the trip on a game reserve with a school pal before linking up with his father on Saturday night for a Spice Girls concert in Johannesburg.

Charles's off-the-cuff chat is the first time for years he has spoken openly to journalists.

Since Princess Diana's death, senior royal aides have been privately trying to restore his image and shake off a public "misconception" that he is unemotional and distant.

One aide, told of the informal chat on the plane, said: "Excellent." Asked if one of the prince's entourage had suggested it, she replied: "He might just have thought of it himself, you know."

After touching down in Swaziland, Charles's sense of humour didn't let him down.

At a tree-planting ceremony outside the Swazi Parliament, the beaming prince - once ridiculed after he admitted he talked to plants - shook the branch and whispered "good luck tree" before he planted it.

Minutes later Charles's mood became sombre as he paid tribute to Princess Diana.

After Swazi senator Lawrence Mncina offered his country's condolences, Charles said: "We have all been touched by the flood of messages and kindness we have received from all over the world."

Later he visited the royal palace to meet King Mswati III and the Queen Mother. Her official title is the Great She Elephant and she insists ministers, the police chief and commander in chief greet her on their hands and knees.

At a banquet last night Charles defended tradition - but recognised the need for change.

He told guests: "In my view, a nation which loses its culture and its tradition has lost its soul."

Earlier Charles must have smiled again - he was treated to a repeat of the display he vividly recalled on the plane - a traditional ceremony with topless dancers and singers.

Voice Of The Mirror - Page 6
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Author:And, JANE KERR
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Oct 30, 1997
Words:576
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