King Charles has a big job on his hands to provide an unsettled population a link with the past - Susan Dalgety
A picture of me, splendid in 1980s glasses and white business suit, has pride of place in my mother’s sitting room. But it’s the chap next to me that excites attention.
It’s none other than Prince – now King – Charles who shared a tiny stage with me in the Wester Hailes Social Club one sunny June morning in 1988.
He was the first member of the Royal Family I met and despite being an ardent republican at the time, I admit to being rather excited by the prospect of speaking on the same platform as him.
His speech was the last stop of a whirlwind tour of the housing estate but because, in a last minute change to his schedule, he had dropped into the local old people’s home and visited the McCabe family in their Clovenstone flat, he was running quite late.
When he eventually strode up the steps to the front door of the club, I was surprised, nay shocked, at how much better he looked in real life. He was slim, deeply tanned, with piercing blue eyes. Almost handsome I would have said, if no-one had been listening.
Our double act was a bit of blur. I remember he made me laugh quite a bit, but I can’t recall what either of us said. But last Thursday, while searching online as I waited for news about his mother, I found a souvenir copy of the Wester Hailes Sentinel community newspaper, of which I was editor at the time.
Local lad Scott Douglas, who went on to a glittering career in journalism, including a stint on this newspaper, reported on Charles’ speech, pointing out how impressed the prince had been by local people’s enthusiasm and determination in the face of significant challenges.
“I hope and pray that a lot of lessons have been learnt,” he said, in a clear dig at the city planners and architects who had designed the monolithic estate, adding that he hoped the future will “hold out even better prospects in what I know have been very difficult circumstances.”
Charles could have said those very same words this morning, not about Wester Hailes, but about the entire country.
He is now king of a country that has endured more than its fair share of some “very difficult circumstances” in recent years. First the great crash of 2008, which heralded a decade and more of Tory austerity.
Leaving the European Union damaged our economy in ways that we are only now beginning to understand. And the Covid-19 pandemic shook us to our core. Most of us are now immune to the worst effects of the virus, but we have still not recovered from the psychological and economic impact of lockdown. The Queen’s death, after 70 years on the throne, has just added to the feeling of national instability.
I am still a republican. But there is not going to be a revolution in the near future, and Charlies will be king until he too dies. He has a big job on his hands to provide an unsettled population a link with the past, and to offer hope that the future will be much better than the present. I hope he is up to it.
Link to Sentinel souvenir edition