Droning on about Prince Charles and his chances of being king

Britain's Prince Charles during his visit of St. Petersburg's Peterhof (tsars' residence), famed for its beautiful fountains, 2003. Source: AP

Britain's Prince Charles during his visit of St. Petersburg's Peterhof (tsars' residence), famed for its beautiful fountains, 2003. Source: AP

Russia's obsession with the British royal family may have a whiff of suppressed envy about it, but fortunately the country has more modern interests too, says Nick Holdsworth.

For Russian readers, much like British ones, Prince Charles is a tragic-comic figure.

The eccentric environmentalist has provided a rich source for millions of column inches of print since the day he was born, November 14, 1948.

Agrumenty i Fakty, Russia's intelligent and respected tabloid, a bit like the Daily Mirror only in Cyrillic, used the occasion of Charlie's 66th birthday to devote a double page spread to question whether the Prince of Wales would ever become king.

For those Brits who don't know the Russians, it may come as a surprise to learn that Britain's royal family is revered as much in Moscow, St Petersburg and Yekaterinberg as in London, Manchester, Sheffield or Liverpool.

Forget what you learned at school about the bloody Bolshevik revolution and tawdry 1918 murder of the Romanovs, most Russians love the Windsors. When the Romanovs were given a state funeral in St Petersburg in 1999, DNA from Britain's Russian speaking Prince Michael of Kent, helped identify the remains.

Just like Fleet Street's obsession with the doings of the royals, the Russian press holds to certain double standards.

Patient endurance

Take the newspaper's headline: "Old prince. Why doesn't England want to see him crowned?"

It set the tone for a detailed recounting of his early life, hardships endured at school and university and gauche initial attempts at dating young women who might one day be queen alongside him.

Charles, whose personal motto is "Be patient and endure" (distinct from his princely one, which is "Ich Dien", meaning "I Serve"), is, the paper reminds us, the longest service Prince of Wales ever. "For 63 years Charles has remained first in line to the throne, a period for which no other heir to the throne has ever had to wait."

Like any British tabloid, the paper digs the dirt and enjoys doing so, reminding us that when Charles married his first bride, Diana in a grand state wedding televised the world over in July 1981, the "wife outshone the husband." Camilla's role in destroying that union, before and after the nuptials, is given plenty of attention under the rubric "Fatal Camilla."

Marriage wrecker

"The marriage was doomed from the start," the paper tells Russian readers who, surely like British readers, know that inside out but lap it up in the retelling.

"After securing his official wife, Charles continued his relationship with Camilla," behaving "like a typical British representative of the aristocracy."

It’s this subtle push and pull that makes Argumenty i Fakty's piece such a fascinating insight into contemporary Russian realities. As international relations sour against a background of sanctions and the rouble's nosedive puts paid to the hopes of ordinary Russians to visit Britain's royal haunts for themselves, a wonderful bit of hack journalism manages to convey both sentimental love for the Windsor clan and disdain for Britain's entrenched social castes.

Although the story strives to be fair, noting that "time heals" and Camilla's reputation has gradually grown to one where she is accepted by the Queen and the British public, is can't help but refer to popular rumours that the Queen is thinking of skipping Charles in favour of passing her crown to her grandson, Prince William and his hugely popular and glamorous wife Kate.

But in a masterful sleight of hand, it concludes that whether or not Charles is ever crowned king, "it is safe to say that there is no threat that Charles will ever be counted among the most successful and popular monarchs."

Secession not succession

Two months after Scotland voted to remain in its 300 year-old union with England, it's not Charles hopes of succession that are being discussed, but the continuing threat of secession, something the Queen is known to abhor. Russian language news site Baltinfo reports that a couple of days before Scots nationalist leader Alex Salmond formally tendered his resignation as the country's First Minister to the Scottish Parliament and the Queen, his successor Nicola Sturgeon told party faithful that "Someday, Scotland will become independent."

The short news item reminds us that nothing stands in the way of progress, particularly not when it comes to politicians.

Russia's progress to modernity has been relentless over the past 20 years since its traumatic transformation from the stagnation of Communism ended with the break up of the Soviet Union. Still, British readers might be forgiven for thinking that Amazon UK's proposals to launch a drone delivery service was an example of the west's superiority in all things technical, as reported by Russian tech website ixbt.com.

Pizza excess

Bah, humbug! What about the story of provincial Russian pizza entrepreneur Fyodor Ovchinnikov who last June launched the word's first commercial drone-delivered fast food in the remote northern city of Syktyvkar, capital of Russia's Komi Republic?

Mr. Ovchinnikov's video of the delivery shows crowds of adoring locals staring into the sky as the first of his Dodo Pizzas arrives to a dramatic soundtrack of Wagner's Flight of the Valkyries.

There's just one slight snag. That name, Dodo Pizza, does not bode well. Doesn't the Komi pizza king know the dodo was a flightless bird that became extinct soon after European explorers of the antipodes chanced upon its fine eating qualities? Seems some Russian are a bit more clued up: just like the legal challenges to commercial drone use in the UK and US, Mr Ovchinnikov's innovation has fallen foul of Russian regulators, who have banned the deliveries on safety grounds.

The opinion of the writer may not necessarily reflect the position of RBTH.

Read more: UK-Russia crossviews

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