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A wedding day message for Dales-lover Prince Charles

Friday 08 April 2005

Our countryside commentator John Sheard ducks the general election to reflect on today's marriage of Prince Charles to Camilla and praises him as one of the few people in British public life who actually understands the countryside

To be honest, in a week when a general election was finally declared, I should today be writing a long and learned piece on the political impact it could have on rural affairs. This is probably minimal anyway: there just aren't any modern-day politicians who have the faintest idea how the countryside works.

And as a recent opinion poll showed that 84% of the British people were bored by the election before it was even declared, I shall add no more to the apathy quotient. So here are some thoughts on one of the very few men in public life who does understand the rural scene: the Prince of Wales.

Unless a meteorite falls on Windsor Registry Office today (Saturday) as one cartoonist forecast this week, Charles will marry the love of his life, Camilla Parker-Bowles, against a howl of protest from the tabloids, the Church of England, the legal profession and any air-head celebrity who can grab a few headlines by pouring scorn on this long-suffering fellow.

Wedding day for Charles, a friend of the Dales?

Why it is causing such a fuss I have no idea: thousands of divorced couples no doubt got married this week and I wish them all well. But I feel for Charles because he is absorbing all this flak because, for once in his life, he is doing something he actually wants to do, rather than something that has been forced upon him from a sense of royal duty.

People who have met him in the Yorkshire Dales - where he is a regular visitor - say that he is above all a countryman, a shy, even timid sort of bloke who would much prefer to be on his organic farm than dodging the paparazzi wherever he goes.

He is a true friend of the Dales. He launched one of his favourite schemes, the Pub is the Hub, at Stainton, near Settle, because he passionately believes that our village pubs are one of the epicentres of rural life and could offer much more than a pint and a sandwich. Who can argue with that?

He is also passionately involved in many other campaigns to improve or preserve rural life: he has even had a model village built on Duchy of Cornwall land because local people were being forced out of their homes by rich London weekenders. Doesn't that sound somewhat familiar?

He has for years explored ways of making organic farming and gardening profitable, as opposed to being simply a fad, and is a great believer in preserving traditional breeds of sheep, cattle and even vegetable seeds - an idea which has just occurred to Defra (and, indeed, to the Yorkshire Dales National Park).

He also hunts (or did, as does/did Camilla), shoots and fishes because he knows that field sports are a key feature of rural life, not merely for leisure but as the economic lifeline of many country communities.

All this, of course, makes him a figure of fun to the London-based media, which is run by celebrity obsessed metrosexuals who think jogging on Hampstead Heath is a day in the country.

As for the politicians, Margaret Beckett, Secretary of State for Defra, sees green fields from time to time when she goes on her caravan holidays. That will give her a deep insight into rural problems (except, perhaps, for the traffic jams she no doubt causes).

The sad thing is that we live in a modern world where the countryside is considered part of the leisure industry for jaded townies, a place where you can queen it over the local peasantry and tell amusing tales back in Highgate about the time you got cow muck on your Gucci loafers.

This is why country folk need as many champions as we can get, for there are none in Westminster, Whitehall or Fleet Street. Prince Charles regularly infuriates denizens of those ivory towers by actually daring to criticise their shallow, metropolitan ways. Keep up the good work, Charles - and congratulations. I hope you have found happiness at last.

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