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Prince Charming and the Yorkshire Dales
Friday 27 February , 2004

IT MAY come as a shock to some readers that I spent a large – a too large – chunk on my professional life working for a Fleet Street tabloid. I quit and came to the Dales almost 20 years ago and haven’t read a "red top" since.

My reason: total disgust at the way the gutter press had begun to report not stories but gossip – mainly malicious gossip – about various famous people and, in particular, members of the Royal Family.

Now I am no raging royalist but I believe everyone has a right to personal privacy so long as it does no-one else any harm. And the battering that has been dished out to Prince Charles over the years often makes me feel ashamed of my chosen trade.
Prince Charles

Here is a man who is qualified war ship captain, a trained helicopter pilot and Red Beret parachutist, a man with a history degree from Cambridge, a fair cellist, a committed organic gardener, an outspoken critic of much modern architecture and – best if all for me – a well informed, deeply committed countryman.

Yet he is smeared, day in, day out, by city-based journalists whose personal attainments rarely climb above drunkenness, drug abuse, serial adultery in the unlikely event of having remained married and – the cardinal sin this – a total contempt for the truth.

Having got that off my chest, I shall now comment on one of Prince Charles’ longest running love affairs: his close and loyal attachment to the Yorkshire Dales and its people. It is something that we should value very highly.

This week’s visit to Skipton Auction Mart and housing association organisers from Kettlewell and Grassington, plus a school near Harrogate where meals are prepared from locally produced organic ingredients, was his seventh official tour of the area.

But there have been many more private visits. Swaledale resident Earl Peel is one of the Prince’s closest friends, as is the Duke of Westminster, whose North Lancashire grouse moors border on the Dales near Bentham.

I am not one of the VIPs who is invited to meet the man – which is good, because journalists should not move in such circles – but I know many people who have met him and their verdict is unanimous: he is charming, modest and often very funny when he feels at ease.

But most of all, he has a deep and sympathetic knowledge of the countryside in general and the Dales in particular. As a farmer, he understands the stresses of the past few years.

Down on his estatesin the South West, his tenants suffer the same problems: closing shops and pubs, lousy public transport, sky high property prices caused by rich weekenders. You name it, the ordinary country folk of Cornwall and the Yorkshire Dales have got it.

Now this is important. Very few elected politicians these days have a real understanding of rural needs, for all the confusing hype issuing from DEFRA. Any why should they? There aren’t many votes in country issues and the primary concern of any MP is getting re-elected, so townie views rule the polls.

In Prince Charles, we have a future king who is highly knowledgeable about rural affairs – and not at all averse to saying his piece. Country folk need as many supporters in high places as we can get – and places don’t get much higher than Buckingham Palace.

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