Put Away The Ponies, Jeeves, And Send In The Pr Chap

In the court of public opinion, the Prince of Wales has a formidable rival: another royal named Diana. Diana's April speech to a London conference on eating disorders garnered such front-page headlines as The Guardian's "Princess Delivers Spellbinder on Anorexia and Bulimia." Meanwhile, Charles's oration in Cambridge next day on global security got minimal coverage.

But Charles's handlers aren't about to let Lady Di, now estranged from her husband, get in the way of their man. They feel it's high time the world learned that beneath the eccentricities and alleged affairs, the Prince of Wales is a royal with a conscience, determined to help his country and leave his mark on the age. Just in the past month, Charles's office has announced plans for everything from a fund for small businesses in Africa and Asia to an environmental program for global hotel chains.

ROYAL ROMPS. The Brand Royal, to use a marketing metaphor, could do with a repositioning. Numerous line extensions, including Lady Diana, Prince Andrew, and the Duchess of York, have attracted enough negative publicity through their romps to erode decades of goodwill acquired by the Queen and Queen Mum. "If they continue to offend people," says veteran royal watcher James Whitaker of the London Daily Mirror, "the survival of the monarchy is at stake."

Not if Charles can help it. To get the message of his tireless activities across the Prince's office has hired one of London's top PR execs, Belinda Harley. Says a close aide: "Unless you communicate what he's doing, he's just another polo player with a bad marriage." Make that former polo player: The Prince has given up league polo to look more serious. He helped persuade the Queen to pay taxes and to open Buckingham Palace to public tours.

The Prince regularly consults with top businessmen such as Sir Allen J.G. Sheppard, chairman of Grand Metropolitan PLC, and rock impresario Harvey Goldsmith, who advise him to persevere and go global with his dealmaking and speechifying. "He'll ask me if he has a right to express his views," says Sheppard. "I tell him he has an obligation."

And the royal aura can still open doors. "There aren't too many people who are going to turn down a chance to meet the Prince of Wales," notes Lodwrick M. Cook, Atlantic Richfield Co. chairman and a backer of several of Prince Charles's programs. The Prince has raised money for a trust that is training the unemployed and giving entrepreneurs seed capital.

Although every Briton can tell you about Charles's alleged off-color phone calls to his putative mistress, the hard work has produced converts among the commoners. In Llanelli, Wales, where unemployment stands at 17% and social programs are being whittled down, the pull of Prince Charles lured Sarah Williams to take three months off from her job to work in his volunteer program at a school for handicapped children. "He's got radical ideas," says Williams. "The country needs somebody like him to survive." And perhaps Charles needs royalists like Williams to survive as well.

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