‘I went to school with King Carlos III: I felt sorry for him’

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RI remember when he king charles iii —by then, prince— arrived at school for the first day of classes. As soon as he got out of the car, he was surrounded by his mother, the late Queen isabel IIthe principal, the president of the school board and several other people.

Carlos, 13, was a small boy, dressed in a gray suit, had very prominent ears, and seemed terrified.

However, that was not the first time I saw him. I met him a little earlier, when he and another first-year boy invited me to meet before classes started at Gordonstounour school in Scotland. It so happens that we were invited to tea with the queen and the prince philipwho were accompanied by Prince carlos and the prince andrew.

I rode my bike to the appointment in a Scottish house near the school. It was very cold and he was wearing the shorts that were part of the uniform.

I commented on arrival that I didn’t like wearing shorts in the winter, and Gordonstoun alumnus Prince Philip replied: “Shorts are worn all over the world. Australians wear shorts.”

And then I said a stupid thing: “Yes, of course. But the weather is very different here, sir.” I have never forgotten the icy response: absolute silence. Although the queen was smiling, Prince Philip seemed furious.

I don’t remember Carlos saying anything during that tea party. He was a very quiet and reserved child.

CARLOS III: SHY AND WITHDRAWN

Between 1962 and 1965 I attended some classes with Carlos III. He was very intelligent and studious. And he also had artistic qualities, since he excelled in painting and sculpture. I know because we shared art class, and he was always so much better than me.

But he was also very shy and withdrawn and seemed lonely and isolated at times. It took me some time to get to know him better.

I don’t think Gordonstoun was the right school for him. I think he wasn’t ready for that somewhat macho environment, because Carlos was a gentle and thoughtful boy.

Every morning, regardless of the weather, we would run shirtless around a soccer field. We just wore shorts and tennis shoes, no matter if it was pouring rain or snowing. And after the exercise we would return to the bedroom to take a cold shower.

As in many other public schools of the time, the boys were quite cruel. The seniors used to bully the first years. It was common for the older ones to break into the bedroom to throw us out of bed, into laundry baskets or into the freezing shower.

King Carlos III, during his proclamation as king, on September 10, 2022. (Photo: WPA Pool / Pool)

The older ones were merciless with Carlos. The problem may have been that the school authorities said that Carlos “should not receive special treatment.” And that, in my opinion, served as an excuse for them to abuse him.

They used to harass him in the school residence where he had his bedroom. Of course they didn’t tease him during classes, but some did attack him on the rugby pitch, pulling his ears and beating him. Simply put, he was the target of abuse. Sometimes, someone would say: “Today ‘it’s ‘Prince Charles’”, and his comrades would take it out on him.

It is indisputable that adolescent boys are unbearable, but I consider that those boys were cruel to Carlos III because they envied his social status.

It must be admitted that Carlos never complained and —as far as I know— he never cried. In those days it was difficult to know how he really felt because, from a very young age, we boys learn not to show our emotions. Still, the fact is that Carlos never flinched and he never hit back.

I felt bad for him. I realized that he was being abused a lot, and yet I didn’t know what to do to help him. But I liked him, and I think his classmates did too.

Another problem was that the older ones also attacked those who were nice to Carlos. And if they were her friends, they had a worse time. They branded them “friends of the king” and made them pay for it.

THE CLASS Prankster

Often, seeing them pass, they would stick out their tongues and move them as if they were “licking Carlos’ feet”. For this reason, many avoided forging ties of friendship with the then prince. And the memory of all that, from my perspective as father and grandfather, breaks my soul.

Over time, some ended up befriending Carlos; so they had to learn to tolerate the abuse inherent in that friendship.

As Carlos began to feel more confident, it became clear that he had a very subtle sense of humor. I remember once, while we were chatting in the classroom, he told us that he didn’t know where the Buckingham Palace kitchens were.

We all looked at him, mouths open, until he started laughing. It was a joke. And we certainly found her very funny.

Since he also loved the radio program “The Goon Show” -very popular in the 1950s-, Carlos III used to do impersonations of the characters. So, when the class was quiet, or we were feeling a little restless or bored, we would suddenly hear his voice from the back of the room, saying: “What time is it, Eccles”, to which he himself would reply: “No idea, It is 8 o’clock”. Of course, we all burst out laughing.

I have the impression that Carlos enjoyed certain school activities. For example, since he was part of the coast guard team, he used to sit on the lookout tower to observe nature and wildlife.

I imagine that from there derives much of his passion for nature and the environment. We students also often went hiking or sailing, as Gordonstoun put a lot of emphasis on enjoying the outdoors. That may have sparked our deep interest in the environment.

Charles III

Stonborough and his wife, Jane, in 2019. The couple have met King Charles at public events. (Photo: special)

In a 1975 speech to the House of Lords, Charles said he was “lucky” to study at Gordonstoun, and was “always amazed at how much nonsense is said about [la escuela] and the careless abuse of old-fashioned clichés that are often used to describe it.” Even though I understand why she said that, I don’t share her opinion.

Over the years, I have bumped into Carlos on occasion. I had a PR agency and we did some work for the Duchy of Cornwall, so I would meet him at public events.

On those occasions, someone would remind him, “This is Johnny Stonborough,” to which he would reply, “Oh yeah!” I remember once he commented to my wife that I had lost a lot of hair since our school years. It was a friendly joke, of course.

On another occasion, we started to remember that he and I were dance partners at school. It was a Scottish dance and, as there were no women in Gordonstoun, we took turns dancing with our partners.

I don’t remember much about that particular incident. What I don’t forget is that we had to wear kilts [faldas escocesas] and that we strive to dance the best we can.

Carlos III has changed a lot since we went to school. He is no longer a self-absorbed boy. He is a full-fledged man who expresses opinions with great aplomb. He speaks with great sense and does not hesitate to express his deep love for the UK, the environment and his charity, The Prince’s Trust. He is very committed to what he does, and for that I admire him.

CARLOS AND DIANA

I had the privilege of knowing Princess Diana – not particularly well, though briefly – as we were godparents to a mutual friend’s daughter. And the truth is, I liked him a lot. She was a very beautiful woman. She had a kind of radiance, similar to that of the queen herself. Being in the presence of people like this always leaves a mark.

When Diana and Carlos’s marriage ended in failure, many took sides and blamed various people. For my part, I refused to do so. I knew both parties and I liked them both, so I didn’t want to participate in that debate.

I think Carlos has played a remarkable role in his early days as king. He has to deal with his personal grief and, at the same time, deal with his obligations as a public figure. It is not an easy task. But, in my opinion, he has performed extremely well.

WHY HE WILL BE A GOOD KING

It seems to me that his speech on Friday, September 9, was impeccable and very sincere. And, furthermore, it included his son Harry and his wife Meghan, which I thought was absolutely correct.

In my opinion, Carlos’s wife is wonderful. I don’t know Camilla, but what I’ve heard about her suggests that she is a fun and kind woman. I have been told that she is also very funny. I think she’ll be great as a queen consort.

And, of course, Carlos III will also be a good monarch. I consider him a serious, honest, committed and good man, and I trust that he will have the opportunity to demonstrate these virtues. He may not be a glamorous king, because he is not a flashy or ostentatious individual, but a dedicated man. However, I am sure that he will do a good job, as did his mother. N

—∞—

Johnny Stonborough is a journalist, historian, and author of historical novels. Of these, the most recent bears the title of “Wild Field”. All opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author. Published in cooperation with Newsweek. Published in cooperation with Newsweek.

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