My barney with Charlie

'I felt compelled to run some of my thoughts past Prince Charles, to make sure that people's aspirations for a better life were not viewed with such royal distaste.'

Reshmi Parag

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Topics Politics

When Prince Charles offered £500,000 to UK farmers in March 2001, to help alleviate the impact of foot-and-mouth disease on their livelihoods, many were deeply moved by his generosity.

But it didn’t come as any surprise to me – not because I think the prince is a giving and generous person, but because it confirmed my view that Charles has a passion for going ‘back to nature’ and doing things the ‘traditional’ way.

I discovered this during a conversation I had with the man himself in March 2001. I was at a Commonwealth function, when I overheard an exchange between Charles and a young Singaporean woman. The bright, industrious development worker was saying how much she resented people in the developing world trying to emulate people here in the developed world. Charles responded with equal gusto, saying that he was so glad she had said that. Though I was not looking at him, I could imagine him rubbing his hands with glee.

At this point, I felt compelled to throw some of my thoughts and experiences into the pot – not so much to spice things up but to make sure that people’s aspirations for a better life were not viewed with such royal distaste.

I pointed out that when travelling in developing countries I was often struck by how much people wanted the latest technology and the kind of stuff we take for granted here in the North. Charles chuckled something along the lines of people always wanting what is fashionable.

I felt a bit irritated by such a dismissive comment and retaliated that some fashions stay because they make sense to people, they improve people’s lives. Yes, he said, but you don’t want them getting stuck in a niche market; after all, they do have to compete on the world market.

In an attempt at a pseudo-reconciliation (since my ears were scarlet by now and some people had become quite interested in the conversation), I lowered my tone and, looking at the nervously smiling Indians in the room, said: ‘Yes, you are right, India is a good case in point – it has some of the best IT specialists and software developers, but it is still outdone by Japan and the USA. However, it is all very well to say this technology is useful or not – we have a choice in this country. People in developing countries do not.’

Yes, said Charles, but you don’t want them flocking into the cities….
Reshmi Parag is a volunteer with the youth education charity WorldWRITE, which organises exchanges between young people in Europe and the developing world. Email: worldwrite@easynet.co.uk

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