Prince Charles Raises Hackles With TV Documentary : Britain: In program airing tonight, he reportedly admits to adultery and says, as king, he would drop the title ‘defender of the faith.’


Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, has created a whirlwind of controversy by his outspoken participation in a television documentary that is scheduled to air tonight but excerpts of which have already been leaked.

The 2 1/2-hour program, with broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby, is frank to an unprecedented degree, with the prince reportedly admitting for the first time to committing adultery during his marriage to Princess Diana.

He also says in the documentary, marking the 25th anniversary of his investiture as Prince of Wales, that he wants to end the sovereign’s role as head of the Church of England. He suggests this by noting that, if he became king, he would drop his traditional royal description as “defender of the faith,” meaning the Church of England. He sees himself, instead, as a defender of all faiths in Britain.


Several religious commentators have criticized this view and said that it puts him at odds with the Establishment as well as his mother, Queen Elizabeth II.

The transcript of the documentary has been closely held, but one version was leaked to Independent Television News. Buckingham Palace and ITN say the final version is still subject to last-minute editing.

But in the program, Dimbleby reportedly asks Charles, 45, whether he was faithful to the princess. He answers “Yes,” pauses and adds, “until it became clear that the marriage had irretrievably broken down.”

There is no direct mention of Camilla Parker-Bowles, the woman with whom the prince is said to have conducted a long affair; an intimate telephone conversation between the two, with embarrassing sexual exchanges, was intercepted in 1989. Neither the prince nor Parker-Bowles has denied conducting that conversation.

The prince, in the documentary, reportedly does refer to Parker-Bowles and her husband, Brig. Andrew Parker-Bowles, as “dear friends.”

But it is unclear when he thinks his marriage broke down. A raft of books and articles suggest that Charles maintained a close relationship with Parker-Bowles from the earliest days of his marriage. Popular speculation long has held that their relationship was a central reason for the breakup of his marriage, officially announced 18 months ago.


Princess Diana has reportedly told friends that her marriage was over, almost from the start, when she found that Charles was still in contact with Parker-Bowles, whom he had escorted before their engagement. The princess has also indicated to friends that they had not shared a bed since 1987.

Later in the program, the prince, asked about the breakdown of his marriage, is said to have grown irritated and snapped: “Look, come on. It happens to half the country and it happened to me. It is not something I wanted to happen.”

Some Anglican churchmen, including George Austin, Archdeacon of York, have insisted that an heir to the throne who admitted infidelity could not take the coronation oath. But on Tuesday, Austin seemed to change his mind, declaring that if the affair was over, “I don’t think there is a problem for the future. All Christians make mistakes and do things which are contrary to God’s will.”

But the Rev. Tony Highton, a leading member of the General Synod, disagreed, arguing Tuesday: “From what I understand, there does not appear to be any hint of penitence. And that is going to cause him very serious problems. I, therefore, do not think he is fit to become defender of the faith and supreme governor of the Church of England.”

Harry Greenway, a Conservative member of Parliament, said bluntly, “You cannot hold several faiths at the same time, so the idea of becoming defender of all of them is absurd.”

Although many have applauded Charles for acknowledging the multiplicity of religious beliefs in modern British society, they have suggested he was asking for trouble in bringing up the issue today.


Charles also has been criticized for his decision to submit to the documentary, the filming of which lasted more than a year and was designed to improve his image with the British people.

The entire Royal Family, critics and supporters have agreed, has been in dire need of a public relations boost as, in recent years, all the queen’s married children have been divorced or separated. And the monarch herself has been forced to pay for the repair of fire-damaged Windsor Castle and to submit to income taxes on part of her holdings.

As for the documentary, palace observers said Charles may have made a major misjudgment in speaking so openly in an exercise designed to win him support--and that it could end up having the opposite effect.