Prince Charles’s schooldays at Gordonstoun in Scotland were a notoriously difficult time for the young Royal, when many of his fellow boarders took unkindly to his status and he found himself frequently bullied.
Nevertheless, there were occasional moments of escape and liberty – though on one fateful day in 1963, even this small mercy was denied him, as a result of an incident the Prince of Wales still recalls somewhat bitterly.
During his second term at Gordonstoun, the heir to the British throne had been awarded the privilege of joining the crew of one of the school’s ketches – a two-masted sailing vessel, in this case named Pinta – and being permitted to sail around the northern coast of Scotland.
It was Monday 7th June 1963 when the 14-year-old Prince Charles and his crew had sailed westwards around the Highlands to arrive at Stornoway, on the Isle of Lewis. Charles and four other schoolboys had been given leave from Gordonstoun for the day, in order that they could lunch on the island and take in a film at the cinema.
There would be one obstacle to a peaceful afternoon, however: the lack of anonymity afforded to a future King.
As Charles and his young companions – along with his own personal bodyguard, Donald Green, perhaps the Prince’s only true friend and confidant – made their way from Stornoway’s shore through the town to the Crown Hotel, the Prince of Wales did not go unrecognised. Locals had spotted the Gordonstoun boat, and were now gathering to see if it had brought the Royal heir.
The group found no refuge in the lounge of the Crown Hotel; as Donald Green went off to the cinema to book the boys’ cinema tickets, a crowd had formed outside the hotel, with curious Royal fans peering through the windows at the overwhelmed Prince. Never one for being stared at like a zoo attraction, the Prince retreated into one of the hotel’s back rooms with no exterior windows – without realising that it was, in fact, a bar.
Conscious of the need to order a drink or be ejected from the privacy of his refuge, the young Charles racked his brains for an appropriate choice of tipple. “I said the first drink that came into my head,” he recalled, “because I’d drunk it before, when it was cold, out shooting.” That drink was a cherry brandy.
Unbeknownst to Charles, there were prying eyes inside the hotel as well as out; one of the other patrons at the bar was a freelance tabloid journalist, and by the next day the news of the Prince’s underage drinking was splashed all over the front pages – albeit thankfully overshadowed by the breaking news of the Profumo affair.
The Headmaster of Gordonstoun revoked Charles’s Junior Training Plan privileges, meaning he would no longer be allowed leave to go sailing and while away the afternoon at the pictures. However, this was not the worst of the aftermath; Donald Green – Charles’s Royal bodyguard and close friend – was sacked by the Metropolitan Police, losing the Prince one of his few allies at Gordonstoun. “The whole world exploded around my ears,” said Charles later. “I have never been able to forgive them for doing that. . . . I thought it was the end of the world.”
More recently, the Prince of Wales has grown a little closer to seeing the funny side of the whole affair – though his distrust of the media remains steadfastly intact. Just before Prince William’s 21st birthday – back in 2003 – Charles accompanied his son on a visit to a fair in Anglesey. After buying William two liqueurs, a sloe gin and a beer, the young Prince was overheard asking his father “Are you trying to get me pissed?”
Perhaps emboldened by the booze, Prince William pointed out another of the drinks on offer: “Look Pops, they’ve got cherry brandy!” Slightly taken aback by his son’s reference to his youthful misdemeanour, the Prince of Wales nevertheless gave a wry smile and offered his son some wise words: “Don’t believe everything they tell you.”