Sitting in the garden of Clarence House with his photogenic, healthy, colour-coded wife, sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren, Prince Charles looks like he’s living his best life.
The beaming heir to the British throne has grandson George, 5, perched on his knee for a photo, in a splendidly contemporary and understated message of Windsor wealth, unity and succession power.
The snap is one of two released to commemorate Prince Charles’ 70th birthday on Wednesday.
Looking like stills from a well-cast Hollywood family sitcom, they show not just the first glimpse of six-month-old Prince Louis since his christening in July, but a relaxed, insider’s look at the royals at home.
In them, the birthday boy (who scored “china or something for the garden” from wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, and was made guest editor of Country Life magazine) looks to have everything he could ever want.
Or almost. Past the age when many people retire, there’s just one thing he’s missing.
The job he was born for.
Since 1952, when he was three and his mother became Queen Elizabeth, the terrible catch 22 of Charles’ world has been that for him to clinch the main family job and become King, his mum has to die.
He’s the longest-waiting heir apparent in history.
“I think it’s always been an ambivalent situation for him. He would be well aware that his mother has the genes of a very long-living person,” Flinders University associate professor Giselle Bastin, a royals expert, told The New Daily.
“There’s every indication that the Queen is not about to take her leave any time soon, and Charles would be resigned to knowing he has to wait.
“Still, it’s been an awful long time to be the one in waiting.”
Camilla shrugged off the idea that not having the lead role is tough for her husband. “His destiny will come. He’s always known it’s going come and I don’t think it does weigh on his shoulders at all,” she told the BBC.
While he hangs in the wings, Charles is hardly without things to do. In 2017, he carried out 546 official jobs, more than anyone else in the royal family.
“Having more time at home with him would be lovely,” his eldest son Prince William said, but for Charles, his advancing years mean an extra urgency, crown or no crown.
“Anyone of my age knows that days pass at a far greater speed than when they were young,” he told Vanity Fair’s November issue.
“But in my case there are so many things that need to be done.”
At the Queen’s request, that means “taking on increased duties from his mother, and apparently having more access to government and how the place is run,” Ms Bastin said.
“If anything, he overcompensates for not being on the throne yet by being one of the busiest royals. Charles has come a long way, but there’s enough Windsor in him that he’s devoted to duty.”
As an English peer close to the royal family told Vanity Fair: “Charles figured out a very long time ago that he was going to be Prince of Wales for a very long time”.
“He planned his life accordingly, and he wouldn’t have been able to accomplish half of what he has if he had become King earlier,” they said.
Not being crowned yet has given Prince Charles a degree of freedom he may otherwise not have had, and leeway to be more outspoken about things that matter to him – climate change, architecture and alternative medicine.
The royal grandfather acknowledged in a new BBC documentary to commemorate his birthday, Prince, Son & Heir, that he knows when he becomes King his involvement with the monarchy will take a different path.
“I do realise that it is a separate exercise being sovereign. So of course… you know I understand entirely how that should operate,” he said.
Despite his life of staggering wealth and privilege, Charles “has famously bemoaned his fate” as a future King, Ms Bastin told The New Daily.
“He doesn’t see it as privilege but as enormous hard work. He really dislikes the fact his calendar is set literally a year in advance. He’s chafed against that a bit,” she said.
In the same BBC documentary, William, 36, said he’s “working more heavily on” getting ‘Grandpa Wales’, as Charles is called, “more time with the children”.
Said father of three William: “Now he’s reached his 70th year it’s a perfect time to consolidate a little bit … he’s the fittest man I know but equally I want him to be fit until he’s 95.”
What’s the upside of being in a career holding pattern for 67 years?
“He must realise how incredibly well-placed he is. He married his soul partner, loves his grandchildren and he’s always loved his sons,” Ms Bastin said.
“He had to take a back seat when they were smaller because Princess Diana deliberately owned the ‘uber parent’ role, but he’s apparently still always been close with the boys.”
Official festivities for the prince’s milestone birthday began with the Queen’s reception and dinner in the State Rooms of Buckingham Palace on Wednesday evening (UK time).
Other European royal dignitaries including Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary of Denmark were on the guest list.