The Prince of Wales has been called many names in his 63 years, but even he might be surprised to learn that he is the Antichrist.
According to a dozen online websites, he fulfils several criteria by which he can be identified as the "Beast" from the Book of Revelations: by his name, his heraldic symbols, the fact that he is "a despicable person who has not yet received a kingship". Happily for Prince Charles's feelings, he has also been designated "Saviour of the World" in the Brazilian rainforest. In the city of Tocantins, a life-size statue shows him, in bronze, as a muscular, winged god, clad only in a loincloth. At his feet, a mass of bodies apparently trapped in mud represent the world he is saving through his enlightened approach to the environment.
For a mild-mannered, well-bred sexagenarian he inspires extreme reactions. And this weekend, as the eyes of a nation are on his mother as she celebrates her 60-year reign, many people will have mixed feelings as to whether he should be her successor.
A poll yesterday found that 42pc of the British public think he should step aside when the queen dies to leave the succession to his son, Prince William.
The findings suggest that the public hasn't found much to attract or endear it to its putative monarch.
People may have learnt to forgive his alleged treatment of Princess Diana; they may approve of his evidently happy marriage to the Duchess of Cornwall, and his warm relationship with his charismatic sons. But Charles still divides opinion on the question of whether he should ascend to the throne.
Why? Is it the long face, the intensely sad eyes, the side-of-the-mouth delivery, the air of whimsy partnered by an iron will? Is it his habit, on royal visits, of having a tentative go at the dance and the national costume? Is it that people have come to regard him as mostly as a figure of pathos and sympathy, a lifelong 'Nearly Man', an apprentice who never got the job, the senior royals' very own Waity Katy?
Or is it the persistent rumours that he tries to wield far too much influence for a powerless monarch-to-be?
Edward VII was 59 when he finally ascended the throne after the death of his mother Queen Victoria in 1901. Edward was 55 at his mother's diamond jubilee; he had to wait only another four years to become king. Charles is now 63. The queen appears to be in excellent health and could, like the queen mother, live another 15 years. By that time, Charles will be 78 -- a woefully advanced age at which to assume power.
It's hardly surprising, under the circumstances, that Charles has in recent years begun throwing his weight around as if he were already king, making direct representations -- in a way the queen would never do -- to politicians, businessmen, architects and fellow royals.
The Downing Street memoirs of Alastair Campbell record numerous episodes when then-prime minister Tony Blair reeled from the prince's attempts to influence government policy, either in long, handwritten letters or in conversation: complaints about the foxhunting bill, about the government's help for farmers during the 2001 foot-and-mouth crisis, in standing up for the principle of hereditary peers in the House of Lords, in speaking out over GM foods. Mr Blair once complained that the Prince was "screwing us".
Recently, he has taken to haranguing the Tory-Lib Dem coalition. It's said that, in its first few months, the prince lobbied no fewer than five ministers. He's been doing it for 30 years.
It's been noticed that the prince tends to use the many charities that bear his name as tools in persuading people to do what he wants. The Prince's Foundation for the Built Environment, for example, is used to showcase what the prince considers acceptable design or architectural schemes.
An air of coercive righteousness, of bullying virtue, hangs around him, and engenders suspicions that his habit of interfering in politics -- he readily admits to being "a meddling prince" -- pushes the limits of what the constitution allows.
Much of his influence has undoubtedly been for the good. He was drawing attention to environmental issues, global warming and climate change long before they became matters of general concern. His Prince's Trust charity has a fine record of inspiring young people for 35 years. But successive heads of government have come to wish he wouldn't stick his nose in matters of policy.
Why can't he be more like his illustrious predecessor? When he was Prince of Wales, Edward VII was debarred from any access to power by his mother. She refused to let him see important government documents (though politicians later sent him cabinet papers and the like).
Instead of finding a political role, he spent his time travelling, making diplomatic visits to his European cousins, sponsoring the arts, gambling, shooting, trailblazing formal dress and pleasuring his 50-odd mistresses. Would it be too much for Prince Charles to do likewise?
No matter how many polls are conducted into his popularity, or how many British people would prefer Prince William as the next king, it will make no difference to the succession. Unless he dies or chooses to turn down the job, the Prince of Wales will become King Charles III sooner or later.
The Palace of Westminster must be dreading the day. According to his biographer Jonathan Dimbleby, just after Charles's 60th birthday in 2008, some of his advisers began informally discussing how the monarch's role might be revised, in order to "allow King Charles III to speak out on matters of national and international importance in ways that at the moment would be unthinkable".
What a prospect. To whichever PM holds power on that day, it may well seem as if the Antichrist has landed. (© Independent News Service)