For a decade or more the causes Prince Charles supports have raised more than £100million a year, a formidable sum that, by some distance, makes him Britain’s biggest charity fundraiser.
At the same time his Prince’s Trust, the enterprise he set up when he left the Navy 45 years ago, has helped 950,000 young people turn their lives around with both practical and financial support.
These are by no means modest achievements, but today the Prince of Wales finds himself mired in claims about cash for honours that are as potentially damaging to his reputation as they are unseemly.
What is especially troubling is the suggestion, revealed in a cache of emails, of his apparent willingness to procure favours for wealthy donors to his charitable projects.
Understandably the prince feels aggrieved that the revelations now look set to overshadow his many accomplishments, which also include heritage schemes up and down the country.
As he is often at pains to point out, not a penny of taxpayers’ money has been swallowed by any of these projects.
Prince Charles awards a CBE to Saudi tycoon Mahfouz Marei Mubarak bin Mahfouz at Buckingham Palace in November 2016
It is one such scheme – the restoration of Dumfries House in Scotland, a magnificent but crumbling mansion until the prince stepped in to save it for the nation in 2007 – that is at the heart of these allegations.
In an audacious and highly risky move, the prince secured both the house and its priceless collection of Chippendale furniture.
But at a cost – maintaining and renovating the 18th-century Palladian pile, as well as providing the infrastructure for the local economy that was part of his vision for the house’s future, has been huge.
And so, as he has done on many other occasions over the years, the prince turned to his closest and most trusted aide Michael Fawcett, whose commercial astuteness he has long relied on.
It is hard not to feel sympathy for the prince’s dilemma. But just as cash and politics is an explosive combination, money and Fawcett is an equally toxic mix.
Many believe that in his desire to please his royal boss, Fawcett, the one-time palace valet, has exposed Charles to the danger of looking either very foolish or lazy – or possibly both.
The emails revealed how Fawcett apparently helped to secure an honour for a Saudi businessman in return for his generosity in supporting both Dumfries House and the Castle of Mey, the Queen Mother’s former Scottish home and another of Charles’s pet projects.
There is now a Mahfouz Garden at Dumfries House and a Mahfouz Wood at the Castle of Mey, named after the businessman who received an honorary CBE from the prince at Buckingham Palace in 2016.
Charles’s former valet Michael Fawcett is pictured outside his London home today walking his dog with his wife Debbie Burke
As the Mail revealed yesterday, the prince was unaware of his aide’s correspondence, or of that from other middlemen or fixers involved in this grubby saga. Indeed, we also disclosed that the prince was ‘so surprised’ by the claims that first ‘he couldn’t believe them’.
But is that really good enough for a man who in a few short years will be on the throne?
It has certainly given a fillip to the republican cause and provided ammunition for royal critics, such as the maverick former Lib Dem MP and self-proclaimed ‘instinctive republican’ writer Norman Baker, whose call for Scotland Yard to investigate has been dismissed by insiders as ‘blatant opportunism’.
But for Charles there are detractors much closer to home, many within his own family, who have warned that Fawcett and the prince’s dependence on him is a threat to the long-term security of the monarchy.
Old friends: Prince Charles and Michael Fawcett at the Christmas Shoot at Sandringham in 1992
Prince Charles and Camilla are pictured last Tuesday on a visit to the Ballater Community and Heritage Hub in Aberdeenshire
The Queen is no fan of the man who began his royal career as one of her junior footmen and Prince William and Prince Harry are in rare agreement that the cashier’s son from Bexley, Kent, has too much influence over their father.
All the same, the implications were serious enough for the prince to last night take the highly unusual step of issuing an official statement in which he said he had ‘no knowledge of the alleged offer of honours or British citizenship on the basis of donation to his charities’.
Let us be clear – there is no suggestion that the prince has ever sought personal financial benefit from the donations Fawcett has been so successful in soliciting for his charitable endeavours.
But as in all things connected to royalty, it is a matter of perception.
If the suspicion is that the prince has allowed money- no-object foreigners to buy their way into the heart of the Establishment by securing honours and, it has been claimed, helped with citizenship applications (an allegation robustly denied by Clarence House), it raises question about both his judgment and common sense.
Michael Fawcett (right) with Charles on royal duties in Scotland in 2019 with Lord Thurso (left)
That Charles is an honest and upright person is not an issue and his contribution to the greater good, both in this country and the Commonwealth, has been an immeasurable asset.
But as he gets closer to his succession, he risks tainting the prized neutrality of the monarchy by allowing figures such as Fawcett to operate with apparent impunity on his behalf.
The simple answer would be for Charles to make Fawcett’s ‘temporary’ resignation as chief executive of the Prince’s Foundation – the body that oversees all his charitable interests – permanent.
The argument is persuasive enough – as he nears the throne the prince must observe a higher standard of propriety to ensure that the trust, respect and dignity the Queen embodies as monarch is maintained for him.
Mr Fawcett has agreed to ‘temporarily’ step down from his £95,000-a-year role with the Foundation. He is pictured outside his home in London yesterday
Twice before Charles has had an opportunity to remove Fawcett from his workforce but hesitated, deciding that his need for how the aide organises his life outweighed any other consideration.
Over the years the plaintive cry of ‘Get Michael’ has rung out from Clarence House as Charles has sought solutions from one intractable problem after another.
Aides, even quite senior ones, who suggested this reliance on the man who once squeezed paste on his master’s toothbrush should end, often found it was them being shown the door marked exit.
It is easy to understand why.
Take Dumfries House. Without Michael Fawcett, there is every chance that the money needed to fund the crafts apprenticeships and hospitality courses that are run alongside other visitor attractions might not have happened.
Perhaps more significantly, Fawcett shared the prince’s dream of a new social experiment, an extension of his philosophy at the Prince’s Trust, which meant bringing work to nearby Cumnock, a mining town blighted by unemployment.
He wanted to show that conservation could be used to generate local jobs and, to inspire some civic pride, Charles organised for the run-down swimming baths to be refurbished.
But it all cost money. And Fawcett was the master at raising it.
If the inquiry now under way into his activities confirms worrying fears swirling around the Palace that in securing those generous donations Fawcett has far exceeded his remit, Charles may have no option but to terminate a relationship that has existed for 40 years.
But even if it doesn’t and the ‘indispensable’ fixer emerges without a stain on his reputation, it is time Charles reined in his fundraising activities.
In which case there will be no job for Michael Fawcett.