06/11/2001 at 01:00 AM EDT
When Prince Charles was a teenager, he had an argument with his father, Prince Philip. The cause has been lost to history, but, according to royals author Brian Hoey, Charles for once didn't back down from his imperious dad. "Charles," says Hoey, "apparently stormed out and, as he left, shouted back, 'Just remember, you're talking to the future king of England.' "
More than three decades later, Charles, 52, still awaits his crown. And according to published reports that caused yet another royal row in Britain last month, crusty Philip may feel his son isn't really serious enough to sit on the throne after all.
The account of Philip's purported low regard for his son came in a minibiography of Philip in The Daily Telegraph to mark his 80th birthday on June 10. Philip, according to the piece by Graham Turner, believes Charles—at the time exhibiting an Islamic-themed garden at a London flower show—to be "precious, extravagant and lacking in the dedication and discipline...to make a good king." He is also said to disapprove of Charles's relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles.
Buckingham Palace quickly denied that Philip had sanctioned any such comments. "Prince Philip is really desperate about what's coming out," says Lady Kennard, a family friend. "He's devastated. Yes, some things he and Charles don't agree on, but to say [there's a rift] is wrong." Indeed, at the end of the week, Philip wrote to his son, proffering, according to a Palace source, if not an apology, a "clarification."
Although most royal-watchers acknowledge that the père et fils princes have had their differences over the years, the consensus is that the Telegraph piece—which relied on various unnamed intimates of the Queen's husband—overstates the case. "There's no smoke without fire," acknowledges one Palace expert. "But it's a question of emphasis." And, says Hoey, "I have no sense at all that Philip would not want his son to be king."