London: Prince Charles, reflecting morosely on the royal family's role in modern Britain, complained: "I think we're a soap opera."

But at least the heir to the throne's subjects still enjoy watching the regal saga and have no real desire to see the House of Windsor axed.

So concludes acerbic BBC presenter Jeremy Paxman in On Royalty, a new book on Britain's most dysfunctional family published in an age when deference is just a distant memory.

Researching the book turned Paxman, one of British television's most persistent inquisitors, from republican to royalist - much to his surprise.

Personal moments

But what intrigues most in the book are his own close and personal moments with the royals.

Invited to the royal country estate at Sandringham in eastern England, he managed to provoke Charles into that brief burst of honesty about how he saw the monarchy in a 21st century democracy.

Charles's father Prince Philip, notorious for his politically incorrect gaffes and long rumoured to be a womaniser, openly confronts both claims head-on when talking to Paxman.

Philip confesses he has deliberately retreated from press exposure to stop himself from being an embarrassment.

Bemoaning the intrusive media, Philip said: "Every time I talk to a woman, they say I have been to bed with her - as if she had no say in the matter."

The sprightly 85-year-old concluded: "I'm bloody flattered at my age to think some girl is interested in me. It's absolutely cuckoo."

The book is well researched and has the depth of historical perspective. But most pre-publication publicity centred on the saga of Charles's boiled eggs.

In one throwaway tale, Paxman says the prince insists on his staff cooking him seven boiled eggs so he can choose the one with the perfect consistency.


In a family that often adopts the maxim "Never complain, never explain," Charles's aides took the highly unusual step of officially denying the egg story. Paxman stood doggedly by it.

To those who say the royals are a modern-day irrelevance, Paxman points to the royal jubilees, weddings and funerals that bring hundreds of thousands of people on to the streets.