As Charles prepares for landmark birthday, questions are asked about wether he will ever become King

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It is a family album unique in the annals of British royalty, a chronicle of seven decades of a King in waiting.

As Prince Charles prepares to celebrate his landmark birthday next week, a collection of 70 photographs of the heir to the throne, one from every year of his life, has been published.

The Duchess of Cornwall, the Prince of Wales, Prince George, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Queen Elizabeth II on the balcony at Buckingham Palace following Trooping the Colour at Horse Guards Parade, London.

The Duchess of Cornwall, the Prince of Wales, Prince George, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Queen Elizabeth II on the balcony at Buckingham Palace following Trooping the Colour at Horse Guards Parade, London.

It sees him from infancy in post-war London, through his gauche student phase, infatuated with the Goon Show, to naval officer, eligible bachelor, and then husband, father and environmentalist.

But its 70 pages raised questions in some quarters as to whether the role for which he was destined had passed him by – with one Yorkshire academic suggesting he belonged to a “lost generation” of Royals and had given up hope of ever becoming King.

Dr Andrew Mycock, Reader in politics at Huddersfield University, said: “With every year that passes, it becomes less likely that he will ever want the job.”

He said the Prince of Wales today was a happier individual than he had sometimes appeared in the past and that the success of his sons in “rejuvenating” the family firm had relieved him of pressure.

The Queen and Prince Charles, out riding at Windsor Castle in 1961

The Queen and Prince Charles, out riding at Windsor Castle in 1961

Dr Mycock also said that Charles would not be the popular choice as the next head of state.

The Prince , whose birthday is on Wednesday, is currently on a tour of West African nations, and spoke on Monday about the legacy of slavery in the British Empire. It had left an “indelible stain” on the history of the world, he said.

Dr Mycock said: “That is not the sort of thing he would have said a few years ago.

“He has always been opinionated and controversial, but he used to concern himself with expressing his views on modern architecture.

“The picture of him today is very different to that in the 1980s and 1990s, and the influence of Camilla may have something to do with that.

“It’s clear that the person we are seeing now is very happy – and happy that his sons have taken some of the pressure off.

“But the passing of time raises questions about what his imprint on the monarchy will be.”

Opinion polls have long suggested that the public is not keen on Charles as King. Support for him peaked at the beginning of the 1990s but fell sharpy as the breakdown of his marriage to Diana, Princess of Wales, and allegations of infidelity on his part, became public.

Diana’s death in 1997 prompted an outpouring of grief directed towards her and against the Royal establishment.

Dr Mycock said: “Charles’ profile has been eclipsed by William and Harry, and William is more likely than his father to be King.

“From the way his sons have rejuvenated the monarchy it’s clear that he sees his sons as the future.”

He added: “I don’t think he will be particularly well received if he does take the throne. I have detected a sense that he has come to terms with the fact that his sons are more popular than him.

“The question is of what his role would become. At 92, the Queen is still fighting strong but she can’t go on forever. The constitutional question of who will take over is the price of longevity.”

Should Charles not take the throne, an alterative role would have to be found for him, Dr Mycock said, in the way that the former Queen Elizabeth had become known as the Queen Mother following the death of her husband, George VI.

“Charles and his siblings are a lost generation. They have all struggled to find their roles as children of the current monarch,” Dr Mycock said.

“Anne is incredibly hard-working but maintains a very low public profile. Andrew is a more controversial figure and Edward has taken a workmanlike approach to his duties.

“Charles may well come to accept that he is a part of that lost generation.”