The Prince of Wales is walking through the main hall of Cop26’s monster-summit, on his way to yet another reception. His turquoise linen face mask, which he received as a gift from Myanmar’s weavers is not intended to fool anyone.

People instantly recognize him and start snapping away on smartphones. Television crews and photographers follow suit. 

One or two delegate start to exchange words with the Prince. He is happy to chat so I join in.

I ask him if it was his first public eco-utterance. ‘Oh yes, I’d just been asked to be chairman of a countryside committee for Wales and I’d seen this amazing scheme for trapping methane from a landfill site,’ he laughs. 

People recognise him instantly and begin snapping away on their phones. TV crews and photographers latch on. The Prince of Wales is pictured with designer and sustainability advocate Stella McCartney

People instantly recognize him and start snapping away on smartphones. TV crews and photographers are quick to catch on. The Prince of Wales is pictured with designer and sustainability advocate Stella McCartney

‘I made a speech trying to make people interested. Of course, no one paid the slightest bit of attention.’

That was in 1970 when the Prince was 21 – just three years older than teen eco-warrior Greta Thunberg is now. And he hasn’t really stopped since. The last few days must have been a vindication for a man who is often portrayed as an eccentric and friendly individual.

As he walks around this summit, there is definitely a spring to his step. Everyone, from the politicians and boffins who crammed into this super-spreader event to all the warbling hippies and Thunberg Stormtroopers banging on steel fence outside, acknowledges that Prince Charles has been a key player.

Earlier this week, Boris Johnson saluted the Prince in front of the world leaders: ‘l just want to say you’re a prophet without honour and you’ve been right for a very long time.’

Those same world leaders have been beating a path to his door all week, albeit the door to a rather dreary prefab box called ‘Meeting Room D’ in the VVIP inner sanctum of this vast tented complex. 

It’s a symphony in low-lit beige with half a dozen chairs, but the Prince has done his best to make it homely with a few woodland scenes on the prefab walls.

There will always be those who think it is pretty rich of a Prince with several homes to lecture the rest of us on carbon emissions as he flies all over the world and drives around in motorcades

There will always be people who think it is quite rich for a Prince to have several homes to lecture us about carbon emissions while he drives motorcades and flies around the globe.

Over the course of a few hours, I counted them in and counted them out again – the Prime Minister of Australia followed by the Chief Minister of Sierra Leone followed by the President of Namibia followed by the Prime Minister of Jamaica (bearing handsome gifts of framed postage stamps)… All received warm pleasantries before the Prince sat them down and picked up his big folder of briefing notes. The cameras (and me) were shown to the door, and we were ready for business.

I asked Scott Morrison the Australian PM what they had been up to for half an hours. ‘He’s got a deep, granular knowledge,’ he said, ‘so we were talking about climate finance, some Pacific island projects, some new housing projects in Australia.’ No one said Cop26 had to be fun.

Next was Sheikh Hasina the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. Her country is under severe threat from climate change. The Prince greeted her like a long-lost friend – which she sort of is after running her Commonwealth nation for 17 years. ‘You’ve written me such nice letters,’ he told her.

She introduced her daughter, Saima to the British Asian Trust, of whom the Prince is the founder patron. There are wheels within wheels. They got down to business quickly. The Prince began by making an apology. 

‘I just wish I could have come to your 50th,’ he told Sheikh Hasina, referring not to her age (she’s 74) but her country’s half-century.

There will always be people who think it is quite rich for a Prince to have several homes to lecture us about carbon emissions while he drives motorcades and flies around the globe.

His staff simply pointed out that the Government is responsible for the large trips (like the one he is planning to make to Jordan to celebrate 100 years of Jordanian independence).

Here, everyone from the politicians and boffins crammed inside this giant super-spreader event to the warbling hippies and Thunberg stormtroopers banging on the steel fence outside acknowledges that the Prince has been a key player

This is where everyone, from the politicians to the boffins inside the super-spreader events to the warbling hippies and Thunberg Stormtroopers banging on steel fence outside, acknowledges the Prince as a key player

But he can still teach a lesson to the other leaders who gathered in Glasgow last week. I have been following his trail for a few days.

For a start he is still here. Yesterday morning, most VIPs were already aboard their private jets, and had taken to the skies, leaving their officials with the numbers. The Prince will continue to be in Glasgow throughout the week, while commuting from Dumfries House. It’s not all earnest chats about climate financing or the ‘circular bio-economy alliance’.

Yesterday, he was on the move, presenting his Terra Carta sustainability Awards and inspecting sustainable fashion from Stella McCartney. If the sight of the heir to the throne in one of his trusty old Savile Row suits chatting to Miss McCartney about her vegan handbags – made from laboratory-grown mushroom leather, if you please – was not incongruous enough, then up popped the Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio.

Unlike the average celeb, for whom climate ‘activism’ entails a few vapid, preachy tweets, the Oscar-winner has genuine form in this regard having funded dozens of conservation projects over the years. He spent ten minutes talking with the Prince in a corner in deep conversation.

The Prince is a champion for electric delivery vans today. Tomorrow, it’s electric trains. When he does move on, it’s possible that he will be the only VIP who leaves Glasgow by an electric car instead of a plane. He is heading to Balmoral, from where he will travel back to London next week by train.

His main message this week was to use carrots instead of sticks. As he explains in speech after speech, we can’t expect governments to blow their budgets trying to solve climate change using taxpayers’ money alone. They need to encourage the private sector through new investment opportunities. He has already enrolled 300 companies with assets in excess of $60trillion into his Sustainable Markets Initiative, and is making good progress.

As I learned this week, he does not like gaps in the schedule (this is, after all, a man who won’t eat lunch). After the Prince had just finished another bilateral chat, one of his people spotted Justin Trudeau of Canada enjoying a Cornish cream tea in the leaders’ lounge. After their respective teams failed to find time for a cozy chat, a Clarence House official approached them and asked if they would like to have a chat. Trudeau stopped worrying about whether the jam should be before the cream, and he put down his scone.

‘I hope I haven’t disturbed your lunch,’ said the Prince. Mr Trudeau was only too happy to have some private time with the next King of Canada – and vice versa. It had been Mr Trudeau who delivered the speech of thanks at last weekend’s G20 meeting in Rome after the Prince had addressed that summit. This was an incredible moment. The G20 does NOT normally invite non-elected heads or state to its ranks. The Prince was a one time event.

Next up, was the Prime Minister of Vietnam who was so overwhelmed that he asked if he might have permission to put his arm around the Prince – and did. The White House immediately called to ask if the Prince would be available for a one-on-1 with President Joe Biden. 

So the royal team hoofed their way upstairs to the US meeting rooms. The chat was picked up by a TV microphone before the men fled to a corner (minus officials).

The Prince did his usual ‘I hope I’m not taking up too much time’ thing, whereupon Biden went into full backslap mode. ‘We need you badly,’ he told the Prince. ‘You kept this whole thing going. That’s how it all started.’

This was not flattery. This colossal £250million Cop shindig all started with something called the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. It might not have been as successful if the Prince hadn’t organized his own Rio summit aboard the Royal Yacht the previous year. 

In 1991, he brought together politicians including the President of Brazil and the future US vice president Al Gore. He also brought together big names in the oil and green industries. They came up with basic principles that would prevent a rich-vs-poor schism at Earth Summit. It worked.

What does the Prince remember about his mini Cop aboard Britannia? ‘It was just getting so critical to gather people together,’ he recalls as we march through the melee. ‘At least it was a start.’

I had followed him from his beige box to join Boris Johnson at the reception for all Commonwealth leaders earlier. The PM was noisily saluting Commonwealth solidarity – ‘I am filled to the gills with Indian vaccine!’ – and reminded everyone that the 1987 Commonwealth summit in Vancouver had been the first to get some sort of grip on climate change.

Although the Prince was not scheduled to speak, he took to the podium anyway to make his point about unlocking private sector trillions. He then worked the entire room as the future Head of Commonwealth.

Britain’s Minister for Africa, Vicky Ford, noted that the Prince was among the last to leave. ‘He’s got a huge amount of energy,’ she added. ‘He is a unique asset at a gathering like this.’

Ten days from now, the Prince will turn 73 – the same age as the Queen at the turn of the millennium. As every leader has reminded her, she has been greatly missed this week.

He was not a substitute. Some nations have made an effort this week, others have shown they don’t really care.

The British public is paying the bill for this massive party. It may be hard to believe that we are being asked to abandon our miners and North Sea oil and gas industries, while others go on drilling and digging.

There are no easy solutions to any of these problems. The man in Meeting Room D has done more to solve the conundrum than anyone else.