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The Prince of Wales turns 60

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  • The Prince of Wales turns 60; he has spent 56 years waiting to become king
  • This makes the Prince the longest serving monarch-in-waiting in British history
  • Charles uses his hallmark birthday to launch a new youth project
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From CNN's Atika Shubert
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- The world has watched him grow from a schoolboy with a kingdom to inherit, to a divorced father of two handsome sons.

Britain's Prince Charles celebrates his 60th birthday Friday. Four-years old when his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, ascended to the throne in 1952, the Prince of Wales has spent 56 years waiting to be king.

"None of us know when the Prince of Wales will be king, but there is absolutely no doubt that he is absolutely committed -- couldn't be more so -- and the population as a whole accepts this," said Richard Fitzwilliams, a British royal family commentator.

"Monarchy is an industry. We are obsessed with celebrity. And monarchy is the height of celebrity."

But with that celebrity came plenty of attention. Much of it was unwanted.

Prince Charles endured a divorce from his popular first wife, Diana, Princess of Wales -- a celebrity in her own right on a global scale. There were media reports of an affair with Camilla Parker Bowles, now Charles' second wife. And then the tragic death of Diana in a car accident in Paris.

Now, at 60, he seems happily remarried and is clearly proud of his two grown sons, both popular royals in their own right.

During six decades he has carved a niche as one of Britain's leading charity patrons, raising around $150 million a year for 20 charities.

"People do pay attention," said Fitzwilliams. "There are jokes about his talking to plants, but he has earned the right to be taken seriously."

Prince Charles, asked in a recent BBC interview how he defined his role as prince, said, "I didn't. I made it as I went along as you have probably seen."

But he added, "the great thing about it is, you know, it is not constrained too much. I always try and keep out of all the party politics and all that sort of thing, but obviously you skirt around edges and see where you can help and push things here and there wherever they can."

When you turn 60 and you're heir to the throne, there is no shortage of birthday celebrations.

On Wednesday, famous comedians, including John Cleese and Robin Williams, lined up to give performances in honor of the prince.

Thursday night brought the official birthday party hosted by his mother, the Queen, at Buckingham Palace.

His wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, will host another birthday bash on Saturday -- reportedly with 60 birthday gifts -- one for every year of his life. Rocker Rod Stewart will do a command performance.

Polls show the Prince of Wales isn't as popular as the Queen, but an informal survey found he does have his fans.

"I don't know that he's popular with a lot of people for various reasons," one woman said. "But live and let live. I think he's fine."

Younger women like Charles for another reason -- make that two reasons.

"His sons. His sons make him more popular," a pair of giggling 20-somethings said of the Princes William and Harry. "They're good looking."


A third British subject gave a nod toward the long-serving prince becoming king.

"I think he's waited a long time and I think he perhaps deserve a shot at it."

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