Jimmy Savile and Prince Charles’ very close friendship with sex abuse bishop Peter Ball
Lit by the flickering light of a log fire, their faces glowed with sober mutual interest. The prince with the troubled soul and the priest with all the answers.
Staff at Highgrove, the Prince of Wales’s country home, had grown accustomed to these intimate exchanges when the Rt Rev Peter Ball, the now disgraced Bishop of Gloucester, came to offer solace and enlightenment to their boss.
Charles had long been an admirer of the charismatic and dedicated Anglican churchman, who slept on an old horsehair mattress on the floor of his own Gloucester residence and rose for prayer at 4.30am.
Friends: Prince Charles is pictured here with the former Bishop of Lewes and Gloucester Peter Ball in 1992
When the Prince’s marriage to Diana was unravelling, Ball’s advice was sought and the prince had written ‘personal letters’ to him. Later, the bishop encouraged him over his relationship with the former Mrs Camilla Parker Bowles.
Indeed, so grateful were both Charles and Camilla for his guidance and his kindness that Ball was invited to their wedding at Windsor Castle in 2005.
Throughout these years, Charles’s support for the bishop was unwavering. ‘They would pray together in the Sanctuary,’ recalls one former aide.
The Sanctuary is a Harry Potter-esque temple built by Charles deep in a glade in Highgrove’s grounds to mark the Millennium, and where he retreats for quiet contemplation.
Constructed to a ‘sacred geometry’ design — the mathematical proportions of the building are said to have religious significance — its decorations are minimal.
Inside, there is an oak table with a rush cross hanging above it, as well as the wood-burning stove in front of which Charles and the bishop would sit.
Two stained glass windows are dedicated to the memory of Ted Hughes, the late Poet Laureate, and the writer Sir Laurens van der Post, Charles’s philosopher guru.
One former member of the Highgrove staff told me that Ball himself had consecrated the building, although it was later reported that the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, had been invited to perform a blessing.
Whatever the case, it was Ball who delivered the address at the funeral of the Duchess of Cornwall’s father, Major Bruce Shand, in 2006, where mourners included Charles, William and Harry.
Prince Charles is pictured meeting Jimmy Savile at a dinner event at the Club Double Diamond in Caerphilly in 1978
Against such a background, it is easier to understand why Charles had offered Ball sanctuary in a Duchy of Cornwall property when, in 1993, the bishop was forced to resign after being let off with a caution by police over allegations that he indecently assaulted a 17-year-old novice monk.
Yesterday, after Ball, 83, was finally jailed for this crime — along with other sexual abuse offences dating back 40 years — the Prince issued a statement denying that he interfered in the 1993 legal process which resulted in the then bishop escaping sex abuse charges.
So what is the truth of Charles’s friendship with the prelate who preferred to dress in the robes of a monk rather than the ceremonial purple of a bishop. And how did it flourish despite the unsavoury allegations swirling about him?
As we shall see, the Prince of Wales was not the only senior royal figure who knew and liked Ball. But first it is important to set Peter Ball in context.
The shuffling old man we saw arriving at the Old Bailey this week, where he was jailed for 32 months, was something of a celebrity figure in the early 1980s, when respect for the Church was higher than it is now.
And he was part of a double act with his twin brother, Michael. They founded their own monastic community, both became bishops (Peter at Lewes then Gloucester, Michael at Jarrow then Truro).
Educated at Lancing College and Cambridge, where he collected a Blue for squash, Peter was always the more affable and outgoing of the twins, enjoying the good life, especially fine wines and good food. He once dined in his monk’s habit at the Savoy with Mrs Thatcher. He even appeared in the gossip columns when he announced he was taking up stock car racing.
Peter Ball (pictured), 83, has finally been jailed
While his charisma and powerful personality attracted a wide circle of friends, he was also part of a High Church scene in the diocese of Chichester when Eric Kemp, a formidable figure of the old school, was bishop. Chichester under Kemp was one of the last bastions for clergy opposed to female ordinations, and it attracted a lot of openly gay clergy.
When Kemp appointed the flamboyant Ball as his assistant in the post of bishop of Lewes, he fitted in immediately. Kemp moved in elevated London circles and was a good friend of Canon Anthony Caesar, sub dean of the Chapel Royal and the Queen’s domestic chaplain. And Ball often accompanied Kemp on his London trips.
When he moved to Gloucester to become bishop in 1992, Ball found himself catapulted into the storm over the collapse of the Waleses’ marriage.
Friends had been trying to shore up the royal marriage, among them a number of clergy. With Highgrove within his new jurisdiction, it was thought the highly personable monk might be a figure to help the couple.
He was propelled into the royal circle by two people, I understand. One was prebendary Willie Booth, a former chaplain at Westminster School, who’d taken over from Caesar. The other was Jimmy Savile.
That Savile committed a number of sex offences in Sussex at the time when Ball was bishop there is not disputed, although there is no suggestion that Ball knew about Savile’s crimes.
But during his time in Lewes, Ball got to know Savile well and he was the bishop’s principal entree into the Waleses’ household. After his appointment to Gloucester was announced, Ball became a regular visitor to Highgrove and was held in such high regard that Charles attended his enthronement.
While his magic failed to work as far as the royal marriage was concerned, both Charles and Diana were fascinated by the monk-bishop as he gradually gained their confidence.
But Ball was said to have been shattered when John Major announced their separation shortly before Christmas 1992 and for a while he remained on good terms with them both, even after being forced to resign the following year.
Neil Todd, the teenage aspirant monk who was sexually abused by Ball, said the bishop told him that ‘the Prince had written him personal letters. He didn’t say what was in them …Then he told me they were in his safe and added: “One day they will be very valuable.”’
Todd also said: ‘We knew that Bishop Peter and the Prince were good friends. He didn’t refer to him as Prince Charles. He would always say just Charles.’
According to Todd, who twice tried to take his own life before finally committing suicide in 2012, the bishop kept framed photographs of members of the royal family on his desk at his home in Gloucester and displayed an invitation from the Queen for dinner at Buckingham Palace.
According to Ball, Charles let him rent a Duchy property — Manor Lodge in the Somerset village of Aller — after he had to resign. ‘The Prince of Wales has been wonderfully kind,’ the cleric said some years later. ‘He very kindly allowed me to have a Duchy house.’
The bishop encouraged Prince Charles over his relationship with the former Mrs Camilla Parker Bowles
Charles, he added, ‘was a loyal friend and I have immense admiration for him. He has been through horrific times and is a great person’.
But Ball’s royal friendships were not confined to the Prince of Wales. He was on close terms with the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret, and was invited to preach at Sandringham.
Even the Queen supported him after his police caution. In 1994, when she was distributing Royal Maundy money in Truro, Ball was there with his brother, who was Truro’s bishop.
After lunch in the Chapter House, the Queen, who had been on the high table with local dignitaries, went across to Ball, held out her hand and said in the clearest of voices: ‘My love and encouragement, Bishop.’
According to former courtiers, Charles’s continuing relationship with Ball was typical of his stubbornness and naivety when it comes to friends.
‘I have to say neither the Prince nor indeed the Princess can have known the full extent of the allegations against him, merely that he had been cautioned for a single misdemeanour some years earlier,’ says one former Palace figure.
Another insider says that while Charles was prepared to offer practical help in the form of the Duchy house, he would have been reluctant to interfere further. ‘It’s one thing badgering ministers with memos etc, but another involving himself in a judicial matter.’
So, who then may have been the royal referred to but not named at the Old Bailey this week?
One senior source has suggested to me that it may have been Diana. ‘Unlike Charles, she had no constitutional restriction to prevent her from interfering, plus she was formally separated from the Prince.’
If it was Diana who had intervened, this might explain the terse statement from Clarence House denying that Prince Charles had interfered.
Both Charles and Diana (pictured in 1989) were fascinated by the monk-bishop as he gradually gained their confidence
Friends of the late Princess say that putting her name in the frame is ‘just too convenient’. And a former aide who handled her correspondence recalls no such letter, ‘supportive or otherwise’.
Charles, meanwhile, must surely have been advised to keep Ball at arm’s length — just as he had been advised to distance himself from Jimmy Savile.
‘The Prince did receive letters from the public complaining about Savile,’ says a senior aide. ‘But the writers were dismissed [by him] as jealous or mad.’
One reason why Ball stayed on the princely radar was that George Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, allowed him to continue his ministry after 1993 by arranging for him to become assistant bishop in Bath and Wells, where Carey himself was bishop before he went to Lambeth Palace.
He remained a confidant of the prince right up until 2012, when allegations about his sexual abuse of boys and young men surfaced again.
Although it took him time to accept the facts, the Prince has now cut the cleric out of his life. It was a difficult decision because Ball had become a spiritual advisor to the Prince, particularly in the period between Diana’s death in 1997 and his marriage to Camilla in 2005.
Ball had also become close to the Duchess.
‘She liked him and he was kind to them both,’ says an aide. ‘And he preached at her father’s funeral, which indicates his standing in their household.’
Charles’s support for Ball did falter on occasion. When the bishop gave an interview confirming his friendship with the Prince, he rounded angrily on staff, saying: ‘Tell Peter that he must never talk about me again.’
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