Bob Dylan has never been one to hold back from blunt opinions or shy away from the confrontation that sometimes comes with it. Through his renowned discography, he remarked on everything from society, Hollywood culture, and even the British monarchy, subjects he often had to face in real life afterwards (which he did most nonchalantly).
This played out especially the day Dylan, often referred to as the “king of folk music,” met the real king in waiting, Prince Charles, at the Prince’s Trust Benefit Concert in London’s Hyde Park.
On June 29th, 1996, as part of the Prince of Wales’ youth-oriented charity, founded in 1976 to help vulnerable young people get their lives on track, Bob Dylan joined a group of his old rock and roll contemporaries to perform a set of songs. Also in attendance were Roger Daltrey and Pete Townsend of The Who, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, and Ronnie Wood, among others. As the first concert in a royal park for 27 years, Prince Charles took a break from his duties to roll back the years with a regal touch.
Sometime during the day, Dylan had the opportunity to meet the Prince backstage. An unsmiling, shade-wearing Dylan, along with Rolling Stones’ guitarist Ronnie Wood, greeted the prince. Also, later in a star-studded photo op, Dylan was sat directly next to Prince Charles. The pair can even be seen exchanging a few words in the video below, although the exact transcript is unclear.
Bob Dylan was slated to perform a setlist of songs that day consisting of: ‘Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat’; ‘All Along the Watchtower’; ‘Positively 4th Street’; ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’; ‘Tangled Up in Blue’; ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’; ‘Silvio’; ‘Seven Days’; and ‘Highway 61 Revisited’. Although none of the songs made it on the setlist that day, Dylan did reference the monarchy in his earlier work.
Back in 1962, during his first trip outside of America, 21-year-old Dylan arrived in England with manager Albert Grossman to establish himself overseas after his debut album flopped commercially. Later, Martin Carthy stated the tremendous impact Dylan’s first trip to London had on his music: “His time in England was actually crucial to his development. If you listen to Freewheelin’, most of which was made before he came to England, and you listen to the next album after that, there’s an enormous difference in the way he’s singing, in the sort of tunes he’s singing, the way he’s putting words together… Bob Dylan’s a piece of blotting paper when it comes to listening to tunes… It had an enormous effect on him.’”
This is present in Dylan’s 1966 release, ‘Just Like A Woman,’ where he references the Queen Mother. In it, he sings: “Queen Mary, she’s my friend. Yes, I believe I’ll go see her again. Nobody has to guess that baby can’t be blessed ‘till she finally sees that she’s like all the rest. With her fog, amphetamine, and her pearls.”
Another instance of British influence appeared when Prince Phillip stated on Meet the Press TV show that the royal family might have to relocate from Buckingham Palace to smaller quarters unless Parliament increases the Queen’s allowance. The Prince of Wales also claimed he had to sell a yacht and possibly give up polo.
Dylan touches on this in his 1994 release ‘Dignity,’ where he sings: “Met Prince Phillip at the home of the blues, said he’d give me information if his name wasn’t used. He wanted money up front, said he was abused, by dignity.”
Although it’s uncertain if Prince Charles was aware of this reference to his father when he spoke to Dylan, it’s hard to tell if this encounter was truly memorable. Lyrically the impact of England was always present for Dylan. But later in an interview, when recently asked if he had heard of Dylan, the Prince of Wales replied, “Why, of course; every Welsh schoolchild reveres the name of our greatest poet, Dylan Thomas.”
Watch Bob Dylan’s curious backstage encounter with Prince Charles, below.