Chris Jackson/Getty; Jason Merritt/Getty
Simon Perry
February 02, 2015 09:45 AM

When Prince Charles struggled emotionally in the midst of his highly public 1996 divorce from Princess Diana – from whom he’d been separated since 1992 – the heir to the throne received help from one of the leading ladies of British drama.

According to the new book Charles: Heart of a King, excerpted in The Times of the U.K., Emma Thompson says she sent the Prince of Wales missives about her adventures with a theater company to make him smile during his period of personal tumult.

Charles, 66, is now happily married to Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, but one source tells Time magazine’s Catherine Mayer he’s seen as a “glass-half-empty man.”

“I would get periodical messages from the boys that look after him at Highgrove saying: ‘[Could you] drop him a note because he’s a bit low in the water,’ so I’d pick up my pen and write as funny a letter as I could think of,” Thompson tells Mayer.

Now, after nearly 10 years married to Camilla, 67, he is in a better place, and many of his friends credit her with making him happier. Her nephew Ben Elliott tells Mayer, “He really loves her. They’re so affectionate to each other. … He’s so sweet to her.”

Less sweet are the skeptics who refuse to believe she has a right to become Queen when Charles ascends the throne. But Robin Boles, who heads one of Charles’s charities, tells the biographer, “She should be queen. There’s nothing in the law that stops her.”

Camilla isn’t the only one under fire. Charles’s activism – and the assumption that he will continue it during his reign – is said to have set him on a collision course with his mother, Queen Elizabeth, among others. The biography also says his “harshest critics,” including his father, Prince Philip, accuse him of putting his “more cerebral passions – his activism – before his royal job.”

Perhaps seeing things in a different, more personal light, though, Charles told Mayer, “I want to raise aspirations and re-create hope from hopelessness and health from deprivation.”

A spokesman for Charles’s office tells PEOPLE that they are “reserving judgment” on Mayer’s book “until we have read the whole thing,” adding, “It’s not authorized in any way.”

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