Charles admits age has given him greater understanding of elderly care

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A 68-year-old Prince of Wales has joked about understanding "exactly" what it takes to look after the elderly - as Aled Jones treated him to a rendition of Happy Birthday.

Charles celebrated his birthday on Monday and the belated rendition of the song came during a reception to mark the 60th anniversary of Abbeyfield, a national charity providing housing with care to older people.

The heir to the throne has been the organisation's patron for almost 40 years, and he invited supporters, staff, volunteers and residents to St James's Palace to mark its milestone.

Jones, another Abbeyfield patron, attended and at the end of the reception was invited on stage to lead the guests in singing Happy Birthday, but joked his voice was not in great shape as he had recently returned from Canada.

After the singing stopped the prince, attending his first official event since his birthday, gave an impromptu speech and made his guests laugh with the words: "It's been for me an enormous pleasure to be your patron for 37 years, which I discovered to my horror this morning. You've been very good to put up with me for this long."

He went on to thank staff and volunteers for their hard work over the years, and he said about Abbeyfield: "It is one of the great examples of how elderly people can be cared for and thank goodness you're there to do exactly that.

"So, ladies and gentlemen, many congratulations and I hope there will be many, many more years of even greater success in looking after elderly people - having reached the age I have, I begin to understand exactly what it's all about."

The first Abbeyfield house was established in 1956 by Richard Carr-Gomm, who recognised that many older people were living alone and feeling isolated in their own communities.

He wanted to provide them with a safe and secure home where they could find friendship and support and soon after purchasing a house in Bermondsey, and inviting two local residents to move in, he bought five more and formally set up the Abbeyfield Society.

He inspired other volunteers around the county to form their own societies and the dream of a nationwide charity providing high quality housing, support and companionship in later life had become a reality.

Today the organisation has more than 500 houses and homes manned by staff and more than volunteers in the UK.

Worldwide there are now around 9,000 residents living in 850 houses and homes.

Jones explained his involvement with the charity: "I got involved with them quite a few years ago, they asked me to work with them on a Christmas campaign they were doing and I just really loved the ethos, I loved what they were about really and the fact they're not too massive a charity, you feel it's manageable."

He added: "I've brought my children up to always value what their elders say because they are the ones with experience.

"It's a horrible thing in our society, we forget about these people and treat them as rather a nuisance and this charity is totally the opposite."

The charity has launched a new initiative called Golden Moments, to counter the growing epidemic of loneliness felt by the elderly.

Abbeyfield chief executive Natasha Singarayer said: ""It is time to generate possibilities for older people across the country which we is why we have created Golden Moments.

"And what could be a greater 'Golden Moment' for us all to treasure than hearing Aled singing Happy Birthday to His Royal Highness and Abbeyfield.

"At Abbeyfield we champion optimism in later life, which is what Golden Moments encapsulates. It is about providing activities and events to look forward to, allowing older people to join with others to share fun, food and laughter and to try new things."