PRINCE Charles wished boxer Chris Eubank the best of luck in his efforts to restore the West Pier in Brighton.

Yesterday the Argus revealed that Eubank and his consortium have stepped in as private sector partners for the £30 million restoration of Britain's only Grade I listed pier.

Later the boxer, dressed soberly in a dark coat and suit, was on the pier deck waiting for the Prince to arrive for a tour of the derelict structure.

Prince Charles greeted Eubank warmly and told him: "It's really, really good."

Then he told Eubank: "You're dressed rather soberly today", at which the boxer jokingly offered to lend the Prince his coat.

Eubank said he wanted to start work as soon as he possibly could with the Brighton West Pier Trust on renovating the pier.

Asked about his chances of success, he replied: "I'm as confident as the day is light."

The boxer described the pier as part of British heritage and added: "There is no way in which it should be left to fall into the sea."

Prince Charles has taken a keen interest in restoring the pier for several years, and on his last visit to Brighton arranged to be flown low over it in a helicopter so that he could see the structure for himself.

He was greeted by members of the Hanover Band playing fanfares by Monteverdi and Schmeltzer as he arrived.

The Prince made his first visit to the pier in a half-hour tour guided by Trust chairman Admiral Sir Lindsay Bryson and consultant engineer Jon Orrell.

Mr Orrell explained to the Prince that as it was a Grade I listed building, the pier had to be restored exactly as it was.

The Prince showed a keen interest and asked many questions about both the architecture of the pier and the materials.

At one point he went within 3ft of the unprotected edge of the pier pavilion balcony to look at where the rotunda once stood.

When the Prince asked what would become of the starlings and pigeons that roost on the pier, he was told that they should fare well with food from visitors.

Mr Orrell said afterwards: "He was magic. What a great bloke. He was really interested in what we were doing and the way in which we are going to do it."

Anti-hunt protesters with banners and placards shouted at the Prince as he left the pier. He raised his safety helmet to them in an ironic but friendly gesture.

But there were applause for the Prince from hundreds of well wishers, many of them waving Union flags.

The Prince stopped on the seafront to talk to two homeless people from Hove, 25-year-old Zoe Hull and David Davidson, 30.

When they asked if he wanted to buy a copy of The Big Issue, the paper for the homeless, the Prince took one and a bodyguard paid Zoe £1.

The Prince said he wanted to see the latest issue and Zoe said: "I told him that our present headquarters in Brighton were too small."

Earlier, Prince Charles met a number of tenants at a new housing scheme.

He visited the home in College Road where seven one-bedroom flats are being created by Brighton Housing Trust and the Hertfordshire-based William Sutton Trust.

The former squat has been refurbished in partnership with the Housing Corporation and is expected to open in March.

Among those he met were mother-of-four Jacquline Davis, 38, who has been homeless for more than two years.

She said: "It will great to be off the streets. It's tough out there. The flats here are lovely."

Later she said: "I was honoured. Of all the homeless people, he spoke to me."

Christina Liassides from the Rough Sleepers Project, part of the Housing Corporation, told the Prince: "It's our job to find people who are sleeping rough and match them to the project. We now have the capital funding for 100 homes by 2001."

The Prince raised a laugh by replying: "People will soon be sleeping on the newly-refurbished West Pier."

Outside the house, sisters Camilla and Amy Trigwell, from nearby Arundel Street, presented the Prince with two pink carnations. They were among dozens who turned out to catch a glimpse of him.

Earlier in the day, the Prince delivered a keynote speech to the Housing Corporation's annual conference at the Metropole Hotel.

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