If there is one thing that causes King Charles to bristle, it is commentators claiming he will be a caretaker until his heir — the ‘change-maker’ — takes over. Those close to the King say that this is demonstrably wrong.
‘When you start much later in your life, inevitably you’ve got more experience to fall back on and you will have more opinions,’ says Princess Anne.
The Queen’s sister, Annabel Elliot, agrees. ‘People keep talking about ‘he’s a caretaker’. And I don’t see that at all, knowing we’ll see quite a few changes,’ she says.
So far, as the King and his officials decided from the start, there has been a careful change of gear but no noisy rebranding.
Within the offices of both the King and the new Prince of Wales, it is accepted that both will make changes according to their own tastes and personalities. Whereas the King likes to assemble panels of experts around him, for instance, his son does not.
‘William will say: ‘Don’t get me a meeting with an academic.’ He might want to meet a brilliant scientist who is doing something amazing but he doesn’t seek intellectual company,’ says one of those who has worked closely with him.
‘He is a very serious, pragmatic bloke and he doesn’t want to make lots of speeches. The King liked amateur dramatics in his youth. His son does not have that same love of showmanship.’
Now in his 40s, Prince William has steered a more conventional and cautious path
Prince William has what he regards as one paramount duty. It is one which some of his predecessors virtually ignored: training the heir, his son, Prince George
The heir to the throne, Prince William, pictured with his son who is second-in-line, Prince George, in 2017
Prince Charles may have been happy to wade into big social issues of the day with a provocative speech or foreword to a book, or by bending the ears of ministers.
Now in his 40s, Prince William has steered a more conventional and cautious path. Within the Palace, some see traces of an earnest, dutiful George VI.
As one of his senior advisers puts it: ‘He is one of the least ideological people I have met.’
In many ways, therefore, the royal ‘change-maker’ is actually father, not son.
Prince William gets most of his news from online sources such as the BBC website and briefings from staff. He prefers cogent, bullet-point memos to the big bundles of documents the King likes to wade through.
Nor does he share his father’s fondness for accumulating new homes. The King’s purchases of farmhouses in Wales and Romania, not to mention Dumfries House in Scotland, are viewed with a certain degree of trepidation among the Prince of Wales’s team.
‘No more properties!’ replies one adviser, only half-jokingly, when asked if Prince William might be thinking of any fresh acquisitions of his own.
When it comes to Wales, the new Prince of Wales made three early decisions that represent a break with his father’s approach.
First, he would not spend months at university learning Welsh. Second, he would not be buying a home in Wales. Third, he had no wish for a grand formal investiture like the 1969 ceremony arranged for Prince Charles.
‘I certainly remember the aftermath of the investiture at Caernarfon,’ says Princess Anne. ‘We were sent off to Malta for [Charles] to recover. He really did need to recover.’
The Princess recalls that the constant walkabouts had left her brother so exhausted that he was doing them in his sleep: ‘He woke up trying to speak to people.’
Today, neither the Welsh nor the UK Government has expressed any desire to hold a similar event, much to the relief of the current Prince of Wales.
Nor, say his officials, does he intend to use the Welsh farm, even though he now owns it through the Duchy of Cornwall.
He will allow it to become a permanent rental property.
When it comes to leisure, the King has inherited his late father’s love of reading. Prince William, by contrast, will dip into books for information, less so for pleasure.
Asked to name the Prince’s favourite author, one official replies diplomatically: ‘He’s a box-set guy.’ Superhero movies are, apparently, a particular favourite, especially Deadpool and all things Batman-related. ‘He just likes action flicks,’ says one friend.
One hit series which the Prince and Princess of Wales will not be watching is the Netflix royal drama, The Crown.
When it comes to leisure, the King has inherited his late father’s love of reading
Prince George will not be expected to undertake any royal duties until he is well into his 20s
Prince William holds his eldest child, Prince George after the Princess of Wales gave birth to Princess Charlotte in 2015
‘The Prince … rolls his eyes when people say that ‘it’s just drama’,’ says a source close to him. ‘Yet, he will not give it any greater publicity by complaining. He doesn’t like the idea of being seen as a complainer all the time.’
What may mark out the future King William V as a ‘change-maker’ is not what he does, so much as what he may not do.
According to a close adviser, he is ‘very nervous’ of being seen to presume he is the future head of the Commonwealth. ‘It’s something he thinks about a lot.’
However, one idea which he certainly does not favour, says a source, is the idea of being a ‘co-head’ (with a politician).
The prospect of there being a future monarch who is not head of the Commonwealth is not nearly as big a leap of the royal imagination, however, as having a monarch who is not Supreme Governor of the Church of England.
In royal circles, it is no secret that he does not share the King’s sense of the spiritual, let alone the late Queen’s unshakeable devotion to the Anglican church.
‘His father is very spiritual and happy to talk about faith, but the Prince is not,’ says a senior Palace figure. ‘He doesn’t go to church every Sunday, but then nor do the large majority of the country. He might go at Christmas and Easter, but that’s it.
‘He very much respects the institutions, but he is not instinctively comfortable in a faith environment.’
His own Coronation, when it takes place, is likely to be quite different from his father’s.
According to one who has heard Prince William’s private thoughts about it, he thought King Charles’s Coronation ‘was brilliant, but he is less instinctively spiritual than his father so he would want something a bit more discreet’.
He would also like his ceremony to be shorter — ‘ideally an hour and ten minutes’ — and may dispense with some of the regalia.
The Prince and Princess of Wales are pictured with their two children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte in a family snap taken in December 2015
King Charles is pictured with heir to the throne, the Prince of Wales and the second-in-line, Prince George
According to one who has heard Prince William’s private thoughts about it, he thought King Charles’s Coronation ‘was brilliant, but he is less instinctively spiritual than his father so he would want something a bit more discreet’
The Wales family, the Princess of Wales, Princess Charlotte, Prince George, the Prince of Wales and Prince Louis at Sandringham on Christmas Day last year
Quite apart from all his duties as Prince of Wales, Prince William has what he regards as one paramount duty. It is one which some of his predecessors virtually ignored: training the heir.
‘In his view, it’s not far off the most important job he has — raising the next King but one,’ says a family friend.
Equally, Prince George will not be expected to undertake any royal duties until he is well into his 20s.
How well do the King and his son get on? Certainly their relationship has been strengthened by the twin burdens of their new roles and periodic broadsides from California.
Also, the more that the heir to the throne becomes involved in the running of the Duchy of Cornwall and the royal estates, the more he has come to appreciate his father’s dedication and achievements.
The King certainly finds it easier to discuss these issues with his son than he did with his late father.
‘Prince Charles and Prince Philip were always quarrelling about the best way forward,’ says one royal source. ‘Prince Philip did have a tendency to treat his sons as if they were in short trousers.’
Prince William, however, is said to be closer to the late Prince Philip than to his father on farming issues.
According to one adviser, this is especially true when it comes to the merits of organic farming.
Whereas the King is a purist on the matter, his son is more agnostic, given the difficulties facing many farmers in seeking to attain organic status.
Both, however, have a strong admiration for what each other has achieved in terms of keeping the environment to the fore.
It also helps that the King is a huge fan of his daughter-in-law. ‘He thinks Catherine is doing a wonderful job, not just with her royal duties but also in bringing up his grandchildren,’ says a friend. Meanwhile, Charles III is very content to leave it to genetics and the Almighty to dictate the length of his reign. There will be nothing ‘interim’ about any of it, as long as he has Queen Camilla at his side.
‘I’m his closest in age and, you know, we don’t always agree,’ says the Princess Royal. ‘But we both understand what is important about the monarchy.
‘We both agree on that. It’s understanding that the team has to pull together to make it work.’
- Adapted from Charles III: New King. New Court. The Inside Story by Robert Hardman, to be published by Macmillan tomorrow at £22. © Robert Hardman 2024. To order a copy for £17.60 (offer valid until February 29, 2024; UK P&P free on orders over £25) go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3176 2937.
What made Wills kneel down and tickle Charles under the chin?
A few days before the Coronation, all the key players are assembled in the Buckingham Palace ballroom, where a stage has been laid out to mirror the precise layout at Westminster Abbey.
The Archbishop of Canterbury is rehearsing the moment when he will crown the Queen. Before he can do so, he has to seek a signal of approval from the King, who is, by now, deep in conversation with someone else.
Things are already a little tense. The Archbishop has to interrupt, shouting across the assembled company: ‘If you don’t nod or indicate, Sir, I can’t crown Her Majesty.’
‘Don’t bother,’ the Queen chips in. ‘I’m very happy!’
Everyone laughs. But no one doubts for a minute that she is also telling the truth.
With so many carefully choreographed movements to the ceremony, some of those present are reminded of when they acted in school plays.
‘We often remark upon how grateful we are that our schools did a lot of drama and both of us spent time on stage,’ Princess Anne reflects. ‘It’s really good training. Apart from the fact it gives you a bit of confidence, it teaches you about learning lines and making sure you do the rehearsals so you get it absolutely right.’
Queen Camilla’s two ‘companions’ for the Coronation, her sister, Annabel Elliot, and her old friend, the Marchioness of Lansdowne, have similar thoughts. ‘It was more like a pantomime, actually, because there were so many bishops and nobody quite knowing what they were doing,’ Fiona Lansdowne jokes later.
Justin Welby slowly lowers the crown onto the head of the King. Except he is not entirely sure of his first attempt. Pictured: The actual Coronation ceremony last year
All are conscious that this is a particularly challenging moment for Annabel. Just the day before, she buried her husband, Simon, who had died the previous month after a long illness. And now she is trying to learn her moves as her sister prepares to be crowned Queen.
It’s all the more impressive given that today should have been the Elliots’ wedding anniversary.
For Queen Camilla, the main anxiety is her own anointing. Having a clergyman place a heavy crown on one’s immaculate hairstyle is challenging enough. Having oil smeared on one’s face is of rather greater concern.
‘It is the merest dab,’ the Archbishop insists, as he imitates the short sign of the cross he will make on her forehead.
For the King, the anointing of the Queen is a slightly nerve-racking moment, too. Before she is crowned, he must ‘nod’ his approval. Except, as every monarch knows, if you lower your head, the crown can topple forwards and fall off.
But the Archbishop has an alternative to nodding: ‘Just give me a look that says you mean it!’
Six days later — and with just three to go before the Coronation — rehearsals move to Westminster Abbey.
The Prince and Princess of Wales arrive with all the children.
Justin Welby offers Prince William one piece of advice: ‘If you ever get lost in this, Sir, you just look confident and bow and that will carry you through everything.’
Then the King and Queen Consort arrive. Suddenly, the occasion feels less formal as grandchildren come up for a kiss on the cheek and everyone enjoys a spot of catching up. It really is starting to feel like a rehearsal for a family wedding.
The Archbishop speeds things along. ‘And . . . pray, pray, pray and then tee-dum-tee-dum-tee-dum and pray, pray, pray,’ he says, rattling through the order of service to reach the parts which require more careful choreography.
For the first time, the Prince of Wales kneels before his father and recites his oath of loyalty. At the end, he leans forward to give him a kiss. Then he tickles the King under the chin.
At least today’s abbey rehearsal has been more successful than another one, when an old friend of the Queen, Sarah Keswick, stepped in to take her place.
‘Sarah Keswick was the stand-in for the Archbishop to crown her but they made this crown absolutely enormous,’ Annabel recalls. ‘It just slipped straight down to her shoulders. That was a very funny moment. Everyone was in hysterics — no head, just the crown!’
On Coronation day itself, Annabel is at the palace as the King and Queen are preparing to leave.
Justin Welby offers Prince William one piece of advice: ‘If you ever get lost in this, Sir, you just look confident and bow and that will carry you through everything’
After being crowned and anointed, the Queen looks palpably relieved. The most hazardous part of the ceremony is over
It is the first time the King has seen Queen Camilla in her full Coronation gown. ‘When he saw her – you could see his face lit up. He was very proud of her,’ Annabel recalls.
Watching her elder sister step into the carriage is an emotional moment for her. ‘It makes tears come to my eyes thinking about the whole day. I felt she looked very vulnerable. And she was obviously incredibly nervous.
‘She doesn’t show it a lot and said: ‘No, no, I’m not at all nervous.’ But of course, she was. I mean, this is just the most extraordinary moment in your life.’
The King, on the other hand, managed to retain an almost transcendental calmness, ‘as if it was just another day at the office.’
Annabel is close to tears as she thinks back to two little girls watching the 1953 Coronation on a tiny black and white television. And now, 70 years later, it has come to this.
‘There goes this golden coach with my sister. I can’t explain the feeling, but it’s so surreal. This cannot be happening…’
Later, as Annabel follows her sister slowly up the aisle of the abbey, she is still inwardly pinching herself: ‘I can’t believe it. This simply cannot be. This must be some terrible joke — that my sister is Queen!’
Justin Welby slowly lowers the crown onto the head of the King. Except he is not entirely sure of his first attempt. He lifts it slightly and has a second go before crouching down to double-check the level of the ermine, like a mason having one last squint at his brickwork.
It is not the most elegant performance but even the Royal Family are awestruck by this moment. ‘The actual crowning really is the moment that makes the difference,’ the Princess Royal reflects later. ‘When the crown goes on, you see that responsibility being moved on.’
After being crowned and anointed, the Queen looks palpably relieved. The most hazardous part of the ceremony is over.
‘To start with, I thought she seemed very nervous,’ Annabel remembers. ‘But as the service progressed, I felt her get stronger and stronger. And by the end, I think she was flying.’
It is the first time the King has seen Queen Camilla in her full Coronation gown. ‘When he saw her – you could see his face lit up. He was very proud of her,’ Annabel recalls
The royal couple retire to the makeshift changing room in St Edward’s Chapel, where robes and crowns must be prepared for departure.
‘We went into the vestry and then it became a bit of a party,’ says Annabel. ‘We were there for about 15 minutes and it did feel like a wedding. Everyone felt so happy.’
She recalls light-hearted reminders about who was supposed to wear what for the final procession: ‘You know: ‘This is my crown. That’s your crown!’ ‘
For some, like one very old friend of Queen Camilla, today has been an intensely emotional experience: ‘When I think back to those days when Camilla was getting so much grief in the Press and how she soldiered on without complaining out of loyalty and love, and then you look at today – well, I was in floods. This felt like proper closure.’
The procession moves slowly to the other end of the abbey, where the King teases the Archbishop about nearly forgetting to seek his approval before crowning the Queen. ‘I hope we’re not going to have to come back next week to do it all over again,’ he jokes.
The Gold State Coach brings the King and Queen back to the palace.
‘There was such an air of celebration. Everybody was sort of, ‘Phew, take your shoes off’,’ says Annabel Elliot.