He has taken on many roles during his long apprenticeship to the crown – royal action man, environmental campaigner and, some say, mastermind.
But now the UK and the Commonwealth will be encouraged to look to King Charles as the ‘grandfather of the nation’ whose kindness, compassion and wisdom will ensure a smooth transition from his late mother to her son.
It’s an image the new monarch and his team have been determined to project from the moment he left Balmoral on Thursday, forced to put his deep personal grief aside to lead his stunned country in mourning.
King Charles, 73, knows he will never be able to replicate his mother’s role or unique position in British national life – nor does he want to – but he has inherited many of her most admirable qualities.
The UK and Commonwealth will be encouraged to view King Charles as the ‘grandfather of the nation’, writes Rebecca English
A friend says: “Although he is not in the first wave of his youth, it is not bad for this country. His Majesty brings with him 50 years of experience on the world stage and will be able to assume a fatherly presence in the life of the nation. We may bear the loss of the nation’s grandmother more easily.
“Yes, you knew him before.” But I think there’s a clear and immediate change in the way people look at him and the way he presents himself to the world.
“He makes it clear that he is in favor of continuity and wants to dedicate himself to the service of the country, respecting its constitutional guidelines.
“I think people are already responding to it. As the sun came out and the crowds cheered and cheered him on at Buckingham Palace on Friday, it was an incredibly moving moment for those of us who have known him for many years. He was moved beyond belief.
The friend added: “His address to the nation tonight was majestic and heartfelt, every word written in his own hand.
“He told us that he understood what his mother meant to all of us and that he would continue to be proud of her.”
Experienced PR professional Patrick Harrison was Charles’ press secretary for more than a decade and played a key role in working on the royal’s reputation and introducing ‘Mrs PB’ [Parker Bowles] – Camila – to the world.
King of Arms Lord Lyon Joseph Morrow (right) attends the proclamation of the new King, King Charles III, from the Mercat Cross outside St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh
The 3rd Royal Welsh Battalion Marching Band and their mascot goat march to Cardiff Castle ahead of the proclamation ceremony
Few people have had such a ringside seat in history, and he says the man we’ve seen in recent days is the same passionate, driven man he knew, but with an instinctive sense of what he has to bring to the table.
He tells me, “The king’s sense of duty is exactly the same as her late majesty’s. He has 50 years of public service and is the most dedicated and committed person I have ever worked for.
“He’s also one of the hardest workers. If you’re coming back after a long trip and watching a movie, he’ll be the only person still working on his papers. He is incredibly dedicated and hardworking and committed to public duty. All he ever did was try to make things better for other people. This is who he is and that will not change.
“But what we saw while the Prince of Wales was that he had particular passions. And he knows more than anyone that there can’t be that level of involvement now.
“I think what we’re already seeing is that passion is now channeled into compassion. The passionate prince will become a compassionate king.
“The role of the monarch is to be a unifier of the nation and an embodiment of compassion. He has that in abundance.
The fact that Charles already has, in such a short time, such goodwill on the part of the nation is no surprise to those who have known him for years. They believe the king has been unfairly caught up in a PR time warp fueled by “useless” adjunct memoirs such as Netflix drama The Crown.
Three cheers for the King rang out after the Proclamation of Accession was read at Hillsborough Castle, south of Belfast
Members of the Yukembruk dance group perform during the proclamation ceremony at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia
Shortly after I took up my job as royal correspondent for The Daily Mail more than 15 years ago, I was invited to tea by a senior aide who said to me as we sat by the roaring fire: ‘He is a man who has made mistakes, but should be forced to pay for them for the rest of his life? Another senior royal who has worked closely with the king agreed, saying: “All these things that the outside world is now looking at – the relationship with the public, the emotion of the man, the fact that he will respect the constitutional red lines – he has been saying and doing this for years.
“The only difference is that so many people stopped looking at what was in front of them sometime in the mid-1990s when his marriage fell apart and he was characterized in a certain way. Then many people made up their mind about him – this cool, carefree prince.
“And no one bothered to look at it again until Friday.”
“He’s worked incredibly hard to get his first few days and weeks off to a good start. It’s a careful balance between wanting to show he’s ready and demonstrate that the continuity people hope for is there, but at the same time he’s dealing with the loss of his mother after 73 years. And it’s an incredibly emotional tightrope. In fact, I think the job will keep him going. It would give him something to focus on besides losing his mother.
Over the years, Charles has suffered the curse of the polls, regularly struggling to reach double figures compared to younger, more glamorous royals or his mother’s unwavering popularity. Some think it’s a shame it’s taken until now for him to hit his stride, but others think he’s saved the best for last.
The band of the Honorable Artillery Company joined the Royal Exchange ahead of the second proclamation in the City of London, which took place on Saturday
The Queen’s funeral cortege proceeded along the Royal Mile to Holyroodhouse earlier today (Sunday)
A former royal aide said: “In many ways, the idea of being a prince has a connotation of youth, and that becomes increasingly inconsistent as a prince gets older. The moment he stepped into the role of king, it was an opportunity for him to present himself as that supreme figure—the grandfather of the nation.
“And he immediately fits that role well. He looks the right age, has the strength, the tone of voice and most importantly, the experience. People talk a lot about the Queen’s first Prime Minister being Winston Churchill, but Charles is a man who also met Winston Churchill as a young man and every single Prime Minister since. It’s comforting, brings continuity and looks the part.
“He is a 73-year-old man, he has graying hair, he has a rich, mellow voice. So for the king now it’s about connecting with the people and assuring them that there’s someone at the top of this country and kingdoms that you can literally lean on.
“I think what surprises people is the depth of emotion — the emotional range — that you already see in him.”
This is nothing new to people who have worked with the king for years. One tells me of a visit to a children’s hospice when a patient the then-Prince had planned to see tragically died hours before he arrived.
Many councilors were in favor of canceling the visit. Charles followed this up by taking the child’s grieving parents to a chapel and spending 20 minutes comforting them. Not a word was revealed to the media.
AIDS described the new king as “very young at 73”, saying: “This is a man who is extremely healthy, whose work leaves most of his household behind.”
Floral tributes to the late Queen were placed at royal residences across the country
A source said: “It’s something that people don’t always see in him. Yes, they see his “big sweep” stuff like the environment, but they don’t know about the hours he spends every week writing to people who are going through loss and a difficult time, meeting them and talking to them.
“He has long been underestimated for this.” After incidents such as the floods in Cumbria, the rail disaster at Selby – he insisted on going – and meeting wounded soldiers returning from overseas, it was always there as part of his make-up and we see it in his sons too. ‘ The same source admits it makes them ‘goof off’ when royal commentators refer to Charles’ long wait for ‘the best job’.
The insider says: “The prince I worked for didn’t wait. He was getting on with it. He had 100 things he wanted to do and accomplish. He always said, “There have been 21 Princes of Wales and they have all created their own different job description.”
“Destiny always waited – of course it did. But the idea that he was waiting for the highest post was completely inaccurate.
Still, it’s a lot to ask at 73, surely? I ask another former aide. They argue: “Except he is very young, 73 years old. This is a man who is extremely healthy, whose work leaves most of his household behind.
“Most employees find it exhausting to work for him because he never stops. He has an incredible work rate that would be significant for someone in their 40s, let alone in their 70s. And most of all, he cares about what he does. This cannot be underestimated. He is fascinated by everyone and everything. It’s the fuel that drives him forward. He has so much fire and passion in him.
The same insider believes that we should look at our new monarch’s long period of learning his craft as a positive, not a negative.
They say: “He should not be categorized as an old king. He has been a modernizer all his life and I think he will continue to be a modernizer in his own way.
“I think he has the energy of a man half his age, and he has the drive to continue to bring attention to the things that matter to him and the country.”
“Put it this way, he works seven days a week and the concept of a weekend doesn’t really exist. He just does it in a different place!’