By DANICA KIRKA
LONDON (AP) – Prince Charles has been preparing for the crown all his life. Now, at the age of 73, that moment has finally arrived.
Charles, the oldest person ever to inherit the British throne, became King Charles III on Thursday after the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II. No date has been set for his coronation.
After an apprenticeship that began as a child, Charles embodies the modernization of the British monarchy. He was the first heir not educated at home, the first to earn a university degree and the first to grow up in the ever-intensifying glare of the media as respect for royalty faded.
He also alienated many with his messy divorce from the much-loved Princess Diana, and by tightening rules banning royals from meddling in public affairs, wading into debates on issues such as environmental protection and architectural preservation,
“He is now in, if you will, the autumn of his life where he has to think carefully about how he projects his image as a public figure,” said historian Ed Owens. “He’s nowhere near as popular as his mother.”
Charles must figure out how to create the “public support, a sense of affection” that characterized Elizabeth’s relationship with the British public, Owens said.
In other words, will Charles be as loved by his subjects? It is a question that has overshadowed his entire life.
A shy boy with a domineering father, Charles grew into a sometimes awkward, understated man who is nevertheless sure of his own opinions. Unlike his mother, who refused to discuss her views publicly, Charles has given speeches and written articles on topics close to his heart, such as climate change, green energy and alternative medicine.
His accession to the throne is likely to fuel debate over the future of Britain’s largely ceremonial monarchy, seen by some as a symbol of national unity and by others as an outdated relic of feudal history.
“We know the monarch and certainly the monarch’s family – they are not supposed to have political votes. They are not supposed to have political opinions. And the fact that he has flexed, if you will, his political muscles is something he’s going to have to be really careful about … lest he be seen as unconstitutional,” said Owens, who wrote “The Family Firm: Monarchy, Mass. Media and the British Public, 1932-53. “
Charles, who will be head of state for Britain and 14 other countries including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, has defended his actions.
“I always wonder what interference is, I’ve always thought it was motivating,” he said in “Prince, Son and Heir: Charles at 70,” a 2018 documentary. “I’ve always been curious if it is to meddle to care about the inner cities, as I did 40 years ago, and what happened or didn’t happen there, the conditions people lived in. If it’s to meddle, I’m very proud of it. “
However, in the same interview, Charles acknowledged that as king he would not be able to speak out or interfere in politics because the role of sovereign is different to being the Prince of Wales.
Charles has said he intends to reduce the number of working royals, cut spending and better represent modern Britain.
But tradition is also important to a man whose office previously described the monarchy as “the focal point of national pride, unity and allegiance.”
It has meant a life of palaces and polo that has attracted criticism that Charles was out of touch with everyday life, being vilified for having an officer who allegedly squeezed toothpaste onto his brush.
But it was the break-up of his marriage to Diana that led many to question his suitability for the throne. As he grew older, his handsome young sons stole the limelight from a man with a reputation for being as gray as his Saville Row suits.
Biographer Sally Bedell Smith, author of “Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life,” described him as constantly overshadowed by others in the family, despite his fate.
“I think the frustrations are not so much that he’s had to wait for the throne,” Smith told PBS. “I think his biggest frustration is that he’s done so much and that … he’s been kind of massively misunderstood. He’s kind of caught between two worlds: his mother’s world, the revered, now loved; and Diana, whose ghost still shadows him; and then his incredibly glamorous sons.”
It took years for many in Britain to forgive Charles for his admitted infidelity with Diana before the “people’s princess” died in a car crash in Paris in 1997. But the public mood softened after he married Camilla Parker Bowles in 2005, and she became the Duchess of Cornwall.
Although Camilla played a significant role in the rift between Charles and Diana, her self-deprecating style and down-to-earth sense of humor eventually won over many Britons.
She helped Charles smile more in public by toning down his reserve and making him seem approachable, if not happier, as he cut ribbons, visited houses of worship, unveiled plaques and awaited the crown.
Her service was rewarded last February when Queen Elizabeth II publicly said it was her “sincere wish” that Camilla be known as “Queen Consort” after her son succeeded her, answering questions once and for all about her status in the royal family. .
Prince Charles Philip Arthur George was born on 14 November 1948 at Buckingham Palace. When his mother acceded to the throne in 1952, the 3-year-old prince became the Duke of Cornwall. He became Prince of Wales at the age of 20.
His school years were unhappy, with the future king bullied by classmates at Gordonstoun, a Scottish boarding school that prides itself on building character through vigorous outdoor activities and educated his father, Philip.
Charles studied history at Cambridge University’s Trinity College, where in 1970 he became the first British royal to receive a university degree.
He then spent seven years in uniform training as a Royal Air Force pilot before joining the Royal Navy where he learned to fly helicopters. He ended his military career as commander of HMS Bronington, a minesweeper, in 1976.
Charles’ relationship with Camilla began before he went to sea, but romance took off and she married a cavalry officer.
He met Lady Diana Spencer in 1977 when she was 16 and he dated her older sister. Diana apparently did not see him again until 1980, and rumors of their engagement swirled after she was invited to spend time with Charles and the royal family.
They announced their engagement in February 1981. A certain awkwardness in their relationship was immediately apparent when, during a television interview about their engagement, a reporter asked if they were in love. “Of course,” Diana replied immediately as Charles said, “Whatever ‘in love’ means.”
Although Diana giggled at the response, she later said that Charles’ remark “threw me completely.”
“God, it completely traumatized me,” she said in a recording made by her voice coach in 1992-93 that was featured in the 2017 documentary “Diana, In Her Own Words.”
The couple married on 29 July 1981 in St. Paul’s Cathedral in a globally televised ceremony. Prince William, now heir to the throne, was born less than a year later, followed by his brother, Prince Harry, in 1984.
The public adventure quickly crumbled. Charles admitted infidelity to a television interviewer in 1994. In an interview of her own, Diana drew attention to her husband’s relationship with Camilla, saying: “There were three of us in this marriage.”
The revelations tarnished Charles’ reputation among many who hailed Diana for her style as well as her charity work with AIDS patients and landmine victims.
William and Harry were caught in the middle. While the princes paid tribute to their late mother, they said Charles was a good father and praised him as an early advocate for issues such as the environment.
Tensions continue in the royal family, underlined by Harry and his wife Meghan’s decision to step back from their royal duties and move to California in 2020. In a television interview, they later said a member of the royal family had raised “concerns and conversations” about the color of their baby’s skin before he was born. The explosive revelation forced William to publicly declare that the family was not racist.
Charles soldiered on, increasingly standing up for the Queen in her twilight years. In 2018, he was named the Queen’s designated successor as head of the Commonwealth, an association of 54 nations with links to the British Empire. The process accelerated after the death of her husband, Prince Philips, on 9 April 2021.
When Elizabeth declined, he sometimes stepped in at the last minute.
On the eve of the State Opening of Parliament this year, on May 10, the Queen asked Charles to preside, delegating one of her most important constitutional duties to him – proof that a transition was under way.
Camilla said in a 2018 documentary that Charles was comfortable with the prospect of becoming king.
“I think his destiny will come,” she said. “He always knew it was coming and I don’t think it weighs heavily on his shoulders at all.”