Every joy and heartbreak of King Charles’ life has been chronicled for the world to avidly devour. From Prince to King, he has overcome untold challenges under an intense spotlight of public scrutiny.
But as he celebrates his landmark 75th birthday on November 14th, he has proven himself to be, not only a respected King, but a firm and fair guide who has laid the foundations for the Royal Family’s future.
Speaking to us ahead of the milestone celebration, former BBC royal correspondent Jennie Bond says, “People often talk about ‘the journey’ Camilla has made – from mistress to beloved wife and now Queen – but we shouldn’t forget that it’s been one hell of a journey for Charles as well.
"From shy adolescent to the world’s most sought after bachelor, from a fairytale wedding to a bitter divorce, from adulterer and being blamed for Diana’s death to eventually to marrying Camilla. He has been loved, despised, humiliated, mocked – but finally he has won the respect of many people in the UK.”
Gone are the concerns that Charles would be a meddlesome monarch as Jennie points out, “From the moment he became King, there was a difference in tone from Charles as he solemnly pledged to uphold the constitutional principles at the heart of our nation…
"'Wherever you may live in the United Kingdom, or in the realms and territories across the world, and whatever may be your background or beliefs, I shall endeavour to serve you with loyalty, respect and love, as I have throughout my life.’ That first speech to the nation as King, so shortly after his mother had died, set him up as the father, or even grandfather, of the nation… a very heavy responsibility.”
Despite being the oldest royal to succeed to the throne, his approach is more in-keeping with modern Britain. It’s realistic, warm and approachable, less shackled by the late Queen’s old-fashioned upbringing, her devout Christian faith and her love of tradition. While his reign will never reach the lofty heights of his mother, his modern outlooks will stand him in good stead.
Much like his great-great grandfather, King Edward VII, perhaps Charles will be seen as a friend to the people; a monarch who is immensely well-liked for his natural abilities, tact and the way he has never been afraid to voice his opinion on challenging and politically sensitive subjects.
You need only look at his five decades of environmental campaigning or his inclusion of all faiths at his Coronation, or his acute sensitivity to nations reassessing their relationship to the Commonwealth, to see how the King has at least one foot firmly planted in the 'real world'.
His passion for inclusivity is fast becoming one of his greatest assets, Jennie notes. “For decades, Charles used his platform as Prince of Wales to campaign tirelessly for harmony between communities and religions. As King, that platform is even greater and he’s using it wisely.”
His intention to be firm but fair on family matters should be lauded, especially when handling the difficult situations thrown up by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and the Duke of York.
“Charles is making it clear that he still loves Harry and wishes him well in his new life with Meghan, but also that they cannot expect royal privileges and a home here in the UK if their life and loyalty is in the USA,” Jennie says.
“Also not removing Harry as Counsellor of State and instead adding Princess Anne and Prince Edward to the list without a fuss is tactful and kind. The same goes for making Andrew foot the bills if he is to remain at Royal Lodge. Logical and firm – but also generous to allow him to stay.”
There were many predictions that the monarchy would be in turmoil after the Queen’s death. Yet the ship was smoothly steadied under the expert stewardship of the King, who in turn was ably supported by senior royals including, of course, Queen Camilla.
On Accession Day in September, a poll proved the King’s popularity is sky high. “Charles has a popularity rating that any politician would die for,” says Jennie.
“For years, I’ve mouthed the words that one of the monarchy’s great strengths is the sense of stability and continuity that it gives us all – particularly compared to the rocky world of politics where prime ministers and Cabinet ministers come and go so frequently.
“In this first year we’ve seen that those words are absolutely true and it really is reassuring to have that continuity when all else is chaos. I also think we benefit as a nation from having an elderly – and highly experienced – monarch.
"There’s not much that Charles hasn’t seen or heard. He has met more world leaders than anyone currently in government, and like his mother, this has given him a breadth of experience and perspective on world affairs that few politicians could rival."
Jennie has been privileged to enjoy a front row seat to many key moments in King Charles’ life. “I’ve been hugely impressed by Charles in this first year,” she states. “It’s one heck of an age to take on such a big job. Looking after my grandchildren as I do from time to time, you realise that – wonderful as it is – there’s a reason we don’t have kids in our sixties or seventies. It’s knackering!
“Perhaps Charles and Camilla sometimes feel that in their new roles! But they’ve both buckled down to it and I think Charles, in particular, is relishing taking the reins – and the reign!
"Those who knew the late Queen said that the reason she carried on with her official duties until the day she died was because she simply ‘enjoyed being Queen’. And I think Charles is enjoying being King: the job he was born to do and for which he was in line for so very many decades.”
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