Sunday, September 25, 2022

What will King Charles III be like as Britain’s monarch?

LONDON — What sort of king will Charles III be? He offered a first glimpse on Friday, as he moved among the people mourning his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, outside Buckingham Palace.

One woman on the rope line thrust herself forward and asked if she could give him a kiss. Recall, nobody was supposed to touch the queen. But Charles seemed unbothered. The woman grabbed his shoulder, pulled him toward her and pecked him on the cheek.

As monarch, Charles will be different from his mum. That’s almost certain.

In his first address, he praised his mother’s commitment to public service. “Her dedication and devotion as Sovereign never wavered, through times of change and progress, through times of joy and celebration, and through times of sadness and loss,” he said. “In her life of service we saw that abiding love of tradition, together with that fearless embrace of progress, which make us great as Nations.”

Charles, too, can be expected to balance tradition and progress. The question will be whether the leans more toward one or the other.

Charles has opinions. He expresses them. He’s 73. He may not be able to turn it off. The heir has spent a lifetime promoting his views. He has established princely think tanks and foundations and trusts to do so — to promote “holistic solutions to the challenges facing the world today.”

He has deep thoughts on fast fashion, hedgerows, parking garages and organic tomatoes.

Who is Britain’s new king? A visual biography of Charles III

Charles has conceded that as king, he will have to express his views less openly and often — but his biographers don’t quite believe this is fully possible.

Once dismissed as a nutter by his critics, because he confessed he talks to trees, Charles is right on time for 2022.

He was a rock star at last year’s COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. He is ardent. He believes the planet is going to hell while the world’s governments fiddle.

Charles could be an ecological warrior-king in a Savile Row suit.

Prince Charles, once dismissed as a plant-talking oddball, takes his environmental bona fides to COP26

“He will be a different sort of monarch. Charles is a deep thinker, romantic, sentimentalist,” said Robert Hardman, a royal biographer, author of “Queen of Our Times.”

Political neutrality is often understood essential for the monarchy and its survival in modern times. But in Robert Jobson’s 2018 biography, “King Charles: The Man, the Monarch, and the Future of Britain,” the author describes a person who may want very much to “lead as monarch, not just follow.”

The queen? She was hard to pin down, honestly.

We could all see that Elizabeth loved horses and sensible shoes and dogs and handbags and the Church of England and shooting stags and Land Rovers and tradition and Prince Philip and duty and her often stumbling, sometimes dysfunctional tabloid fodder of a family.

But what did she really think about any of the major issues of her time, over the course of a 70-year reign? Apartheid? Feminism? Brexit? The queen believed strongly that the monarch shouldn’t interfere in politics. And so in most cases, royal watchers had to resort to reading the tea leaves to guess her stance.

And yet Britons adored her. Even many people who dislike the monarchy as an institution had a soft spot for the queen.

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Pollsters say a lot of Britons don’t love Charles, though they don’t strongly dislike him, either. While some still hold a grudge, many seem to have given him a reprieve, more than 25 years later, for his role in his disastrous marriage to Princess Diana, which ended in tragedy. He was an adulterer. But he was also deeply in love. With Camilla, it turned out, now queen consort.

Episodes of the popular television series “The Crown” portrayed him as a cold fish, a cruel man, uncomfortable with himself. But Charles is known to those who know him to be quite warm in person. In a long receiving line at a palace function, the queen kept it moving. Charles Lingers.

“His staff always say his investitures always take a lot longer than the queen’s, because she’s quite good at having a few words and the handshake and then, right, that’s off you go,” Hardman told The Washington Post. “Whereas Charles is much more prone to start having conversations and go, “Oh, you’re a sheep farmer. What sort of sheep do you farm?” It’s just a different approach.”

In public, he can be awkward. Tonally off. As when he boasted that his climate-conscious Aston Martin sports car ran on wine and cheese.

Prince Charles says his Aston Martin runs on wine and cheese byproducts

He has adopted some peculiar — and oddly specific — positions over the years, on topics like the best breeds of sheep and the importance of proper joinery carpentry. He also has big ideas about climate change, urban blight, organic farming and the dehumanizing nature of modern architecture.

In the 2018 BBC documentary, “Prince, Son And Heir: Charles At 70,” the future king is asked about accusations of meddling in public affairs. He replies: “Really? You don’t say.”

He explains: “I always wonder what meddling is, I mean, I always thought it was motivating.”

“But I’ve always been intrigued, if it’s meddling to worry about the inner cities as I did 40 years ago and what was happening or not happening there, the conditions in which people were living.”

He said, “If that’s meddling I’m very proud of it.”

Prince Charles says cheap food and industrial farming are ruining the planet

Reaching for Shakespeare, and how young Prince Hal grew up to be Henry V, he told the documentarians: “I won’t be able to do the same things I’ve done, you know, as heir, so of course you operate within the constitutional parameters.”

Asked about fears that his involvement would continue in the same way, Charles said: “No, it won’t. I’m not that stupid, I do realize that it is a separate exercise, being sovereign.”

The interview itself is another point of contrast with his mother. Queen Elizabeth II never gave a press interview in her life, even though she lived through a time when the British press were hem-kissers to the monarch. Charles has spent hours and hours with BBC, despite having faced the media buzz saw, the worst of the worst tabloids in the 1990s.

UK braced for death of Queen Elizabeth II. It still came as a shock.

The queen believed, devoutly, in Jesus Christ as lord and savior. She was a religious figure, as “Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England.” Her Christmas messages often got in a mention of Jesus.

Charles is more spiritual than devout. In his speech on Friday, he referenced a divine power in the context of “the remaining time God grants me,” but then quickly moved back to the human realm, pledging to serve his people, “whatever may be your background or beliefs.”

He believes we have fallen from grace, from a more traditional, natural, Edenic state, by succumbing, much too much, to mechanistic, technological, modernist thinking.

In his 2010 book “Harmony,” a 336-page exposition of his princely philosophy, Charles describes how the Age of Convenience produced the Age of Disconnection.

God, for Charles, can be understood in the repeating mathematical pattern of a flower’s petals.

How hippies, farmers and Prince Charles are preserving the ancient art of hedgelaying

The queen had her many charities, and so does Charles. But he has gone much further in using his to express a world view.

As Duke of Cornwall, and overseer of the Duchy of Cornwall, he was responsible for 129,600 acres of land across 20 counties in southwest England, focused on “sustainability,” one of his favorite words — and not one the queen dwelled upon.

To promote his ideas on traditional architecture on what he calls “the human scale,” Charles has created — completely from scratch — an experimental planned community for 6,000 residents and 180 businesses, called Poundbury, with low-rise buildings, front gardens, reduced car use, designed upon the “new urbanism” that the king has called his “vision for Britain.”

The Prince’s Trust, too, over four decades, has helped a million young people in Britain and around the Commonwealth, with free courses, grants and mentoring opportunities.

Charles has foundations and he has donors — and that has caused some minor scandals, such as reports of cash donations from a former Qatari prime minister that were handed over in a suitcase and Fortnum and Mason shopping bag. The Charity Commission declined to investigate. Charles said all donations have been legally declared and accounted for.

Charles has said he will return to live in Buckingham Palace in central London, an edifice his mother had mostly abandoned since the pandemic. But the new king also says he wants to slim-down the monarchy, get it on 21st century footing.

One of the queen’s final headaches was what to do about Prince Andrew, who has been largely banished from public life, since his settlement of a lawsuit brought by a woman who says she was trafficked to him by convicted sex offenders Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell.

Charles appears to have agreed with his mother.

What to know about King Charles III

What King Charles does with his son, Prince Harry, remains an open question. Does he work to bring Harry and his wife, Meghan back into the royal fold? After they quit their royal duties, moved to California and then aired their grievances to Oprah? Or keep them distant? Some signals of his intent may emerge in coming days.

At Buckingham Palace on Thursday night, Jane Gibbs, 58, said her grandmother was a ladies maid to Princess Margaret, the queen’s sister. Speaking from underneath an umbrella, she described the queen as “our ruler” and “better than any president.”

Sitting next to her was Jill Creswell, a retired Londoner, who was carrying a bouquet of flowers. “We cried our eyes out,” she said. She said she approved of Charles becoming king, as he was next in line, but made it clear that he was William who would be “our king.” Moments later, she belted out the national anthem, “God Save the Queen.”

Many people did this, sometimes loudly, sometimes softly, sometimes prompted by a brass band somewhere in the thick of thousands.

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