King Charles: The long wait for his ‘day of destiny’ now over

In Britain we do not starve for a lack of awe and wonder. One does not have to be a royalist to have enjoyed this grand spectacle

King Charles
King Charles III: He is also an astute modernizer. (All photos from official FB Royal Family)
King Charles

The Royal family during the ‘fairytale feast for the eyes’

“Set wide the window. Let me drink the day,” Edith Wharton wrote. And so it was that on the 6th of May, in a solemn religious ceremony dating back a thousand years, Charles Philip Arthur George—Britain’s 40th reigning monarch—was crowned, at the 754-year-old neo-Gothic Westminster Abbey, ushering in the new Carolean era.

The playwright Sean O’Casey said that all the world’s a stage and most of us are desperately unrehearsed. Not Charles, who once said, “I find myself born into this particular position. I’m determined to make the most of it and to do whatever I can to help, and to leave things behind a little bit better than I found them.”

A spring day in May, when apple blossoms fell like scented confetti on the ground. Torrential rains the day before gave central London, royal fans, and Coronation participants a good soaking but, on the appointed day, the sun tried bravely to break through leaden skies. It rained—only a drizzle, practically a mizzle. Heck, we’re British, we’re used to rain! Pluviophiles: we are lovers of rain.

AMAZING! After six months of intensive planning and feats of organization, “Operation Golden Orb” came into being—a fairy-tale feast for the eyes unfolding. I can at times be a flint-hearted cynic, but one does not have to be a royalist to have enjoyed this grand spectacle. Stirred by the marvelous extravaganza of pomp and pageantry; moved by the event’s historical significance, and by an order of service marked by solemnity and punctuated by ancient rituals and traditions, my heart swelled with pregnant emotion. My eyes welled. What a banquet for the heart and soul!

DAZZLING! As Their Majesties processed down The Mall from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey in the Diamond Jubilee Coach pulled by six horses, there was so much gold it hurt the eye. In Britain we do not starve for a lack of awe and wonder. It was turning out to be a memorable day for taking a well-deserved holiday from grim realities.

Shall we do numbers? One hundred twenty varieties of seasonal flowers and foliage beloved of Charles and Camilla—keen gardeners themselves—garlanded the Abbey, among them rhododendrons, cowslips, honeysuckles, tulips, myrtle, camellias, crab apple blossoms, rosemary for remembrance, bluebells for constancy, daffodils for chivalry and forget-me-nots for true love.

King Charles

The newly-crowned King and Queen

A steady stream of 2,300 invited guests—the good, the very good, the wealthy, the obscenely wealthy,  100 heads of state, representatives from 203 countries, royals from around the world, celebrities, multi-faith leaders, charity and social workers, volunteers—made their way to their seats inside the Abbey in their national costumes; men in elegant morning suits and military uniforms weighed down by rows of medals on their chests; graceful ladies dressed in rainbow-coloured frocks and attention-seeking hats. The Met Gala was a freakish show compared to the Abbey’s chic fashion parade. It costs a lot to look this good.

The Met Gala was a freakish show compared to the Abbey’s chic fashion parade. It costs a lot to look this good

The stirring sounds of pipes and drums, trumpet fanfares, the massed ranks of musicians, orchestras, opera singers and choristers filled the Abbey as hair-raising crescendos of divine music soared through to the rafters and flying buttresses. Forty-eight pieces of music were played, 12 of which were specially commissioned new works.

Ten thousand troops from all the armed forces were involved, said to be the biggest military ceremonial operation since Winston Churchill’s funeral in 1965. Over 1,000 soldiers, police officers, sailors and fire-fighters lined the bunting-festooned route to and from the Palace and the Abbey.

Hundreds of thousands of people, in a party mood, poured into The Mall and across central London to catch just a glimpse of the royals and to watch proceedings on massive screens. To—one day—have the bragging rights to say they were there, a part of the golden thread of the monarchical history of Great Britain. In a swoon of expectant joy, loyal royal fans—many from around the world who traveled specially to London for the Coronation—had been camping out along The Mall for almost a week before the big day, in their camping chairs, makeshift tents, and sleeping bags, almost certainly damp and cold.

King Charles

Thousands stepped out to mark the milestone

And I at home, sustained by tea and popcorn, was one of 400 million people around the world who watched this very public but also curiously very private and intimate event on television (and on smartphones).

Charles walked into the Abbey wearing anxiety on his face, weighed down by heavy raiments, and by the majesty and import of the occasion. For many years overshadowed by his mother, he was here today the focus of everyone’s attention, a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis. With the panoply of rituals, robes and regalia, it may have looked like the setting for costume-drama entertainment, but the Coronation was, at its heart, a sacred event: a monarch’s committal of vows of service and faithfulness to God, and to his people. With his hand on the Bible, Charles declared: “The thing which I have here before promised, I will perform and keep. So help me God.”

For many years overshadowed by his mother, Charles was here today the focus of everyone’s attention, a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis

A young chorister greeted Charles: “As children of the Kingdom of God, we welcome you in the name of the King of Kings.” To which Charles, his voice thick with emotion, replied: “In His name and after His example, I come not to be served but to serve.”

Credit: The Royal Family Channel

In Britain we are prone to measuring time and events in hundreds of years. Charles sat on the Coronation Chair which was made in 1300 by the order of Edward I. Screens covered three sides of the chair whereupon Charles was divested of his magisterial robes of state and stripped down to his white tunic. Away from public gaze, the Archbishop of Canterbury anointed him with holy oil made from olives harvested from the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, on the palm of both hands, on his breast, and on the crown of his head.

Charles’ investiture of regalia involved a dizzying presentation of the Sovereign orb, ring, bracelets, sceptre, glove, robes of righteousness—emblems all of kingly power and divine authority. He was crowned with the Imperial State Crown, which is adorned with a king’s ransom of 2,868 diamonds, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds and 269 pearls. Camilla, looking tremulous and managing a weak smile, was wearing the velvet robe of state custom-made for Queen Elizabeth II in 1953; she was crowned with the Queen Mary Crown, originally crafted for Charles’ great-grandmother for George V’s Coronation. And since you ask: These have all been safely returned to the iconic Tower of London, which houses a world-famous collection of over 23,000 gemstones and Crown jewels.

The Coronation was a benediction, a state of grace as if gazed upon by a community of seraphs, angels and cherubs. In a tear-jerked moment of tenderness and poignancy, William—the heir to the Windsor throne—placed his hands between Charles’s hands and, kneeling in front of his father, declared: “I, William, Prince of Wales, pledge my loyalty to you, and faith and truth I will bear unto you, as your liege man of life and limb.” The first-born touched Charles’ throne and kissed his father on his left cheek. The troubled and troublesome second child, Harry, cut a forlorn figure, looking at his lap, third row from the stellar front tier—the equivalent of Siberia.

King Charles III is 75 in June, way past pensionable age (66) and entering what may be life’s final furlong. We realize he will have a shorter time on the throne than his mother (70 years and 214 days), and has been described as a caretaker king warming the seat for William. But 70 years of Charles’ life has been in intensive preparation for this reign—the longest all-encompassing apprenticeship of any hereditary monarch in a modern parliamentary democracy. “Do or do not,” Yoda said. “There is no try.”

While it has been a life of stupendous grace and privilege, it has also been a life of service, actively involved as he has been in a wide array of philanthropies, projects, and charitable ventures, training the spotlight on the environment and global warming (when he was described as a crackpot who had meaningful conversations with his plants), sustainable living, architecture, businesses engaged with their communities, education, improving the lives of and opportunities for disadvantaged young people. All those years banging on about service and equality, and advocating inclusivity and diversity, with a prescience and sensitivity we now consider commonplace. A man before his time.

“I simply can’t see what I see and do nothing. I could not live with myself,” he told a friend.

Seventy years of Charles’ life has been in intensive preparation for this reign—the longest all-encompassing apprenticeship of any hereditary monarch in a modern parliamentary democracy

Along the way, he perfected his Welsh, his fluency in French and German. A man of letters, he wrote and read copiously, and became an accomplished watercolorist. Partial to classical music (Wagner!), he also learned to play the piano, trumpet and cello. Long before “environment and climate change” became rallying cries, the tabloids called him the “Climate and Eco-Warrior King.” They also called him the “Action Man” who flew Royal Air Force planes and served in the Royal Navy.

The love life of the “Playboy Prince” was rich fodder for the tabloids and rumor mills as he squired a bevy of beautiful—usually aristocratic—belles. “All my life, people have been telling me what to do,” he bemoaned. “I’m tired of it. My private life has become an industry.” Imagine then the widespread anguish of broken hearts when Diana, a lovestruck 19-year-old naïf, bagged her 31-year-old worldly-wise prince to become the Princess of Wales.

Except one: his on-and-off again girlfriend/lover, Camilla Shand, whom he met in 1972 when she, a popular 25-year-old singleton, met the 23-year-old prince. The burgeoning amour between them was discouraged by his beloved uncle, Louis, the Earl of Mountbatten, who described Camilla as “insufficiently highborn.” She broke his heart when she married the dashing cavalry officer (and notorious philanderer), Andrew Parker Bowles.

“This is a man whose past is studded with unexploded ordnance,” wrote Charles’s biographer, Catherine Mayer. Blue blood may course in his veins, but he is all too human, too. As his and Diana’s loveless marriage unraveled and imploded, Camilla and Charles resumed their affair. You can be forgiven for thinking the Windsors are card-carrying members of the showbiz industry giving jolly good show. It all makes for a juicy and titillating box-set drama, but don’t believe everything you see in The Crown.

The Coronation is but a fragment of British history, but it is also a love story. After Diana’s death in 1997, Camilla became the most hated woman in Britain, quietly enduring years of vilification and suffering what Charles called “indignities, tortures and calumnies.” Unthinkable then that Camilla would one day be the Queen at Charles’ side. At their wedding reception, in 2005, Queen Elizabeth II was visibly pleased for her son’s happiness, at last. “They have come through,” she said. “I’m very proud and wish them well. My son is home and dry with the woman he loves.”

Known for her steadfastness, her sense of humor, loyalty, and a distinct lack of interest in publicity and celebrity (a lesson for Meghan of Montecito), Camilla is now lauded for the work she does for causes dear to her heart—domestic abuse, literacy and education, female empowerment. Friends talk about the calming influence she has on her husband, their shared interest in countryside pursuits and passion for gardening. They appear to be good for each other and comfortable together. In his first speech as King Charles III, he paid tribute to his “darling wife, for the steadfast devotion to duty on which I have come to rely so much.”

Camilla is known for her steadfastness, her sense of humor, loyalty, and a distinct lack of interest in publicity and celebrity—a lesson for Meghan of Montecito

Before an audience in Brisbane a few years ago, Charles joked: “I don’t know about you, but now bits of me keep falling off at regular intervals.” The Windsors seem to live to ripe old ages, so we live in hope that he reigns over us with care, wisdom, and responsibility. But challenges loom ahead. He is head of the 56-member nation Commonwealth under which he exercises symbolic stewardship. Thirty-six of those nations are now republics. Jamaica, Belize, St Vincent & the Grenadines, Saint Kitts & Nevis have recently expressed their desire to ditch Charles as their head of state.

The royal family’s reason for being and enduring is that they provide a sense of continuity and stability in a fractious world. They are an excellent advertisement for how the UK flexes soft power in the world. Public support for them remains high, but republican sympathies continue to simmer. On Coronation Day, 64 people—environmental activists, anti-monarchy protesters, animal-rights campaigners—were detained for alleged affray and breach of the peace. “Charles is already king,” said Graham Smith, head of anti-monarchy Republic. “There is absolutely no need to go through with this expensive pantomime, a pointless piece of theatre, a slap in the face for millions of people struggling with the cost-of-living crisis.”

The Times’ columnist Ben Macintyre wrote that “Charles is more open, human, and engaged, perhaps more cultured and funnier, less aloof but also more prone to error and occasionally irritable.” The “Firm,”  he said, will have to be slimmer, comprising only proper working royals. “It will have to demonstrate a good return on the investment of public affection and support it receives.” For fiscal year 2022-23, the royal family received taxpayer-funded £86.3 million from the Sovereign Grant.

Charles is a profound traditionalist. An entrance sign to Highgrove, his beautiful country estate in Gloucestershire, reads: “You are entering an old-fashioned establishment.” But he is also an astute modernizer who is aware that for the monarchy to continue to be relevant (and perhaps loved) in today’s world, his family needs to adapt, amend and be ahead of the curve. A good start is to downsize the number of estates and palaces in their property portfolio; to take trains and cars instead of private jets for the short hops to gladhand the public. They have to be conscious of the “optics” at all times.

We are feeling decidedly poorer, angrier, more disgruntled, and frustrated in this country right now. Economic growth has stalled; the forecast is grim with sunny intervals. Inflation is stubbornly high at 10.1 percent. We are burnt-out and fatigued by Brexit, the pandemic, wars in foreign lands, illegal immigrants in small boats crossing the English Channel, a fraying national health service, strikes, a painful cost-of-living crisis, the world’s interminable woes. That’s as it may be. But in one joyful moment of time, we waved our Union Flags and raised a toast to the health and long life of His Majesty King Charles III.

Ring out the old, ring in the new, o happy bells. Long live King Charles—happy and glorious. God save the King.

Credit: NBC News

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She exiled herself from the Philippines to England, from where she hankers Filipino food, the friends and family she left behind. "Life amazes, but also baffles," she said. "I look at the world with amused detachment, like someone visiting from an alien planet."

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