Gardener, grandfather, king: Who is Charles III?

The UK is preparing to officially crown Charles and his wife Camilla on May 6 in a series of royal events.

Britain's Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, meets members of the public outside the Suleymaniye Mosque, a Turkish Islamic cultural centre, in Hackney, East London, September 28, 2001. He was showing his support for British Muslims.
Charles, then Prince of Wales, meets members of the public in 2001 outside the Suleymaniye Mosque, a Turkish Islamic cultural centre in Hackney, East London [File: Reuters]

Charles Philip Arthur George, officially known as King Charles III, was born on November 14, 1948, and is the first-born son of the late Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip.

As monarch, the 73-year-old grandfather of five serves as the king of the United Kingdom and 14 other Commonwealth sovereign states.

Officially he has been king since his mother, the UK’s longest-reigning monarch, died on September 8, 2022.

Described by biographers as “a sensitive man”, he is a keen horticulturalist and enjoys tending to an organic garden in his countryside manor.

He is also believed to be a skilled watercolour painter and has interests in traditional countryside practices such as hedge laying.

Coronation Preparations
An 18-year-old Prince Charles with his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, leave Buckingham Palace in a state coach in 1967 for the opening of the Houses of Parliament. [File: AP]

His mother made him Prince of Wales in 1958 at the age of nine, but his investiture was not until 11 years later.

As a young man, commentators say, he did not have much in common with his parents, but relations would improve as he got older.

He studied in the United Kingdom and Australia, reading archaeology, anthropology and history at Trinity College, Cambridge in the late 1960s before becoming a Royal Air Force (RAF) pilot. He has conducted royal service since the late 1970s.

Charles was 30 when he married a shy 19-year-old nursery teacher, Lady Diana Spencer, in 1981. Their wedding was watched by nearly 800 million people around the world.

Two sons – Prince William, who was born on June 21, 1982, and Prince Harry, born on September 15, 1984 – followed before the couple divorced in 1992.

Speculation about Charles’s relationship with a former girlfriend named Camilla Parker Bowles continued after the divorce, but it was not until 2005 that the couple finally tied the knot.

The prince weathered many scandals, including being blamed for the breakdown of his marriage to Diana. Like his late father, Prince Philip, he has been prone to controversial comments and gaffes.

Prince Harry attends the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II in the UK.
Prince Harry at the state funeral for his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, in London on September 19, 2022 [Toby Melville/Reuters]

In recent years, his relationship with Harry has suffered with his youngest son splitting from the royal family and describing a “full-scale rupture”.

In Harry’s recent tell-all memoir Spare, Charles is depicted as a loving but emotionally distant father.

In an interview with Anderson Cooper on CBS, Harry said Charles no longer speaks to him.

Analysts say that the royals in recent years had worked to cultivate a particular image for the king-in-waiting.

Laura Clancy, a lecturer in media at Lancaster University and author of Running the Family Firm: How the Monarchy Manages Its Image and Our Money, told Al Jazeera: “There have been concerted efforts to remake Charles’ image from the 1980s and 1990s, when the news around Diana was making him quite unpopular.”

“More recently, he seems to be being pictured as a grandfather. His 70th birthday photos, for example, included him sitting with his grandchildren in his garden and feeding chickens. This mirrors the kind of images we’ve seen of the queen as grandmother to the nation,” she said.

Britain's King Charles III (L) greets well-wishers following a welcome ceremony at Brandenburg Gate
Charles has performed royal duties as king since his mother’s death. Here he is seen greeting well-wishers following a welcome ceremony at Brandenburg Gate in Berlin [AFP/Wolfgang Rattay]

Charles is a founder and patron of a number of charities that focus on areas such as supporting young entrepreneurs, the natural and built environment and education, but that has not always translated into popularity. Polls often have showed his public support has remained relatively low compared with the queen and his son Prince William.

Anna Pasternak, a regular commentator on the royal family in the British media and the bestselling author of The American Duchess, the Real Wallis Simpson, told Al Jazeera that on championing political causes, he has shown good instincts.

“The problem with that, in terms of being the monarch of the country, is that you have to have a kind of stability, impartiality and benign neutrality, and we haven’t seen any of those qualities in Charles yet,” she said.

Having once said the most important thing about being king will be to have concern for people and provide some form of leadership, there have already been signs of the leadership qualities he will bring to the role.

“We know that he’s been less impartial and more open about his political views than the queen,” Pasternak said. “So is he going to be the activist king? Or is he going to fall immediately back into the mould of monarch of his mother? I don’t think he’ll do that because he’s a moderniser, and he’ll want to be progressive.”

Source: Al Jazeera