LONDON — What sort of monarch will King Charles III be?
As king, Charles has said he wants to balance tradition and progress. Many of his closest observers assume he will break — or at least crack — the mold.
The thing is: Charles has opinions. He has deep thoughts on fast fashion, hedgerows, parking garages and organic tomatoes. He has established princely think tanks and foundations and trusts to promote “holistic solutions to the challenges facing the world today.”
He says that as king he will have to express his views less openly and often — political neutrality is often understood to be essential for the monarchy and its survival in modern times.
“My life will of course change as I take up my new responsibilities,” he said in his first address as sovereign Friday. “It will no longer be possible for me to give so much of my time and energies to the charities and issues for which I care so deeply.”
But he is a crusader at heart. And coming to the throne at age 73, he may not be able to turn that off.
“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.”
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.
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. Royal watchers often 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.
In his speech Friday, Charles praised his mother, “my darling Mama,” and her lifelong 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.
Pollsters say a lot of Britons don’t love Charles, though they don’t strongly dislike him, either. In recent polling by YouGov, 57 percent said he would do a “very good” or “fairly good” job as king. (The numbers were more favorable for his son William.)
While some Britons still hold a grudge, many seem to have given Charles 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.”
The new king was gracious on Friday in his first meeting with his new prime minister, Liz Truss — who seemed nervous on what was only her fourth day in her job. Charles greeted her warmly at Buckingham Palace, accepted her condolences and said straight up, on camera, “It’s the moment I’ve been dreading, as I know a lot of people have, but you try and keep everything going.”
He sounded like a grieving son/sovereign trying to keep it together.
Although Charles became Britain’s monarch immediately upon his mother’s death, he will go through further formalities in the coming days. On Saturday, the Accession Council will meet and a proclamation announcing him as the new king will be read from a balcony at St. James’s Palace. Charles will travel to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to console his subjects ahead of an elaborate state funeral for his mother back in London. World leaders and dignitaries will be in attendance, including President Biden.
While Charles is a well-practiced host, he can also be awkward. Tonally off. As when he boasted that his climate-conscious Aston Martin sports car ran on wine and cheese.
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.”
Asked about whether his involvement would continue in the same way once he ascended to the throne, Charles says: “No, it won’t. I’m not that stupid, I do realize that it is a separate exercise, being sovereign.”
The interview itself is a 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.
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.”
Charles 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 New Way of Looking at Our World,” a 336-page exposition of his princely philosophy, he decries how the Age of Convenience produced the Age of Disconnection.
God, for Charles, can be understood in the repeating mathematic pattern of a flower’s petals.
The queen had her many charities, and so does Charles. But he has gone much further in using his projects and patronages 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 — widely thought to be her favorite son — who faced a lawsuit brought by a woman who says she was trafficked to him by convicted sex offenders Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell. Andrew denied the accusations but settled the suit. The queen continued to see him on her Windsor estate but largely banished him from public life.
Charles may be even less indulgent with Andrew than his mother was.
What King Charles does with his son, Prince Harry, remains an open question. Does he work to bring Harry and daughter-in-law Meghan back into the fold? After they quit their royal duties, moved to California and then aired their grievances to Oprah? Or does he keep them distant?
In his remarks on Friday, Charles granted new titles to his eldest son and heir William and encouraged him to “continue to inspire and lead our national conversations, helping to bring the marginal to the center ground where vital help can be given.” He mentioned his other son to say: “I want also to express my love for Harry and Meghan as they continue to build their lives overseas.”
Many in the crowd outside Buckingham Palace on Friday weren’t ready to look forward. They belted out the national anthem, with the words “God Save the Queen.”
Maxine Lee, a teaching assistant in her 50s, looked on with mixed emotions as King Charles’s motorcade drove by for the first time and the new king waved in her direction. Holding back tears, Lee said the queen was “a hard act to follow.”
“Charles has always been second to the queen, he doesn’t have that level of respect yet,” she said. “I think everyone will be all right with it, but we have to get over this first.”
Her husband, Derek Lee, said he saw promise in Charles, who has been “groomed for this role since he was a child” and would govern with “expertise and empathy — like his mother.”
Mark Kirby, 52, from east Yorkshire, was among those who said he didn’t want to see Charles rein in his climate activism. “I hope he doesn’t, it would be such a shame,” Kirby said. “He has to have his voice.”