By Michael Holden
- Year after he came to throne, Charles dials down campaigning
- Andrew scandal, family rifts still prevail
- Royal journalist says reign has gone well
- Polls show mixed views on monarchy
LONDON (Reuters) – King Charles has trodden a cautious but successful path in his first year on the British throne, friends and royal watchers say, but rifts within his family still hang over his reign.
Charles, 74, succeeded his mother Queen Elizabeth when she died a year ago this Friday aged 96 at her Balmoral Castle home in Scotland, prompting national and global mourning at the end of a 70-year reign.
Critics of Charles, who had waited longer than any other heir in British history to become king, had predicted he might seek a radical overhaul of the monarchy and abandon his mother’s staunchly neutral and apolitical approach to the role.
But, in keeping with earlier promises, he has put aside his campaigning on the environment and climate change and remained within the accepted boundaries.
Ingrid Seward, Editor-in-chief of Majesty Magazine, said his reign had started “exceptionally well”. He was seeking to stamp his own mark on the job, although the pressure of dealing with state papers had curbed any immediate wider changes, she said.
“I just think he’s been really, really busy with everything that’s happened this year, Seward said. “He has his own things to do but first and foremost comes the job of being king.”
Unnamed friends told the Sunday Times newspaper Charles had found the workload surprising but had settled into his role.
“He seems very content and happy, having mourned the loss of his mother, he is settled. His destiny has arrived and he has embraced it,” one close friend told the paper, while aides said the king and his officials were being cautious.
Media reports say he will soon launch an initiative to combat food waste, something in keeping with his long-term advocacy of sustainability. Newspapers have said he was also looking to scale back staffing levels within his household.
NOT ALL PLAIN SAILING
Charles’ first year was dominated by his coronation in May in a grand ceremony at London’s Westminster Abbey watched by a global audience.
Almost all the media – which was highly critical of him for many years after his split from first wife Princess Diana and her death in 1997 – has supported him enthusiastically.
Not everything has been plain sailing.
The most high-profile issue remains his own family. His younger brother Prince Andrew – forced from any official role over his friendship with the late U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted sex offender, and a related sex assault allegation, which he denies – wants to return to the royal fold.
Andrew was invited to a family get-together at Balmoral last month. Charles’ son and heir Prince William was photographed driving him to church in what newspapers said was a sign of a rapprochement.
Then there is the family feud with his younger son Prince Harry and his American wife Meghan.
In the months after the queen’s death, there was their Netflix documentary series, Harry’s memoir and TV interviews in which his son repeatedly attacked his family and Buckingham Palace, accusing them of collusion in negative media reporting.
With Harry bringing numerous lawsuits against the British press through the courts, the subject will not go away any time soon.
“He hasn’t really dealt with them, unfortunately, they’re still around,” Seward said. “He obviously wants to help him(Andrew) but he’s very, very limited as to how he can help him.”
With Harry, there was perhaps some hope.
“His fight is with the system and the way the monarchy is run. It’s not a direct fight with his father,” she said. “So I think that Charles will do his very best to keep that door open.”
While cheering crowds have been present at his official events, so too have protesting anti-monarchist republicans, while eggs were thrown at the new king on one occasion.
The arrest of members of the campaign group Republic ahead of the coronation not only raised concerns about basic freedoms but also boosted its profile. It plans to protest against the monarchy at the state opening of parliament in November.
Charles’ popularity surged after his accession but recent surveys suggest it has returned to previous levels, below those of his mother. A YouGov poll this week found 60% of respondents have a favourable view of Charles, compared to 32% with a negative one.
But there is a generational divide, with the young far less bothered in general about the royal family. Six in 10 people want to keep the monarchy, the YouGov survey found, but just over a quarter want an elected head of state, with just 35% of those aged 18 to 24 wanting to keep it.
“Despite a year of saturation coverage of the royals, positive coverage of Charles, the coronation and his visits around the country, support for the king and the institution has fallen sharply,” Republic leader Graham Smith said.
The mixed view was reflected by people on the streets of London who spoke to Reuters.
David Brooks Wilson, a consultant, said he thought Charles’ first year had gone “pretty well considering”.
“I mean poor chap he waited so long to get into the job didn’t he? You’ve got to grow into it. He’s kept out of the controversy, which has been difficult for him I think.”
But in a country facing a cost of living crisis, strikes, problems in public services and never-ending political drama, people have many other things to worry about.
Claire, a 27-year-old personal assistant, said: “It’s not a subject that interests me. I just don’t care, they have nothing to do with me.”