After a lifetime of preparation, Prince Charles takes the throne; will be known as King Charles III

LONDON– Prince Charles has spent his entire life preparing for the crown. Now, at the age of 73, that moment has finally come.

Charles, the oldest person to ever ascend the British throne, was succeeded by King Charles III on Thursday following the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II. No date has been set for his coronation.

Trained since he was a child, Charles embodies the modernization of the British monarchy. He was the first heir to be raised away from home, the first to earn a university degree, and the first to grow up in the increasing media glare as the reverence for royalty faded.

He also alienated many with his messy divorce from the much-loved Princess Diana and by stretching the rules that forbid royals from meddling in public affairs and meddling in debates on issues like environmental protection and historic preservation.

“He’s now, if you will, in the middle of his life and needs to think carefully about how he’s projecting his image as a public figure,” said historian Ed Owens. “He’s not nearly as popular as his mother.”

Charles needs to figure out how to generate the “public support, a sense of tenderness” that characterized Elizabeth’s relationship with the British public, Owens said.

In other words, will Charles be loved by his subjects the same way? A question that has overshadowed his whole life.

A shy boy with a domineering father, Charles grew up to be a sometimes awkward, reserved man, yet confident in his own opinion. Unlike his mother, who refused to publicly discuss her views, Charles has spoken and written articles on issues close to his heart, such as climate change, green energy and alternative medicine.

His accession to the throne is likely to fuel debate over the future of the largely ceremonial British monarchy, viewed by some as a symbol of national unity and by others as an antiquated remnant of feudal history.

“We know the monarch and certainly the monarch’s family – they are not said to have political votes. They shouldn’t have any political opinions. And the fact that he’s flexing his political muscles, if you will, is something he’s got to be really careful about… lest he be deemed unconstitutional,” said Owens, who wrote “The Family Firm: Monarchy, Mass Media and the British Public, 1932-53”.

Charles, who will be head of state for the UK and 14 other countries including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, has defended his actions.

“I always wonder what interference is, I always thought it was motivating,” he said in Prince, Son and Heir: Charles at 70, a 2018 documentary. “I’ve always been fascinated when it an interference is to worry about inner cities, as I did 40 years ago, and what happened or didn’t happen there, what conditions people lived in. If that’s an interference, I’m very proud of it.”

However, in the same interview, Charles acknowledged that as king he would not be able to speak out or get involved in politics as the sovereign’s role is different from that of the Prince of Wales.

Charles has said he intends to reduce the number of working royals, cut spending and better represent modern Britain.

But tradition is also important for a man whose office previously described the monarchy as “the focus of national pride, unity and allegiance”.

That meant a life of palaces and polo, drew criticism that Charles had lost touch with everyday life, and was ridiculed for having a servant who was said to be squeezing toothpaste on his brush.

But it was the disintegration of his marriage to Diana that made many question his suitability for the throne. Then, as he got older, his handsome young sons stole the limelight from a man who had a reputation for being as gray as his Saville Row suits.

Biographer Sally Bedell Smith, author of Prince Charles: the Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life, described him as constantly overshadowed by other family members, despite his fate.

“I don’t think the frustration is that he’s had to wait for the throne,” Smith told PBS. “I think his biggest frustration is that he’s done so much and that … he’s kind of been massively misunderstood. He is somehow caught between two worlds: his mother’s world, adored, now loved; and Diana, whose ghost still shadows him; and then his incredibly glamorous sons.”

It took many Brits years to forgive Charles for his admitted infidelity to Diana before “the People’s Princess” was killed in a 1997 car accident in Cornwall.

Although Camilla played a significant role in Charles and Diana’s split, her self-deprecating style and salty sense of humor eventually won over many Brits.

She helped Charles smile more in public, softening his reluctance and making him appear approachable, if not happier, while cutting ribbons, attending places of worship, unveiling plaques, and awaiting the crown.

Her service was rewarded in February 2022 when Queen Elizabeth II publicly stated that it was her “sincere wish” that Camilla should be known as the “Queen Consort” after her son succeeded her, and questions once and for all her status in the royal family.

Prince Charles Philip Arthur George was born on November 14, 1948 at Buckingham Palace. When his mother ascended the throne in 1952, the three-year-old prince became Duke of Cornwall. At 20 he became Prince of Wales.

His school years were unhappy as the future king was bullied by classmates at Gordonstoun, a Scottish boarding school that prides itself on developing character through energetic outdoor activities and raising his father Philip.

Charles studied history at Trinity College, Cambridge University, where he became the first British king to graduate with a university degree in 1970.

He then spent seven years in uniform training as a Royal Air Force pilot before joining the Royal Navy where he learned to fly helicopters. In 1976 he ended his military career as commander of the minesweeper HMS Bronington.

Charles’ relationship with Camilla began before he went to sea, but the romance fell through and she married a cavalry officer.

He met Lady Diana Spencer in 1977 when she was 16 and dating her older sister. Diana apparently didn’t see him again until 1980, and rumors of their engagement swirled after she was invited to spend time with Charles and the royal family.

They announced their engagement in February 1981. A certain awkwardness in their relationship was immediately apparent when a reporter asked if they were in love during a television interview about their engagement. “Of course,” Diana replied immediately, while Charles said, “Whatever ‘in love’ means.”

Though Diana chuckled at the response, she later said that Charles’ comment “blew my mind completely.”

“God, it absolutely traumatized me,” she said in a recording made by her voice coach in 1992-93 and featured in the 2017 documentary Diana, In Her Own Words.

The couple were married on July 29, 1981 at St. Paul’s Cathedral in a globally televised ceremony. Prince William, the heir to the throne, was born less than a year later, followed by his brother Prince Harry in 1984.

The public fairy tale soon crumbled. Charles admitted to adultery to a television interviewer in 1994. In an interview of her own, Diana drew attention to her husband’s relationship with Camilla, saying, “There were three of us in this marriage.”

The revelations tarnished Charles’ reputation among many who celebrated Diana for her style as well as her charity work for AIDS patients and landmine victims.

William and Harry were caught in the middle. While the princes adored their late mother, they said Charles was a good father and praised him as an early advocate for issues like the environment.

Tensions within the royal family linger, underscored by Harry and his wife Meghan’s decision to step down from royal duties and relocate to California in 2020. In a TV interview, they later said a member of the royal family had “concerns and conversations” about their baby’s skin color before birth. The explosive revelation forced William to publicly state that the family was not racist.

Charles continued, increasingly championing the Queen in her final years. In 2018 he was named the Queen’s designated successor as head of the Commonwealth, a union of 54 nations with ties to the British Empire. The process accelerated following the death of her husband, Prince Philip, on April 9, 2021.

When Elizabeth refused, he sometimes stepped in at the last moment.

On the eve of the state opening of Parliament on May 10, 2022, the Queen asked Charles to preside, delegating to him one of her most important constitutional duties – evidence that a transition was underway.

Camilla said in a 2018 documentary that Charles was content with the prospect of becoming king.

“I think his fate will come,” she said. “He always knew it was coming and I don’t think it weighs heavily on his shoulders at all.”

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. After a lifetime of preparation, Prince Charles takes the throne; will be known as King Charles III

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