For years, as his mother Queen Elizabeth II’s reign showed little sign of ending, there had been speculation he should step aside in favour of his more popular son, William. But now, at age 73 and after waiting seven decades, Charles becomes the oldest person ever to ascend the British throne.
But King Charles III, although well past retirement age, is in some ways a “good fit” with modern society. He’s a long-time passionate and knowledgeable advocate for the environment, a keen supporter of young people through his charity The Prince’s Trust, and he’s a divorcee.
Schooling in Australia
But from the time he was old enough to understand, Charles knew he would one day be king.
Charles as a boy with his grandmother the Queen Mother at the Royal Lodge in Windsor in 1954. Credit: Lisa Sheridan/Getty Images
His upbringing was somewhat modern by royal standards – he was the first heir ever to attend school and university. Until Charles, members of the British Royal Family were privately tutored.
His main schooling was in London and rural Scotland but included two terms in Australia at Geelong Grammar’s Timbertop campus in 1966.
Charles in a Phantom Interceptor jet as part of his Royal Air Force training. Credit: Fox Photos/Getty Images
He went to university at Trinity College, Cambridge, from which he graduated in 1970 after studying anthropology, archaeology, and history.
Soon after, he would meet the love of his life.
Love and marriage
Upon his return, he and Camilla reportedly broke off their relationship and in 1973 she would marry another man, British Army officer Andrew Parker Bowles.
Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles at a polo match circa 1972. Source: Getty / Hulton Deutsch/Corbis
Charles had a number of girlfriends and pursued a range of outdoor pursuits, including polo, fishing, fox hunting and skiing, earning the nickname ‘Action Man’ from the media.
He also developed strong and abiding interests in the environment, art and architecture.
Charles windsurfing in France in the late 1970s. Credit: Anwar Hussein/Getty Images
Then, in 1979, Charles met Diana Spencer – the girl described by friends as “a sort of wonderful English schoolgirl”.
Two years later, they wed at London’s Westminster Abbey in a traditional ceremony watched by an estimated television audience of 750 million people. He was 31, she was 19 and diving headfirst into the world Charles had lived since birth.
Princess Diana and Charles kiss on the balcony of Buckingham Palace following their 1981 marriage. Credit: Keystone/Getty Images
Diana gave birth to the princes William and Harry in 1982 and 1984, but the royal marriage was already in acute difficulty. Charles was believed to have reunited with Camilla, and Diana would later admit her own affair with James Hewitt.
Four years later, on 31 August 1997, the world stopped when Diana died in a car crash in a tunnel in Paris.
Floral tributes and balloons in the gardens of Kensington Palace after the death of Princess Diana in August 1997. Credit: Princess Diana Archive/Getty Images
The crash also resulted in the deaths of her companion Dodi Fayed and the driver, Henri Paul.
Diana’s death rocked confidence in the royal family and led to Charles’s vilification.
Charles with sons Harry and William during a 2005 skiing holiday in Switzerland. Credit: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images
The tragedy would lead to him playing a more active role in the lives of his sons, and he buried himself in philanthropic work.
A champion of the environment
“I happily talk to plants and trees and listen to them. I think it’s absolutely crucial.”
Charles at Sandringham Flower Show in 2019. Source: Getty / Arthur Edwards
In a BBC interview in October 2021, he said he was “deeply worried” about the future of the planet and bemoaned the over-exploitation of the earth’s resources.
In seeking to set an example, he had his Aston Martin DB6 sports car converted to run on biofuel made from ‘wine and cheese’ – wine unfit for human consumption and whey, a by-product of cheese making.
Charles had his Aston Martin sports car converted to run on ‘wine and cheese’. Credit: WPA Pool/Getty Images
He was also known to lobby the government, in private, on matters close to his heart.
His letters and memos to government ministers and politicians, nicknamed the Black Spider memos because of the nature of his handwriting scrawled on his typewritten notes, revealed an independent thinker who wasn’t afraid to promote his views on things such as the environment, education and architecture.
Charles discusses the impact of climate change in Northern Canada and the importance of Indigenous-led initiatives in May 2022. Source: Getty / Pool/Getty Images
Although the memos were written in a private capacity, their revelation by The Guardian in 2015 caused some anxiety because of the tradition of monarchical neutrality.
“He will be a good king, he will be a dutiful king,” said Philip Benwell of the Australian Monarchist League.
Numbers of senior members in the British Royal Family have fallen lately, with Charles’ son Prince Harry moving to California and Charles’ brother Prince Andrew stepping back after a furore over his friendship with the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
‘Charles chats to children as he visits Ross-on-Wye in England in 2019 to launch a festival. Credit: Anwar Hussein/WireImage
In the 2021 BBC interview, in response to a question about whether the British Government was doing enough to encourage investment in environmental solutions, Charles replied: “I couldn’t possibly comment.”
His symbolic support for environmental issues, for example, may remain a powerful influence.
Honouring his duty
“I think a lot of the time you have to be brought up to understand what it actually means. Minding about other people, minding about what happens in this country and the Commonwealth, and that’s the only way, all the masses of people who need to be encouraged and thanked.”
Charles and Diana wave to crowds on NSW’s Terrigal beach during a 1988 visit. Credit: Anwar Hussein/Getty Images
Those “masses of people” have included people in Australia. Charles has visited here on a number of occasions, where his experiences have ranged from potentially serious to humorous.
And he was a studio guest on ABC-TV music show Countdown when a taped interview went horribly and comically wrong for legendary host Ian “Molly” Meldrum.
Charles will rule with Camilla by his side. The pair eventually married in 2005 with much less fanfare than his previous wedding.
Charles and Camilla in Egypt in November 2021. Credit: Pool/Getty Images
His mother was widely well regarded, but as king in 2022, Charles inherits the task of keeping the British monarchy relevant.
By contrast, more than 80 per cent said the queen has done a fairly good or very good job.
– With AFP
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