Monarch in Waiting
The King was heir apparent to the British throne for 70 years from the age of three – a long but thorough preparation for the role of Monarch.
His formal education in England, Scotland and Australia in the 1950s and 1960s emphasised resilience and self-reliance. In his military career from 1971 to 1976, the King experienced at firsthand the discipline of serving in the armed forces.
The King then took up the full set of duties expected of the heir to the throne.
Like other senior members of the Royal Family, the then Prince Charles became patron of a substantial number of charities and other organisations – more than 400 prior to his accession as King.
This brought him into frequent contact with people from a wide variety of backgrounds and cultures, including many who faced substantial challenges in their lives.
From the first, the King took practical steps to help. With his severance pay from the Navy in 1976, when he was 28, he founded the Prince’s Trust to support people aged 11 to 30 who were unemployed or struggling at school.
Since then, the Trust has helped hundreds of thousands of Britons move into work, education and training, and raised the equivalent of AUD $260 million per year. The Trust has a subsidiary in Australia, where its activities have included supporting Australian Defence Force veterans and their families to transition to employment.
As heir, the King was in a unique position to observe closely the values, energy and dedication that Queen Elizabeth II embodied as she carried out the constitutional, ceremonial and community duties of monarch. Not surprisingly, this experience deeply influenced his own values and priorities.
The King acknowledged in his first Commonwealth Day message as Monarch that the Commonwealth has been an abiding presence in his life. He said that he drew strength and inspiration from Queen Elizabeth’s example of long and dedicated service to ‘the Commonwealth family’ as a force for the global common good.
As monarch-in-waiting, King Charles also developed close and affectionate links with Australia, beginning with his two terms at Timbertop in 1966. As Prince of Wales, he made 16 visits to Australia, seven of them to Queensland, the most recent in 2018 to open the Commonwealth Games on behalf of the Queen.
Photo: Queensland scouts welcoming Prince Charles to Brisbane in November 1977. Courtesy of State Library of Queensland
As Prince of Wales, the King maintained a close relationship with the British Armed Forces. This relationship was cemented by honorary military titles bestowed by Queen Elizabeth II including, in 2012, Field Marshal (Army), Admiral of the Fleet and Marshal of the Royal Air Force.
As heir, King Charles also saw first-hand and admired what he called the Queen’s ‘devotion as Sovereign’, which never wavered ‘through times of change and progress, through times of joy and celebration, and through times of sadness and loss’.
As the Prince of Wales, the King has himself experienced all three, including the period when he and Princess Diana were in the full glare of media and public scrutiny throughout their marriage, and following the tragic death of Princess Diana in 1997, as well as when he married for a second time.
The King also suffered personal loss earlier in life when his great-uncle, Lord Mountbatten, was assassinated by the IRA in 1979. The King and Lord Mountbatten had a close relationship, with the older man acting as a guide and mentor.
The King has paid tribute to the influence of Prince Philip on his life, deliberately making his first major speech as King from his father’s antique desk.
His Majesty was also close to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, with whom he often stayed when his parents were on long tours overseas. The Queen Mother is credited with encouraging the King’s love of classical music, taking him with her to concerts and the opera.
His Majesty has said that he will draw continuing strength from the unwavering support that Queen Camilla has given throughout their 17 years of marriage prior to the King’s accession, and in their lives as King and Queen. Or, in the King’s own words, Queen Camilla’s ‘steadfast devotion to duty on which I have come to rely so much’.
The King has has said his mother’s values and unwavering sense of duty influenced him greatly.
In promising his own lifelong service as King in a speech the day after the passing of his ‘beloved mother’, the King chose to echo the words with which Her Majesty pledged a lifetime of service when still a Princess, and which she honoured in full for 70 years as Queen.