Rebecca Mead: After Queen Elizabeth II died at the age of 96, King Charles III delivered a televised speech, his first public address as Monarch.
King Charles III: I speak to you today with feelings of profound sorrow.
Rebecca Mead: His eyes were roomy and his complexion florid, his hair thoroughly silver was brushed as carefully as it had been in 1953 when as a fidgety four-year-old, he had endured his mother's almost three-hour-long coronation service in Westminster Abbey.
King Charles III: Queen Elizabeth was a life well lived. A promise with destiny kept. That promise of lifelong service I renew to all today alongside the--
David Remnick: Rebecca, has coronation mania begun on the streets of London?
Rebecca Mead: I don't really think it has. Not as far as I've seen now. It may be--
David Remnick: That is deeply disappointing. [laughter]
Rebecca Mead: I've been invited to one party.
David Remnick: Okay, that's a start.
Rebecca Mead: I can't tell quite whether it's a serious party or a joke party. Charles's long made it clear that he considers his birthright a burden. "Nobody knows what utter hell it is to be the Prince of Wales," he has reportedly complained. Although he's literally the most entitled man in the land, a royal can feel like an anachronism, and he apparently feels a kinship with certain other Britains who are marginalized. Paddy Harverson, the Prince's former communications secretary, says that Charles has a particular fondness for the sheep farmers of remote Cumbria because they are about the most forgotten community you can find.
Tom Parker Bowles, Charles's godson, and later his stepson grew up thinking that Charles's name was Sir because that's all anyone ever called him. Yet, Sir suffers from a peculiar aristocratic version of imposter syndrome. He is wise enough to know that in almost any room he enters other than one occupied by members of his family, he is likely to be the only person present whose power and influence derive entirely from his birth. Indeed, if Charles checked his privilege, there would be nothing left of him. Just a crumple pile of ermine and velvet and a faint whiff of Eau Sauvage.
David Remnick: Elizabeth became queen when she was so young before really she had a chance to have a public profile or opinions of any kind. Charles has a long record, so it's hard for him to conceal himself. Are people bored with him? Are they eager to see him King? What's the level of the degree to which people even care about what's about to happen?
Rebecca Mead: It's really funny. He's a person who has not been popular on and off. The whole marriage with Diana and the divorce and all of that didn't do his ratings very much good. There have been opinion polls asking whether people thought he would be a good king or not, and there was kind of lukewarm, and maybe not so great. The minute the Queen died, or the week that the queen died, polls were taken again. How good a king will Charles be? His favorables doubled, which goes to show, I think that the position brings with it a kind of gravitas and respect that many Britains just accept and defer to.
David Remnick: Let's ask it a perennial American question, and maybe it's some degree, it's a British question, why still have a king in 2023? Many countries either have gotten rid of the monarchy entirely or have reduced it to such a point.
Rebecca Mead: [chuckles] Well, I think maybe part of it is that Britain did try to get rid of the monarchy at one point in the 17th century, and indeed did get rid of the monarchy. There were 11 years of Republican rule until the Houses of Parliament decided that they would rather have the monarchy back. Charles II came in and it's all been relatively stable since then. We've been through that. We did try it and it didn't stick, let's say. People often say, yes, but look what happens when you have a president in the United States, for example.
You can get a Donald Trump at the head of the country. Isn't it better to have somebody who is above politics separated from politics? Of course, the answer to that is--
David Remnick: That doesn't prevent you from having a buffoon. You had Boris Johnson, who's nobody's idea of dignity personified.
Rebecca Mead: That is true, but he wasn't the head of state. I'm giving you the pro-monarchy argument here, is that you can have a head of state who's not an elected buffoon. Of course, you could also have a head of state who's a hereditary buffoon, which we could have had easily here if Charles had fallen off his polo pony at the age of 29, and we'd now be facing King Andrew, the first. God save us all. Charles is more popular than he once was, in part because he was once so very unpopular. All the same, wearing the crown will not alter his fundamental character.
When in the days after the Queen's death, he took part in ceremonies establishing his kingship, he got into not one, but two altercations with malfunctioning pens. His irascible response the second time, "I can't bear this bloody thing what they do every stinking time," was recognizable to anyone who has spent time observing him.
King Charles III: I can't bear this bloody thing what they do every stinking time.
Rebecca Mead: As his biographer, Catherine Mayer puts it, "The world is against him. Even inanimate objects are against him. That is absolutely central to his personality."
David Remnick: Now, you can't have a conversation about the Royals without talking about, of course, Harry and Meghan. What's been the net effect of their estrangement, their Oprah interview, the book, all of it on this whole proceeding and on the royal family?
Rebecca Mead: They do not look good from this side of the ocean. There has to be an ongoing narrative. Right now the ongoing narrative is they turned their backs and they're off in California making loads of money. That's not very dignified or cool.
David Remnick: Harry, as you know because I send you clips from it all the time. I read the Daily Mail constantly. Harry will be at the coronation, Meghan will not be at the Coronation. Harry will be sat many rows behind the family. What do you make of all this?
Rebecca Mead: I think it was a stroke of genius on the part of somebody in Buckingham Palace to arrange for the coronation to be on the same day as Harry and Meghan's oldest child's birthday because that gives them the perfect out. Meghan can stay home, she can stay with Archie, celebrate him turning four or whatever it is that he's turning and Harry can come, but he doesn't have to stay. I just think there's some genius event planning going on there.
David Remnick: If I read your piece correctly, and you can correct me here if you want, you seem somewhat sympathetic toward Charles. You think he's gotten a bad rap?
Rebecca Mead: I think Charles is probably a very decent man. I think that he's a bit of a weirdo, and I do say it with-
David Remnick: Loving respect. [chuckles]
Rebecca Mead: I do say with loving respect. I think it's a good thing. He wrote this book called Harmony that brings together all of his interests and passions and shows the ways in which they're all connected in this kind of sacred architecture, the golden mean, all that kind of stuff. It's great, it's a little bit loopy and it's also fantastic that he wrote it and produced this manifesto. I don't think enough people have read it. I am sympathetic towards him.
I think my position on the monarchy, broadly speaking is that the strongest argument for its abolition is that it is a violation of the human rights of the individuals in the royal family to have to endure what they do have to endure. I think to the extent that we should get rid of the monarchy, abolish the monarchy, it really should be for their sake, at least as much as for us.
David Remnick: Your slogan would be Free the King?
Rebecca Mead: Totally. [laughter] Free the lot of them, yes.
David Remnick: Rebecca Mead, our Royals correspondent, and much else, thank you so much.
Rebecca Mead: Thank you, David.
David Remnick: Rebecca Mead is a staff writer based in London, and the coronation of King Charles III, do I really need to tell you is next weekend, so get up early.
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