The Sunday Mail (Queensland)
CHARLES TO STEP INTO THE BREACH
After 73 years by his side, Queen Elizabeth lost her greatest confidant and support. Angela Mollard asks if her son and heir will fill the gap
When Prince Charles drove to Windsor Castle to see the Queen within hours of his father’s death he clearly would have been thinking about the days that lie ahead.
When would the funeral be held? Who would attend in these pandemic-curtailed times? Would his youngest son Prince Harry fly in from the US?
Yet as the monarch and the world unite in grief for a man who has been pivotal in public life for eight extraordinary decades, there’s another key question which needs to be addressed in coming weeks: to what extent will the Queen’s heir apparent step up to support his mother?
Because while funeral preparations take precedence, 10 days from now on April 21 the Queen will turn 95, an age at which her husband was planning his retirement.
Just three months after his 96th birthday the Duke of Edinburgh stepped back from public life and while the monarch is far less infirm, her husband’s passing naturally raises questions about Prince Charles’s succession to the throne.
At 72, the Prince of Wales has spent a lifetime preparing to become king and although his mother declared on her 21st birthday that she will devote “my whole life whether it be long or short” to service, he will — practically, at least — take a greater leadership role.
There has been some speculation the Queen might abdicate on her 95th birthday allowing Charles to assume the role of regent, however royal sources have long said she has no intention of stepping back unless incapacitated by poor health.
In recent years the Prince of Wales has taken on more official engagements – last year he was even busier than the hardworking Princess Anne – and it is expected he will continue to expand his role meeting ambassadors, dispensing honours at palace investitures and galvanising Britain and the Commonwealth nations as they emerge from the pandemic.
Supporting him will no doubt be his oldest son, Prince William and his wife Catherine, who have stepped up their public presence considerably during the pandemic
While COVID initially kept members of the royal family holed up in their individual palaces, in recent months the Prince of Wales spent more time with his father. He visited the Duke during the 28 days he was in hospital and is reported to have seen him at Windsor just the week before last.
For many years the relationship between father and son was strained. Indeed, in an interview in 2004, Prince Philip was blunt: “Charles is a romantic – and I am a pragmatist,” he said. “That means we do see things differently and because I don’t see things as a romantic would, I am unfeeling.”
Penny Junor, royal biographer and author of the book Charles, corroborated the view. “They didn’t speak to each other as normal father and son,” she has said.
Yet the differences of opinion between the alpha father and his beta son had softened in recent years perhaps because both realised they had similar views on both the environment and the modernisation of the royal family.
In fact, few know the Duke was an author of three books including one on birds and another titled Survival or Extinction: A Christian Attitude to the Environment.
As Charles said in a BBC tribute recorded before his father’s death: “I think he’ll probably want to be remembered as an individual in his own right.”
Addressing his father’s idiosyncratic nature, he added: “He didn’t suffer fools gladly so if you said anything that was in any way ambiguous, he’d go ‘make up your mind’, so perhaps it made you choose your words carefully. “
Whether it was age or understanding that softened their relationship in recent years there’s no doubt that the pair shared a deep investment in the institution which has underpinned their lives.
In fact, having prodded his son into marriage to the late Princess of Wales, in later years Charles’s marriage to Camilla is not dissimilar to that of his parents. While Charles and the Queen have had their lives shaped by duty, their spouses, in very similar ways, have been both an anchoring and enlivening force.
Perhaps, too, his recent tensions with Prince Harry has illustrated to
Prince Charles that fathers and sons, as in so many families, have difficult icult moments. It’s no small irony that at his father’s death may bring Charles s face-to-face with his youngest son on for the first time since his interview iew with Oprah Winfrey revealed the he rift in their relationship.
In the weeks following his marriage to the Queen, Prince Philip wrote to his mother-inlaw declaring his hopes for the relationship. “My ambition is to weld the two of us into a new combined existence that will not only be able to withstand the shocks directed at us but will also have a positive existence for the good.” ”
Today, even in death, his vow may continue to provide the he healing that is needed.