One of the King's earliest memories is sitting in the bath as a small boy and watching his mother as she walked up and down with the St Edward's Crown perched on her head, in practice for her coronation. It was a "marvellous" moment that "I shall never forget", he once said.
Now, as he prepares for his own coronation at Westminster Abbey, his mind may wander back to that memory from time to time. As the longest-serving royal apprentice in history, Charles had plenty of time to learn from his mother about the daunting task of becoming monarch. "I learnt the way a monkey learns – by watching its parents," he once quipped. Watch the incredible family memories King Charles shared with his late mum. They shared some really special moments together.
Joking aside, the Queen was the only person in the world who could school him in the unique role of being British sovereign. "She was always there," he said after her death.
"I could talk to her about this, that or the other. I think that's always going to be something that will be very difficult not to have." Now, of course, Charles must move forward without his "darling mama". But she has left behind a lifetime of wisdom for him to draw upon.
From the age of three, Charles was the son of a monarch and, throughout his childhood, he was primed to watch and learn. He joined the Queen and his father, the Duke of Edinburgh, at formal events such as the coronation and then Trooping the Colour, waving from the Buckingham Palace balcony. His formal public duties began in 1969, when he was 20, with his investiture as Prince of Wales – which happened while he was still a student at Cambridge University.
The following year, he and his sister, Princess Anne, joined their parents on tours of Australia, New Zealand and Canada, learning the ropes as they prepared for their own royal tours. Those started straight from Canada, when Charles and Anne flew solo on a semi-official visit to Washington, to be greeted by President Richard Nixon, whom they had met the previous year in the UK.
Over the years, Charles joined his mother at state dinners, helping entertain foreign heads of state, and saw the Queen’s unique brand of soft diplomacy in action. He also joined meetings with the Government to hear about new legislation. The Queen began coaching her heir in the day-to-day business that would lie ahead for him, such as the monarch's weekly audience with the Prime Minister at Buckingham Palace. After a request from his mother, Charles had practice audiences with David Cameron during his time at Downing Street. "He wanted to start thinking about how to conduct those audiences," said the former PM in September 2022.
Charles also began to take on the role of “shadow monarch” and the Queen shared her official red dispatch boxes with him so he could be kept up to date on state matters. And after standing in for his mother when she stopped travelling overseas, Charles continued to step up as her health and mobility declined, eventually, in 2022, formally opening Parliament on her behalf.
As well as learning the official business of the monarchy, Charles also set out to emulate his mother's fierce sense of duty – something that was apparent in the days after her death, when he put his personal grief aside to carry out a whirlwind of public engagements around the nation and held a vigil at her coffin alongside his siblings. There are many other ways Charles is following his mother. Like her, he has kept his own name – many monarchs change theirs upon ascending to the throne – and he has succeeded her as head of the Commonwealth, a decision that was announced in 2018. While this isn’t a hereditary title, it is a position for which he has also had much preparation, after his decades of travelling the globe.
Also like the Queen, Charles has embraced the UK and Commonwealth's diverse range of cultures and beliefs – something he wants his new role as head of the Church of England to reflect. In 1994, he said he intended to be known as "defender of faith", rather than the definitively Anglican-centric "Defender of the Faith". Speaking later about his decision, he said: "I mind about the inclusion of other people’s faiths and their freedom to worship in this country. And it always seems to me that while at the same time being Defender of the Faith, you can also be protector of faiths."
One more important lesson the King learnt from his mother was that the mysteries of the monarchy must be passed down to future generations. When Prince William was a schoolboy at Eton, he was a regular visitor for tea at Windsor, where "Granny" served as his mentor. In turn, William has been gently sharing information with his nine-year-old son and heir Prince George about what his future is likely to hold.
The world got a glimpse of this family dynamic in summer 2022, when the Queen, for what would turn out to be the last time, appeared on the palace balcony alongside her three heirs – Charles, William and George – at the end of her Platinum Jubilee celebrations. The King acknowledged his debt to his mother on his first public speech after her death, paying tribute to her as "an inspiration and example to me and to all my family" and speaking of his gratitude "for her love, affection, guidance, understanding and example".
Finally fulfilling his destiny after 70 years, he promised: "As the Queen herself did with such unswerving devotion, I, too, now solemnly pledge myself, throughout the remaining time God grants me, to uphold the constitutional principles at the heart of our nation."
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