Charles: The King with a social conscience

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The Prince of Wales’s life has been marked with a conscientious sense of duty.

As the country’s longest serving heir to the throne, Charles, now King after the death of his mother, the Queen, has carved out his own royal role over the decades.

Inspired by his belief in harmony and sustainability, he has set up a host of charities, which raise more than £100 million a year.

Charles the new King
Charles at a Prince’s Trust reception (Chris Jackson/PA)

His leading youth charity, the Prince’s Trust, helps disadvantaged and vulnerable young people, using practical support including training, mentoring and financial assistance, and is seen as one of his greatest successes.

As patron of more than 400 organisations, Charles carries out nearly 550 royal engagements a year.

Charles visiting the Channel Islands
The Prince of Wales on the climbing wall at Grainville Secondary School in St Helier in 2012 (Chris Jackson/PA)

“I’ve had this extraordinary feeling, for years and years, ever since I can remember really, of wanting to heal and make things better,” he told the US’s Time magazine.

The prince, who is known for his strong opinions, particularly on climate change and the environment, architecture and farming, has faced criticism in the past after accusations of lobbying government ministers on his views.

He has also found himself under great scrutiny.

The Metropolitan Police launched an investigation into an alleged cash-for-honours scandal in 2022 after Charles and his former closest confidant, Michael Fawcett, were reported over the claims.

Mr Fawcett was accused of promising to help secure a knighthood and British citizenship for a Saudi billionaire donor to another of Charles’s charities, the Prince’s Foundation.

During the Somerset floods
The Prince of Wales arrives by boat as he visits flood-hit communities in the Somerset Levels in 2014 (Jack Hill/The Times/PA)

In the 1990s, he experienced turmoil in his private life, played out on a public stage when he split from the Princess of Wales.

Charles and Diana
The Prince and Princess of Wales on their wedding day (PA)

But within a few years all was not well with the marriage.

Charles was having an affair with his former mistress, Camilla Parker Bowles, and Diana had turned to cavalry officer James Hewitt.

Charles & Diana unhappy in Seoul
The Prince and Princess of Wales on a visit to South Korea amid difficulties in their marriage (Martin Keene/PA)

In 1994, Charles admitted adultery on national television, speaking to his biographer, Jonathan Dimbleby, while Diana subsequently went on the BBC’s Panorama programme to give an interview in which she said there were three people in her marriage.

Diana’s Panorama interview (PA)

In the early 1970s, Charles had met Camilla Shand on a Windsor polo field, and is said to have “lost his heart” to her almost at once. They embarked on an affair.

But when the prince joined the Navy, the couple spent long periods apart and Charles missed his chance and was heartbroken when Camilla married cavalry officer Andrew Parker Bowles.

Charles and Camilla
Charles and Camilla at the theatre in 1975 (PA)

But a month later Diana died tragically with her lover, Dodi Fayed, in a car crash in a Paris underpass.

Grief-stricken William and Harry were only 15 and 12, and the Windsors faced a backlash over their treatment of Diana, dubbed the People’s Princess in the aftermath for her charity work and charm.

The day of Diana's funeral
Earl Spencer, Prince William, Prince Harry and the Prince of Wales, on the day of Diana’s funeral (Fiona Hanson/PA)

Their first public appearance together was outside the Ritz hotel in London in 1999, dubbed Operation Ritz, where the mass of waiting photographers had been tipped off.

The culmination of the romance was a marriage between the long-time lovers, who wed in a civil ceremony at Windsor Guildhall on April 9 2005.

Charles and Camilla's wedding day
Charles and Camilla’s blessing at St George’s Chapel (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

In the years after his wedding, Charles watched his sons forge careers for themselves for a time in the armed forces, with both training at Sandhurst before becoming military pilots.

The Duke of Cambridge – now an experienced full-time royal – settled down after marrying former university flatmate Kate Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge.

Charles’s first grandchild, Prince George, was born in July 2013.

His touching statement as he welcomed George’s arrival showed emotion and an openness not usually associated with senior royals.

“It is an incredibly special moment for William and Catherine and we are so thrilled for them on the birth of their baby boy,” he said.

Trooping the Colour
Charles with his family on the Buckingham Palace balcony (Yui Mok/PA)

Granddaughter Princess Charlotte arrived two years later, followed by another grandson, Prince Louis, in 2018.

Charles’s youngest son, Harry, now the Duke of Sussex – who left the military after 10 years – wed American former actress Meghan Markle, now the Duchess of Sussex, in 2018. Their son, Archie Mountbatten-Windsor, was born in 2019, and daughter Lilibet “Lili” Diana in 2021.

The royal wedding
Harry looks at his bride, Meghan, as she arrives accompanied by the Prince of Wales (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Charles was pictured with his sons, daughters-in-law, the Cambridge children and Camilla in a rare family portrait to mark his milestone 70th birthday.

But, behind the scenes, all was not well. Harry and Meghan had struggled with royal life, had a rift with William, and went on to quit as senior working royals and move to California.

The Sussexes’ bombshell interview with US talk show host Oprah Winfrey in 2021 laid bare their feelings about the royal family, accusing them of racism and the institution of not supporting Meghan when she was suicidal.

Harry said he felt “let down” by his father and that Charles had stopped taking his calls.

The duke later repeatedly lambasted Charles’s skills as father, criticising him for expecting his sons to endure the pressures of royal life, and suggesting his parenting left him with “genetic pain and suffering”.

Charles’s future path to kingship had been boosted by the Queen in two notable ways.

The tricky question of whether he would take on the non-hereditary role as head of the Commonwealth when monarch was resolved in 2018 when the Queen made a rare and public personal appeal at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London for Charles to be chosen for the duty.

World leaders confirmed he would eventually succeed his mother in the symbolic role when king.

Then the Queen paid her most poignant tribute to her eldest son at a party to celebrate his 70th birthday the same year.

She described Charles as “a duchy original” and “a dedicated and respected heir to the throne to stand comparison with any in history – and a wonderful father”, adding: “Most of all, sustained by his wife Camilla, he is his own man, passionate and creative.”

The words served as a glowing queenly seal of approval for a future king.

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