If anyone understands what life in the spotlight is like, it’s Prince Charles. His mother, Queen Elizabeth, became the reigning monarch when he was just 3 years old, and, as such, his life was changed forever. Charles went from a little kid, fairly distant from the throne, to the heir seemingly overnight. Along with it came the attention, the press, and the judgment — so, as you can imagine, his life hasn’t always been a bed of roses.
As much as Charles has been at the center of controversies — think Diana Spencer and Camilla Parker Bowles — he’s also witnessed the royal family drastically change with time. He’s watched as beloved family members died, has been at the forefront of reshaping the monarchy, and has done so all while waiting his turn to become king. To say that he has stepped up to the plate is an understatement, but, despite his efforts, questions still remain. Why is Charles not particularly liked by the British citizens? At what point did his public life start to go downhill? What, if anything, can he do to rehabilitate his image? We’ve got all the answers. This is the tragic truth about Prince Charles.
Prince Charles had a distant relationship with his mother, Queen Elizabeth
It’s safe to say that none of us have any idea what it must be like to know Queen Elizabeth, let alone for her to be our mother. But this has been Prince Charles’ reality — his mother is also the longest-reigning monarch in British history. As noted by Reader’s Digest, Charles hasn’t always had a peachy relationship with the Queen.
When he was born, Charles was quickly taken from his mother and shown off to the royal courtiers. Why? He wasn’t, as a baby, the sweet little bundle of joy to be celebrated — he was the future king of England, and, ever since that moment, he was subjected to the scrutiny that came with the job. Jonathan Dimbleby, the biographer behind "The Prince of Wales: A Biography" asserted that Queen Elizabeth was "detached" from Charles as a result and that she spent "little time" with her infant son during his first year of life. Elizabeth reportedly viewed Charles within the perspective of duty — she knew that her first-born son had an important role to play, and she behaved around him accordingly.
As heir to the throne, Prince Charles wasn’t originally allowed to marry the woman he loved
We all know that Prince Charles is infamously known for cheating on Diana Spencer with Camilla Parker-Bowles, but what some might not know is that Charles and Camilla were involved far before Diana came onto the scene. So, it begs the question — why wasn’t Charles allowed to marry Camilla in the first place?
As noted by Reader’s Digest, the royal family did not see Camilla as a suitable option. She was viewed by the family and by the public as an "experienced woman" when it came to romantic relationships, and that was absolutely a no-go. Camilla also wasn’t perceived by the royal family as "aristocratic" enough, so they told Charles to end the relationship and find someone else. Cue Diana Spencer, who was just 19 when Charles began courting her. She was seen as the pure, innocent, totally-in-love girl who was wide-eyed and excited about royal life (via The New Yorker).
We all know how tragic Diana’s life as a royal became, so we can’t help but wonder what would’ve been different if Charles had been allowed to marry the woman he loved from the beginning.
Prince Charles was the only person to visit his father, Prince Philip, in the hospital
Prince Charles has seen a number of his family members and personal affiliations fall ill — his grandmother and aunt, just to name a couple — so when his father, Prince Philip, was admitted to the hospital in early 2021, Charles rushed to his side. Sadly, he was the only royal family member to do so. As noted by People, Philip was admitted to King Edward VII Hospital as he was "feeling unwell." It was expected that the Queen’s husband, 99 years old at the time, would stay in the hospital for a few days to regain his health and strength.
Charles, who was 72 at the time, was seen entering the hospital from its rear entrance in a mask, as he was strictly adhering to COVID-19 protocols. It was a sad reality for the heir to the throne, who may have had a sinking feeling that his father’s health would only continue to decline. Philip’s doctors kept him in the hospital out of "an abundance of caution," but Philip died soon after at Windsor Castle (more on that later).
As a child, Prince Charles had a very sad relationship with Prince Philip
Getting along with your parents can be difficult, but what if your father was the residing prince of the Commonwealth? Maybe the pressures would be a little more severe. As noted by The New Yorker, Prince Charles and Prince Philip had a fairly tense relationship, especially in their earlier years, as Philip was not at all coy about sharing what he really thought of his son.
The New Yorker reported that Philip thought of Charles as "weedy, effete, and spoiled" — that he was far too "physically uncoordinated" to ever be an athlete, far too wary of horses (a major area of interest for the royals), and "too sensitive." So, as you may have guessed, Charles was shipped off to boarding school.
But the problems that Charles had with his father didn’t stop there. Charles was reportedly ruthlessly bullied at his father’s alma mater, Gordonstoun boarding school, and he only made it through because of his heightened status as a royal. Later in life, Charles followed his father’s demands and joined the Royal Navy, but didn’t live up to Philip’s expectations. Yikes.
Prince Charles experienced a bitter divorce from Diana Spencer
When you think of Prince Charles, the first thing you probably think of is his divorce from Diana Spencer. It was a mess — the couple whose union looked like a fairytale ended in utter despair, and while the press was certainly on Diana’s side, it was painful for both Diana and Charles.
As noted by The New Yorker, there was "equal misery on both parties" during the couple’s divorce. Claims were even made that Diana was the "biggest bully" Charles had dealt with since his days in boarding school, as she allegedly taunted him and told him that she never saw him becoming king. It was also alleged that Diana would tell Charles that he "looked ridiculous" in his military medals — so while there was infidelity, the circumstances surrounding the marriage just sounded miserable for everyone involved.
Of course, Diana lost a good amount of security and protection after she was divorced from Charles, as she was no longer a member of the royal family (via Reader’s Digest). She also dealt with details about her husband’s years-long affair going public. But, all in all, the divorce was just absolutely sad and awful for both of them.
Prince Charles mourned the death of the mother of his children
Prince Charles and Diana Spencer may have had a messy divorce, but her tragic death in 1997 threw Prince Charles’ world for a loop. As noted by E!, Charles was "absolutely distraught" when he found out that Diana was killed in a car accident, and, horrifically, he and Queen Elizabeth had to try to figure out how to break the news to Prince William and Prince Harry, Diana’s two young sons. Tina Brown, author of "The Diana Chronicles," admitted in the documentary "Diana: 7 Days That Shook the Windsors" that Charles "fell apart" and that "he knew, instantly, that this was going to be a terrible thing."
Charles and his mother, who were staying at the Balmoral estate with William and Harry, decided to let the boys sleep. They relayed the tragic news to them in the morning, and this next part will just absolutely crush you.
Charles insisted on traveling to Paris, where Diana was killed, to collect her body. At just 12 years old, Harry asked if he could travel with his father. Charles reportedly thought that it was too difficult a burden to bear for Harry, so the young prince stayed behind.
Prince Charles dealt with reignited anger from the British public following the release of The Crown
When Prince Charles and Diana Spencer parted ways, it’s safe to say that the fallout was disastrous. Charles’ years of infidelity came to the surface, and much of the British press and public sided with Diana. But, as time wore on, the public warmed up to Charles once again and accepted his new wife, Camilla Parker-Bowles. Of course, with the release of Netflix’s "The Crown," the public’s perception changed again.
The New York Daily News noted that Charles and Camilla had to turn off Twitter comments after the fourth season of "The Crown" dropped, as it reignited much of the public’s animosity toward them. If you haven’t seen the fourth season of the hit streaming show, Charles and Diana’s toxic relationship was a cornerstone of the season’s story arch — it certainly did not paint Charles in a favorable light, and public opinion once again backed his ex-wife (talk about deja vu). Penny Junor, a royal biographer, told The Times that Charles would likely be "incredibly upset" by the fourth season of the show, as it was "the most cruel and unfair and horrible portrayal of almost all of them" (via New York Daily News).
Prince Charles has spent his life in his mother’s shadow, waiting to ascend the throne
Prince Charles has been waiting a long time to become king. As noted by The New Yorker, Charles has tried to stay busy in his years as the direct heir to the throne, and, while doing so, has "carve[d] out a role" for himself. Here’s the catch: He’s become unpopular while doing so. The New Yorker noted that the Queen’s ability to persevere while having spent decades on the throne is "one of the great achievements of her reign." She has walked the line pretty perfectly, serving as a figurehead of Great Britain while also staying out of politics. She’s the neutral, beloved leader that the British people adore — the same cannot be said for her son.
One of the biggest grievances against Charles, while he’s been waiting in his mother’s shadow, is that he is highly opinionated. Even prime ministers of the United Kingdom have reportedly told him to keep his judgment to himself — Margaret Thatcher reportedly once said to him, "I run this country, not you, sir." So time will tell if Charles emerges from his mother’s influence popular or (more likely) unpopular.
Prince Charles has dealt with steady unpopularity among the British public for much of his life
There’s not much that’s more painful in life than knowing that you’re unliked — unfortunately, for Prince Charles, it’s something that he’s had to deal with for quite a while. As noted by The New Yorker, people from both sides of Britain’s political spectrum have insulted the heir to the throne, calling him "a prat," "an idiot," and "a twit" on different occasions.
And, if you thought the judgment regarding Charles was only passed in politics, you’re wrong. The results of a poll conducted in 2016 showed that only 25% of those who took part wanted to see Charles become king. Yes, you read that correctly. So, who’s the alternative? More than half of the people polled said that they’d rather see Charles’ son, Prince William, directly ascend the throne after Queen Elizabeth. So, why don’t people like Charles? What’s going on? There’s a feeling, however baseless it may be, that Charles "does the monarchy more harm than good," as reported by The New Yorker. Only time will tell if he does actually become king (it’s a toss-up at this point).
Queen Elizabeth allegedly had sharp words for Prince Charles’ life partner, Camilla Parker-Bowles
We all know that people aren’t the biggest fans of Camilla Parker-Bowles, the partner of Prince Charles. Camilla was Prince Charles’ romantic interest, even while he was married to Diana Spencer, so, naturally, she’s had to work on her reputation. And that work hasn’t just extended to the public and the press, but inside the royal family as well.
As noted by the Daily Mail, Queen Elizabeth allegedly has had her fair share of thoughts about Camilla and even expressed them once after a night of martini drinking. The alleged story goes that one night, after she had consumed a number of drinks, the Queen called Camilla a "wicked woman" in front of Charles. "I want nothing to do with her," the Queen reportedly said — what we wouldn’t have given to have witnessed that conversation!
Charles then reportedly called Camilla in tears over the whole ordeal, which does seem on brand. This, of course, wasn’t the first time that the Queen reportedly had choice words about her son’s relationship with Camilla. In 1997, she allegedly said, "I cannot believe what’s happening to me," in regards to her "continuing struggle" with Charles. Yikes.
Prince Charles and Prince Harry suffered a tragic fallout
Fighting amongst family is never enjoyable, but it’s been the reality for Prince Charles and his son, Prince Harry, for some time. After the explosive interview that Harry and Meghan Markle conducted with Oprah Winfrey, he and Charles had a pretty massive falling out. As noted by The Times, Charles was particularly hurt by Harry’s claims that Meghan and their son, Archie, had faced racist circumstances within the "Firm." During the interview, Harry also accused Charles of purposefully not answering the phone when he called and of cutting him and Meghan off financially.
So, how did it go when Charles and Harry met face-to-face for the first time? Well, the father and son reunited at Prince Philip’s funeral, so suffice to say it wasn’t the happiest setting. The Times did report that Charles and Harry allegedly found time to speak to each other, as well as to Prince William and Kate Middleton, after the funeral services at Frogmore Cottage. "William, Kate and Charles all left after about two hours, which was long enough for the process of getting father and brothers talking again to start," a source shared. We’ll see what happens there.
Prince Charles mourned the loss of his beloved grandmother, the Queen Mother
Of all the royal family members that Prince Charles bonded with, none forged a stronger relationship with him than his grandmother, the Queen Mother. The two were quite close, and Charles absolutely did not hold back while paying tribute to the Queen Mother after her death.
As noted by The Guardian, Charles shared that he had "dreaded" the idea of his grandmother dying for some time, because despite her advanced age, he "never thought [her death] would come." It’s actually quite sweet, and very sad, when you think about it. "She seemed gloriously unstoppable and, since I was a child, I adored her," Charles said. "Her houses were always filled with an atmosphere of fun, laughter and affection, and I learnt so much from her of immense value to my life."
Charles later shared that of everything he appreciated about his grandmother, nothing came close to her sense of humor. "We laughed until we cried — oh, how I shall miss her laugh," he said, sharing that he was "utterly devoted to her." Be right back — going to go cry.
Prince Charles, joined by his sons, walked behind his father’s casket in tears
Nothing is quite sadder in life than losing a parent, and Prince Charles’ emotions were on full display during his father’s funeral. Prince Philip died at the age of 99 in April of 2021, and while he had suffered a number of health setbacks, Prince Philip’s death still rocked the royal family.
Charles, joined by his siblings and two sons, led the procession behind Philip’s casket during his official funeral proceedings, and the picture really was quite tragic. Charles and his wife, Camilla Parker-Bowles, were also spotted visiting the pop-up memorials established after Philip’s death, and both were visibly moved to tears, as noted by People. "My dear Papa was a very special person who I think above all else would have been amazed by the reaction and the touching things that have been said about him," Charles said in an official statement on behalf of the royal family. "From that point of view we are, my family, deeply grateful for all that. It will sustain us in this particular loss and at this particularly sad time." Take this as your cue to go call your parents.
Royal insiders and the British public have doubted Prince Charles’ ability to be king for decades
By this point, you know that the British public aren’t fans of Prince Charles and that they would prefer to see Prince William become king after Queen Elizabeth’s reign comes to an end. However, what does the royal family think about Charles? As noted by The New Yorker, the reviews aren’t great. Apparently, family members — including both of his parents — started questioning Charles’ ruling abilities from a very early age. Why? There were a couple of reasons.
First and foremost, Charles was a sickly kid. He reportedly had trouble with sinus infections and was consistently a "source of puzzlement and some disappointment" to his parents. Yikes, it’s just awful to think about. Apparently, Charles’ own siblings made him feel "squashed and guilty" and consistently made him feel that he was letting them down. "All I want to do is to help other people," Charles once wrote, and, over the years, he has reportedly learned how to not let the criticism he faces from his family and the public get him down. That’s what we like to hear.
So, will we ever see him become king? Only time will tell.