If anyone understands what life in the spotlight is like, it’s King Charles III. We all know that the British royal family has been subjected to the press, paparazzi, and international fans for decades, but Charles really hasn’t known any other life. His mother, Queen Elizabeth II, 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 apparent and now the monarch overnight. With it came the attention, reports, and 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 first wife Diana Spencer and second wife Camilla, Queen Consort — he’s also witnessed the royal family drastically change with time. He’s watched as beloved family members have passed away, has been at the forefront of reshaping the monarchy, and became king in a world that has grown increasingly resentful of a powerful, taxpayer-funded monarchy.
To say that Charles stepped up to the plate is an understatement, but despite his efforts, questions remain. Why is the king not particularly liked by 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 King Charles.
King Charles had a distant relationship with his mother, Queen Elizabeth
It’s safe to say that few of us have any idea what it would’ve been like to truly know Queen Elizabeth II, and only four people know what it was like to be raised by her. It was King Charles III’s reality that his mother wasn’t just a mom but the longest-reigning monarch in British history. And 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 a future king, and, ever since that moment, he was subjected to the scrutiny that came with the title.
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 didn’t spend much time with her infant son during his first year of life. Elizabeth reportedly viewed Charles within the perspective of duty — she knew that her firstborn son had an important role to play, and she behaved around him accordingly.
Queen Elizabeth allegedly had sharp words for King Charles’ partner
We all know that members of the British public haven’t been the biggest fans of Camilla, Queen Consort. The woman who remained a romantic interest of King Charles, even while he was married to Princess Diana, Camilla had to revitalize her reputation over time and her efforts haven’t been a glaring success. That work didn’t just extend to the public and the press, but to the royal family as well.
As noted by the Daily Mail, Queen Elizabeth II allegedly had her fair share of thoughts about Camilla and even expressed them once after a night of martini drinking. We’ll just give you a second for that last sentence to sink in. 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 see that conversation. Charles then reportedly called Camilla in tears over the whole ordeal, which seems 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 the pair. Adding insult to injury, the queen was said to have dragged her heels over Charles’ 2005 wedding to Camilla, going as far as not attending the service due to her role as the head of the Church of England — she simply could not attend a wedding between two previously divorced people.
When he was younger, 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, King Charles III 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 not coordinated enough 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 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 still didn’t live up to Philip’s expectations. Yikes.
As heir to the throne, Charles wasn’t originally allowed to marry the woman he loved
We all know that King Charles III is infamously known for cheating on Princess Diana with Camilla, Queen Consort (then known as 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 noble 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 happened had Charles been allowed to marry the woman he loved from the beginning.
King Charles experienced a bitter divorce from Diana Spencer
When you think of King Charles III, the first thing you probably think of is his divorce from Diana Spencer. It was a mess — the couple whose union once 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 silly 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 absolutely sad and awful for both of them.
King Charles mourned the death of the mother of his children
King Charles III and Diana Spencer may have had a messy divorce, but her tragic death in 1997 threw Charles’ world for a loop. As noted by E!, Charles was devastated 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 Princes William and Harry, Diana’s two young sons. As Tina Brown, author of "The Diana Chronicles," admitted in the documentary "Diana: 7 Days That Shook the Windsors," "He fell apart. He knew, instantly, that this was going to be a terrible thing, that … he will be blamed, that they will be blamed, for the death of Diana."
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 is absolutely soul-crushing: 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.
King Charles grieved the loss of his beloved grandmother, the Queen Mother
Of all the royal family members with whom King Charles III bonded, no one 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 in 2002.
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, he loved her sense of humor most. "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.
King Charles was the only person to visit his father, Prince Philip, in the hospital
King Charles III 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 after becoming ill. It was expected that the queen’s husband, who was 99 years old at the time, would stay in the hospital for a time to regain his health and strength.
Charles was seen entering the hospital from its rear entrance wearing 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 reportedly kept him in the hospital for nearly a month just to be extra cautious, but Philip died soon after returning to Windsor Castle.
King Charles, joined by his sons, walked behind his father’s casket in tears
Nothing is sadder in life than losing a parent, and King Charles III’s 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. "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 (via People). "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."
King Charles endured the shame of Prince Andrew’s nefarious behavior
Though King Charles III has never really seemed like much of a family man, pretty much all the sadness, drama, and tension that surrounds him has to do with his relatives. Perhaps no other family member has pushed Charles to his capacity than his younger brother, Prince Andrew, who has been embroiled in a disturbing scandal for years.
Andrew was stripped of his military titles and practically all public royal honors when details about his relationship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein came to light. Andrew was subsequently accused of assaulting a minor, Virginia Giuffre, who was trafficked by Epstein. The royal finally settled a lawsuit brought against him by Giuffre, with the late queen reportedly helping him cover the tab owed, but such a soft spot is not an aspect of Andrew’s relationship with Charles. Things were said to have culminated between the brothers in November 2022, when the king told his younger brother that his role as a senior royal would never be reinstated. As a source reportedly told Fox News, Andrew is desperate to rebuild his life and wants his titles back, but he is fuming with Charles and William for stopping his plans."
"Naive as it may sound, he always had hopes of regaining his position as a senior royal," a source told the Daily Mail of the interaction between Charles and Andrew. "At the meeting, Charles told him that he can go off and have a good life, a nice life, but that his public life as a royal is at an end." The source continued, saying, "Andrew was totally blindsided. …He is utterly bereft. He always believed there was a way back."
King Charles spent his life in his mother’s shadow, waiting to ascend the throne
King Charles III waited a long time to become monarch. As noted by The New Yorker, Charles tried to stay busy in his years as the direct heir to the throne, and, while doing so, created a role for himself. Here’s the catch, though — he became unpopular while doing so.
The New Yorker noted that the Queen’s ability to persevere while having spent decades on the throne was remarkable. She has walked the line pretty perfectly, serving as a figurehead of Great Britain while also staying out of politics. She was the neutral, beloved leader that the people of Britain and the Commonwealth adored — but the same could not be said for her son.
One of the biggest grievances against Charles is that he is highly opinionated. Even prime ministers of the United Kingdom have allegedly told him to keep his judgment to himself — Margaret Thatcher reportedly once said to him, "I run this country, not you, sir." Only time will tell if Charles will manage to fully emerge from his mother’s influence popular or (more likely) unpopular.
King Charles mourned his mother in the public eye
When the tragic news broke that Queen Elizabeth II had died on September 8, 2022, her firstborn son immediately became monarch. Prince Charles became King Charles III and was finally Britain’s ruler after decades of waiting. However, such a professional and public promotion came at the expense of Charles’ emotions. As he toured Great Britain in the immediate aftermath of the queen’s death, honoring her along with citizens, Charles’ grief was on full display. He looked incredibly saddened while greeting fellow mourners.
Honoring his mother, Charles made an announcement just a half-hour after Elizabeth’s death was announced, The Guardian noted. "We mourn profoundly the passing of a cherished sovereign and a much-loved mother. I know her loss will be deeply felt throughout the country, the realms and the Commonwealth, and by countless people around the world," Charles said at the time, grieving his mother both in the public eye and behind closed doors. "During this period of mourning and change, my family and I will be comforted and sustained by our knowledge of the respect and deep affection in which the queen was so widely held."
King Charles dealt with reignited frustration and anger from the British public following The Crown
When King Charles III and Diana Spencer parted ways, it’s safe to say that the fallout was disastrous. Charles’ years of infidelity — which was pretty much the worst kept secret in Britain — finally unraveled, and much of the British press and public were on Diana’s side. But as time wore on, the public began to warm up to Charles and accepted his second wife, Camilla Parker Bowles, whom he married in 2005. Camilla proved herself to be a reliable figure on the royal scene with time, and the public seemed to come to terms with her over the years.
Of course, Netflix’s "The Crown" changed that quite dramatically. As noted by New York Daily News, Charles and Camilla had to turn off the Twitter comments after the fourth season of "The Crown" dropped, as it reignited so much of the public’s animosity towards them given its prominent Charles/Diana storyline. Penny Junor, a royal biographer, told The Times that Charles was likely upset by the fourth season of "The Crown," as it was "the most cruel and unfair and horrible portrayal of almost all of them."
The fifth season of the hit Netflix show brought yet another era of Charles and Diana’s relationship to the screen, displaying their separation, bitter divorce, and consistent media attacks against each other that was dubbed the "War of the Windsors." It certainly did not make Charles’ first months on the throne easy.
King Charles has dealt with steady unpopularity
There’s not a lot that’s more painful in life than knowing that you’re not liked — it’s just not a good feeling. Unfortunately for King Charles III, 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 now-king, 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 was the alternative? More than half of the people polled said that they’d rather see Charles’ son, Prince William, ascend the throne.
Not much has changed in the time since Queen Elizabeth II’s passing. According to a YouGov poll conducted in the third quarter of 2022, Charles sitting in the No. 5 spot with a measly 44% popularity rating. Camilla also holds a 44% rating. As you may have guessed, William is ahead of his father in the No. 3 spot, boasting a 65% acceptance rate, and ahead of him is Catherine, Princess of Wales, who comes in just behind the late queen in the No. 2 spot with a 66% approval rating.
King Charles and Prince Harry suffered a tragic fallout
Family infighting is never enjoyable — even if you think you’re in the right, just knowing that you’re at odds with another member of your clan is tough. But that’s been the reality for King Charles III 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 he, Meghan, and their son Archie 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 after the infamous interview? Well, the father and son reunited at Prince Philip’s funeral, so suffice it to say it wasn’t the best setting for a heart-to-heart conversation. The Times did report that Charles and Harry found time to speak to each other, as well as to Prince William and Kate Middleton, after the funeral services at Frogmore Cottage. Of course, any royal watcher can tell you that things have gone from bad to worse since then.
Harry and Meghan have continued to share their truth with the world. Their highly anticipated Netflix documentary — which is destined to spill even more behind-the-scenes secrets from their time as royals — is dropping its first volume on December 8, 2022. The palace is said to be bracing for impact, as the dynamic between the firm and the Sussexes has gone from ice cold to positively frigid.
Royal insiders and members of the public doubted King Charles’ ability to rule for decades
You know what the public thinks of King Charles III, but what does the royal family think about the monarch? As noted by The New Yorker, the reviews aren’t great. Apparently, his family members — including both of his parents when they were still alive — started questioning Charles’ ruling abilities from a very early age. Why? There were a couple of reasons.
First and foremost, Charles was a pretty sickly kid. He reportedly had trouble with sinus infections and was consistently a "source of puzzlement and some disappointment" to his parents. Yes, you read that correctly and yes, it is awful to think about. Apparently, Charles’ own siblings made him feel "squashed and guilty," and consistently left him with the impression that he was letting them down. "All I want to do is to help other people," Charles wrote once, and over the years, he has reportedly learned how to avoid letting criticism get him down.
Charles may be the reigning monarch now, but naysayers still have their opinions. Royal expert Robert Jobson told The Sun of Charles’ time on the throne, "No doubt his reign will be short, maybe one of the shortest ever. As a result, his time on the throne will not be a remarkable one, in historical terms."