Headaches come with the crown, but can Charles III heal the royals' long-term migraines?

It has been a difficult week for Buckingham Palace, and that's even before Harry and Meghan's new Netflix series is released

King Charles III has instituted reforms since his ascension to the British throne, but critics say they don't go far enough. AFP
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King Charles started last week well but suffered a slip-up in mid-week that could hobble the monarchy for the foreseeable future.

The new UK ruler was meeting on Monday the Greek prime minister to discuss how his approach to heritage restoration could be brought to revive a royal palace outside Athens.

It was a moment of soft power that benefitted the UK. For the King himself, it was the showcasing of his skills and own background – his father was born into the deposed Greek royal family – and offering friendly links to an important European partner.

At another royal venue the Queen Consort was part of the UK’s government’s high profile summit to address the scourge of rape and sexual violence in conflict. This eight-year-old process led by the UK foreign office is a real platform to raise awareness and promote preparedness.

In her first keynote speech since ascending the throne, Queen Consort Camilla was widely praised for her sentiments and empathy. What was going on in another part of the ornate reception room, however, has tainted much more than the government-led summit.

Long-serving royal aide Lady Susan Hussey was drilling into a guest about her ethnicity, awakening issues of race with roots in deep divisions in British society.

Charity worker Ngozi Fulani, chief executive of Sistah Space, truthfully answered Hackney when the octogenarian asked her where she was from. The real intent in the question was then clear over an excruciating exchange when the elderly aristocrat kept up the questions to expose how African or how Caribbean the guest "really" was.

Such inquiries are raw and insulting in this context. For King Charles, there is no getting away from the responsibility he bears of the stigma now surrounding the royal court.

Lady Hussey had served alongside the late monarch for decades. Only last month did King Charles restyle her as a Lady of the Household, thus entitling her presence at the reception.

Her immediate withdrawal from the post when the exchanges became public last week does not absolve the royals that have been asked in the scandal’s wake.

King Charles should have, to use another Greekism, been much more decisive in cleaning the Buckingham Palace stables on taking over.

He has promised a slimmed down and more modern institution. Yet his decision to keep on an old guard, performing an essentially superfluous task, was the antithesis of a fresh approach.

Prince Harry and Meghan are set to release a tell-all documentary series on Netflix. WPA
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King Charles should have been much more decisive in cleaning the Buckingham Palace stables on taking over.

The mystery of the monarchy is a big part of its magic. Strip away its workings and there is little but downside for an institution that has its purpose as unifying the nation. For all his eccentricities, King Charles has a good shot at doing this, particularly as his concerns are social and environmental healing.

There is a sagacity that has come with age that is suited to turbulent times dominated by economic woes and hardship. The goodwill from his mother’s reign was there to be catalysed in a fresh new team.

When his more or less estranged son Prince Harry and wife Meghan talk of their hurt and alienation on the basis of racial prejudice, it is a danger to the very credibility of a monarchy. When the trailer came out for their fly-on-the-wall Netflix series, the "Megix" couple gave the takeaway that nobody knows what it’s like in the royal corridors.

Thanks to Lady Hussey, now we do. The conviction that Harry and his wife did not get a hearing can only be strengthened directly by what happened at the palace last week.

The episode goes to the heart of what is sure to be a protracted generational battle between the two caps. Prince Harry’s sense of victimhood and vindication will at one swell together.

The stock in trade that the California couple have is that they are the modern world representatives that were shaken out of the gnarled and rough royal family tree.

King Charles is a protagonist in this but has been able to maintain some distance from the most bitter elements of the family schism. The spillover from those personal antagonisms into issues of race is something deeper and more toxic for the royal brand.

Even within its own terms of reference, King Charles slimming down agenda falls short of what is needed. With a much tighter number of prince and princess figures on the royal rota, the need for so many palaces reserved for royal use is one glaring instance of waste.

Yet little is said about this. Officials have long despaired of the King’s own insistence on his royal privileges of aides and personal possessions. His travel bill is always far bigger than any of the other royals.

After just a few months there is a warning about the nascent Carolean era. Too many houses, too reluctant to shake up with new blood the staff rolls and too eager to try to stretch to maintain its traditional footprint.

Carefully managing a crisis that comes out of nowhere is part of the job for the Crown. Setting its own direction is the more important challenge and one that King Charles must recognise.

Published: December 05, 2022, 4:00 AM
Updated: December 06, 2022, 7:04 AM