Brand Britain unsure and uncertain as King Charles replaces queen

Where the stoic Queen Elizabeth was unifying, her son is divisive and impulsive

Queen Elizabeth's legacy will cast a shadow over King Charles's reign. AFP
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Queen Elizabeth II dies — follow the latest news as the world mourns

The number one attraction for overseas tourists in London is Buckingham Palace, with selfies taken outside the famous railings - preferably with the red of the guards in the background and the flag flying high - a must.

Today, the latter is at half-mast out of respect to the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. The crowds are out in force, as they will be in the days and weeks to come.

With the death of the queen, there is a profound sense of loss. For most people in Britain and many abroad, she was a constant, always there in the background throughout their lives. She was reliable, reassuring, warm, maternal.

She was a link, too, to a bygone age, to war and empire, to Winston Churchill and to planes with propellers, ships with funnels and trains powered by steam. She was all that and more.

What she stood for internationally was Britain. When people thought of the country, they may have been drawn to an image of a fractured, occasionally snarling, troubled nation, one that was increasingly unsure of where it was heading and where it belonged.

But then there was the queen: calm, stoic, kind. She was brand Britain, its finest ambassador.

That’s how she was perceived, and with her, the country. She conveyed all that was good about the UK, the best of its past and present, symbolising its history, standing for tradition and solidity. She was dependable, an anchor in a storm, far removed from self-seeking politicians and craven celebrity.

On her numerous trips abroad, she was well received, greeted by the incumbent leadership, often able to remind them, in that simple, direct style of hers, that she had met and knew their predecessors. She stood for continuity but was not against change.

She was born when Britain had an empire, and while that went, thanks to her determination and zeal, she reinvented its vestiges as the “family” of the Commonwealth. While she was alive, few members left.

With her gone and against a backdrop of anti-imperialism and pro-independence, and disquiet about Britain’s role in the slave trade, it’s questionable whether nations will choose to remain, if the Commonwealth can survive. It’s as if Britain is to be rebranded.

The day was coming, inevitably, that the era would end. Year after year, though, it did not happen — the queen was still there, her face adorning coins, postage stamps and countless photographs.

She was the ultimate national treasure — someone who was instantly familiar, yet distant and unknown, and because of that, a source of fascination.

Her going was bound to occur, but the brand designers were not ready. We’re left now with the unknown, with a new king — even writing that word, in the context of Britain, appears strange.

Of course, we know what the new king, Charles III, is like, we’re aware of his passion for nature and his agony and frustration over climate change. Try as he might, however, he will not offer the same longevity, and he does not provide a connection to Edwardians and the Blitz. His past is more recent and his future will not be so lengthy.

A branding expert would struggle over how to shape him. Yes, King Charles can be a global spokesman, above politics, able to speak his mind and, as he believes, the minds of others.

But this David Attenborough-with-a-crown may not command the same respect and affection as his mother.

She, noticeably, stayed away from controversy, deliberately not commenting on issues, keeping her thoughts to herself. So far, King Charles has failed — refused, even — to do that. He has said he will avoid firing off letters in his black, spidery handwriting.

But that may not be enough — we know where he is coming from already. While his views may have popular appeal, they also provoke opposition. Where the queen was unifying, he is divisive.

It’s difficult to imagine him being so welcomed around the world. Again, when the queen was alive, some doors opened probably because King Charles was her eldest son and out of deference to her; with her gone, they may remain closed or at least only slightly ajar.

Whatever was taking place below her, in her family, the queen appeared impervious. Occasionally, the mask slipped, but that made her more human — visibly hurt and distressed by the behaviour of her children and grandchildren. King Charles cannot occupy that position. He can never be on high — he’s too close, too directly involved, whether he likes it or not.

The result is a brand that lacks certainty, that can’t be 100 per cent, that’s not genuine. That can be fatal.

Authenticity in branding is everything. The queen had it, more so the longer she reigned, and when he was at her side, aided and abetted by her husband, Prince Philip.

The queen’s Britain was wholesome and funny. She was the Britain that foreigners love and even if they didn't, they could forgive. King Charles does not supply the same veneer of charm.

He’s far too immersed in environmental and humanitarian issues as well as in the affairs of his own relations.

King Charles does not engender a smile as the queen used to. It’s not his fault but he does not spark the same response.

That’s where brand Britain is left: unsure and uncertain. His challenge is to pick up, to carry on and develop. It’s the hardest of acts to follow.

She was, truly, a great Briton, and for decades, to so many, she was Britain.

Published: September 09, 2022, 6:04 PM
Updated: September 12, 2022, 7:28 AM
OPINION