King Charles makes emotional visit to fire-damaged Notre Dame on state visit to France

Day two of the state visit saw the monarch address the French Senate and visit Saint-Denis

Britain's King Charles III and his wife Queen Camilla visit the Notre-Dame Cathedral rebuilding site in Paris. EPA
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King Charles III went from a meeting with young athletes in a working-class, multicultural suburb of Paris to an emotional stop in front of the fire-damaged Notre Dame Cathedral on Thursday, the second day of his state visit to France.

King Charles and Queen Camilla, accompanied by French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte, listened to a presentation about ongoing renovation work at Notre Dame, one day after the king said he had been “utterly appalled by the scenes of such devastation following the catastrophic fire” in April 2019.

The king and queen were not able to enter the cathedral for safety reasons, but Mr Macron invited them to take a closer look at the entrance as dozens of workers on the higher floors of the monument applauded the king and took pictures. The cathedral is due to reopen at the end of next year.

During the day, King Charles made a few stops to greet the crowds waiting for him along the streets of the sites he visited, including the Paris flower market named after his late mother, Queen Elizabeth II.

In Saint-Denis, north of the capital, King Charles chatted with young athletes while Queen Camilla exchanged a few balls with Prithika Pavade, a 19-year-old French table tennis player. The area will serve as a major venue in next year’s Olympics.

Residents said the royal visit to Saint-Denis was a welcome boost for the town with deep pockets of poverty, a reputation for crime and a feeling among many of being left by the wayside.

King Charles III visits France – in pictures

“A lot of people are poor and it has a reputation as a cut-throat place,” said Yasmina Bedar, who was born in Saint-Denis and has lived there for 50 years.

“For a king in real flesh and blood to come to Saint-Denis of course can only help our image.”

Cafe owner Sid Ould-Moussa said: “It’s excellent for the town, for us.”

The king also met Paris Saint-Germain football club president Nasser Al Khelaifi, who gave him the club’s No 3 jersey. He also explained the club’s involvement in supporting young people and communities in difficulty.

King Charles and Queen Camilla briefly visited the basilica of Saint-Denis, which houses the tombs of French kings.

King becomes first British monarch to address senate

Earlier on Thursday, the king proposed an entente to tackle climate change as he praised Britain's “indispensable” relationship with France in a speech at the senate in Paris.

The king made history on Thursday as he became the first British monarch to address the chamber on the second day of his first state visit to France.

Speaking in flawless French and occasionally in English, the monarch urged France to unite with Britain in tackling climate change.

“Just as we stand together against military aggression, so must we strive together to protect the world from our most existential challenge of all – that of global warming, climate change and the catastrophic destruction of nature,” he said.

“Jacques-Yves Cousteau said so wisely: ‘For most of history, man has had to fight nature to survive; in this century he is beginning to realise that, in order to survive, he must protect it’.

“Such wisdom is even more relevant in this, the 21st century. And so, although the challenge facing our planet is both great and grave, it has been increasingly heartening to see the action that is being taken by our governments, our people and, more and more, by the private sector.

“I have long felt that our businesses can play a most vital role, working in partnership and harmony with our governments and our people, to channel trillions of dollars to the solutions that will enable a successful transition to a sustainable world.

“With President [Emmanuel] Macron, I will this afternoon be meeting business leaders from France and Britain whose collaboration, innovations and investments in clean growth and in preserving our precious biodiversity are offering essential global leadership.

“I hope very much that there might be avenues for future collaboration, for example to find a way to strengthen co-operation around sustainable development.

“For the time that is granted to me as king, I pledge to do whatever I can to strengthen the indispensable relationship between the United Kingdom and France – and, today, I invite you to join me in this endeavour.

“Together, our potential is limitless. Let us, therefore, cherish and nurture our entente cordiale. Let us renew it for future generations so that, I would like to propose, it also becomes an Entente pour la Durabilite – in order to tackle the global climate and biodiversity emergency more effectively.

“A commitment to each other, and to the values we so proudly share; a commitment inspired by the example of the past, and emboldened to grapple with the immense challenges in the world around us.”

His comments came as UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was facing a growing backlash following his government's announcement that it was rolling back its green pledges.

Mr Sunak said on Wednesday that a ban on new petrol and diesel cars would be delayed by five years, energy efficient requirements in homes would be scrapped and plans to phase out new gas boilers would be weakened.

King Charles praises UK's 'best friend' France

On Thursday, the king began his address by praising France as one of the UK's “closest allies and best friends” and paid tribute to the messages of condolence from the nation following the death of his mother Queen Elizabeth II last year.

“When my mother died last year, my family and I were moved beyond measure by the tributes paid throughout France,” he said.

“I can only thank you and the people of France for the great kindness that you have expressed towards us at a time of such sadness.

“I hope that she inspires us to continue to weave links between our two countries with determination, hope and love.”

Earlier, a guard of honour had lined the king’s route to the Salle des Conferences on Thursday as he met representatives from the senate and National Assembly and signed the visitors’ book before entering the chamber to deliver his address.

The British monarch's trip is aimed at demonstrating the underlying strength of cross-Channel ties after Brexit.

The tour, which was rescheduled from March because of the violent protests against pension reform in France, also aims to show King Charles's stature as a statesman just over a year after his mother died.

Updated: September 22, 2023, 6:51 AM