Prince William steps up after King Charles's cancer diagnosis

Expert says the dangers of slimming down the British royal family have been exposed after two leading members are hit by illness

Prince William awards footballer Ellen Convery the Commander of the Order of the British Empire, at Windsor Castle. AP
Powered by automated translation

Heir to the British throne Prince William is to shoulder more responsibilities as the public face of the UK monarchy in the absence of his father King Charles III.

The Prince of Wales returned to public duties on Wednesday, two days after it was announced that the king is undergoing treatment for cancer.

The prince carried out an investiture at Windsor Castle, in southern England, which is one of his regular duties, and will later attend the London Air Ambulance annual fund-raising gala in central London in his role as patron of the charity.

He presented more than 50 honours during the late morning ceremony, accidentally dropping a MBE medal he was giving to charity worker Suzanne Hutchinson

The prince quickly picked it up and pinned it to Ms Hutchinson, who was recognised for her services to children with congenital heart disease.

He was returning to official engagements three weeks after taking time off when his wife, Kate, Princess of Wales, underwent major abdominal surgery for an undisclosed condition.

Public shows support for King Charles outside Buckingham Palace

Public shows support for King Charles outside Buckingham Palace

The Princess of Wales, who was treated at the same hospital in central London and discharged the same day as the king, is expected to remain away from public duties until after Easter.

Their absence leaves Prince William, Queen Camilla and the Princess Royal, who carried out an investiture ceremony at Windsor Castle on Tuesday, holding the fort alongside the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh.

Royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliams told The National the king’s illness exposes the “dangers” of slimming down a monarchy too much.

The British monarchy has lost key members in recent years after the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and Meghan, stepped down from royal duties in early 2020.

Prince Andrew returned most of his titles and royal duties to the late queen, after facing a US civil sexual assault lawsuit, which he later paid millions to settle.

“It was never practical to slim [the monarchy] down too far,” Mr Fitzwilliams said.

“But remember what has happened with the Sussexes and with Andrew led to this. Some of this was not avoidable. Or at least you couldn’t plan in this way.

“This is all unprecedented”

Mr Fitzwilliams said there is nothing that can be done to immediately relieve the pressure on the family and its working members should not be slimmed down any further.

Princess Anne already has a huge number of engagements.

“Prince William will undoubtedly be doing more. There’s no doubt about that. And also, there will be more pressure on the queen.

“She’s the king’s rock. They are soul mates. He will be very clearly reliant on her love and support.”

Mr Fitzwilliams said the family's spring and summer schedules will be very difficult to plan.

“Running a monarchy needs careful planning. And this is tricky, to put it mildly. It’s serious,” he added.

One silver lining to the king’s illness could be a reconciliation with Prince Harry, who has travelled to the UK from the US to see his father.

The king called both his sons to inform them of his condition ahead of the public announcement.

“We will have to wait and see, but obviously he’s very concerned and hopefully this will lead to some form of reconciliation,” said Mr Fitzwilliams.

“To what extent this occurs … these things take time. But there’s no doubt at all that in the circumstances, this may be a positive outcome.”

Prince Harry arrived in London from California on Tuesday afternoon, less than 24 hours after the announcement about the king’s health was made to the nation by Buckingham Palace.

However, their first face-to-face encounter for many months appeared to last for as little as 45 minutes before the king was flown by helicopter to Sandringham in Norfolk, east England.

Prince William is said to have grown closer to his father in the wake of his brother’s controversial interviews, documentary and memoir, which saw him launch a flurry of allegations at his family.

It is believed William and his brother will not meet during Harry's trip to London, with their long-running rift continuing.

As it stands there are no plans to appoint any Counsellors of State to act on behalf of Charles in his absence.

King Charles III through the years – in pictures

Counsellors can be authorised by the monarch to carry out all but the sovereign's most key roles, such as appointing a new prime minister, and must be selected from Charles' spouse Queen Camilla, Prince William, Prince Harry, Prince Andrew, Andrew's eldest daughter Princess Beatrice, Princess Anne and Prince Edward.

The “workaholic” king will carry on behind the scenes, dealing with the red boxes which contain his state business and official papers, say officials.

He will also hold his weekly audiences with the Prime Minister and monthly Privy Council meetings, which can both be done remotely.

The king and queen were expected to visit Canada in May, and Australia, New Zealand and Samoa for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in October.

But the illness raises the prospect that Prince William may have to deputise for the king, who is head of the Commonwealth, at the meeting, just as Charles did for the late queen.

Other trips could be postponed, depending on how the king's health progresses.

Forthcoming events that could see William playing a key role include the Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey at the start of March and the 80th anniversary of D-Day in June.

Updated: February 07, 2024, 2:16 PM