King Charles 'moved to tears' by get well messages after cancer diagnosis

British monarch made the admission to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak during a weekly government meeting

King Charles III, right, and Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak shake hands during their meeting at Buckingham Palace, London. AP
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Messages of support and cards that King Charles III has received since his cancer diagnosis have moved him to tears, he revealed on Wednesday during a meeting with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who told him the “country is behind you”.

An audience with Mr Sunak and the Privy Council were the first face-to-face official duties the king has carried out since his medical condition was made public.

Late on Wednesday afternoon, the monarch met Mr Sunak at Buckingham Palace, marking the restart of their weekly encounters to discuss matters of government.

Beforehand, the king held an in-person Privy Council at the royal residence, where attendees included Lord President of the Council Penny Mordaunt and a selection of other ministers who are Privy Counsellors.

The meeting with the Prime Minister is the first time the 75-year-old king has been filmed carrying out official duties since his diagnosis and since the start of the year, but the head of state remains away from public engagements.

Mr Sunak told the monarch, who looked relaxed during the 45-minute audience, it was “wonderful to see you looking so well”, prompting King Charles to joke it was “all done with mirrors”.

“We’re all behind you. The country is behind you,” the Prime Minister said.

The king replied: “I’ve had so many wonderful messages and cards. It’s reduced me to tears most of time.”

They discussed how a spotlight has been shone on cancer charities, with the king describing the organisations as “wonderful”.

Mr Sunak was introduced into the Private Audience Room by the king’s new equerry, Lt Commander Will Thornton of the Fleet Air Arm, who was making his formal debut in the role.

His predecessor, Lt Col Jonny Thompson, has been promoted to senior equerry to the king and queen – a more executive and less public-facing role.

The king, who has been dealing with his red boxes of state papers behind the scenes, started outpatient treatment for an undisclosed form of cancer more than two weeks ago.

Mr Sunak, who previously revealed the king’s illness had been “caught early”, telephoned King Charles at Sandringham to wish him well two days after his condition was announced to the nation.

King Charles has cancer diagnosed – video

King Charles has cancer diagnosed

King Charles has cancer diagnosed

It was a busy afternoon for the king on Wednesday, with the Privy Council – the oldest form of legislative assembly still functioning in the UK – beginning at 4.30pm.

Traditionally, the king and Privy Counsellors stand throughout – a custom initiated by Queen Victoria after the death of Prince Albert when she wanted to speed up proceedings and reduce her public duties.

Buckingham Palace has yet to comment on whether the king stood for the meeting.

The Privy Council website reads: “Etiquette does not allow sitting while the sovereign is standing. To this day, even the king stands at a PC meeting.”

At each gathering, which usually takes place monthly, the council, which is held in private, obtains the king’s formal approval to orders which have already been discussed and approved by ministers.

He also approves proclamations – which are formal notices covering issues such as the summoning of a new parliament, coinage and the dates of certain bank holidays.

At 5.45pm, the king met Mr Sunak, following Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons, as is tradition.

There will have been much to discuss during the private one to one, which came a day after the Prince of Wales risked controversy by issuing a strongly worded plea for peace in Gaza.

The king was driven away from the palace through the front gates at 6.34pm to the cheers of crowds waiting outside.

King Charles, who only acceded to the throne 17 months ago, has faced a difficult start to 2024, with a three-night hospital stay for a procedure on an enlarged prostate, during which time his cancer – not prostate cancer – was discovered.

Meanwhile, the Princess of Wales is recovering after major abdominal surgery, but is not expected to be back on official duties until after Easter.

Last year following the Christmas break, the king held his first audiences of the year with Mr Sunak on January 31.

The audience can take place over the phone, with King Charles and Mr Sunak speaking on February 22 last year while the Prime Minister was dealing with post-Brexit negotiations on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Queen Elizabeth II switched to telephone calls with Boris Johnson during the Covid pandemic.

In a 1992 documentary filmed to mark her 40th year on the throne, the late queen gave her view on the importance of the meetings with her prime ministers.

“They unburden themselves or tell me what is going on or if they have any problems, and sometimes I can help in some way as well,” she said.

“They know I can be impartial and it is rather nice to feel one is a sponge.

“Occasionally one can put one’s point of view and perhaps they have not seen it from that angle.”

As head of state, the king must be politically neutral and act on the advice of his government in political matters, but he can advise and warn his ministers including the prime minister.

Updated: February 22, 2024, 5:01 AM