The man who shadowed King Charles for a year describes what life for the royal is really like

  • Journalist Robert Hardman spent a year shadowing King Charles for a BBC documentary.

  • Hardman is a trusted voice in the royal field and has interviewed royals from around the world.

  • He spoke to BI about the documentary, his new book, and what it takes to be the king's shadow.

King Charles is perhaps one of the most misunderstood British royals of modern times, according to the man who shadowed him for a year.

"There's the completely wrong narrative that you get from 'The Crown,'" Hardman said about the Netflix series. "Charles is depicted as always trying to get his mother to step aside and let him take charge, right back to the '90s."

"That's simply not what happened."

Hardman should know. The British journalist shadowed King Charles for the BBC documentary, "Charles III: The Coronation Year."

The documentary gives behind-the-curtain access to Charles' first year as monarch, showing glimpses of his coronation rehearsal and first official portrait as king. It also features interviews with members of his family, including his sister, Princess Anne, and Queen Camilla's sister, Annabel Elliott.

I meet Hardman for the first time over Zoom in January, four days after the release of his new book, "Charles III: New King. New Court. The Inside Story," published on January 18. (In the US, it's retitled "The Making of a King: King Charles III and the Modern Monarchy.")

He looks polished in a crisp white shirt and a teal-printed tie. His face is framed with his signature square-shaped glasses as he recounts his royal career — which, according to Hardman, happened completely by accident.

Hardman didn't intend to become a royal correspondent

Hardman was working as a columnist and news reporter at the Daily Telegraph in London when, in January of 1992, he was sent on a travel assignment to Klosters, a luxury ski resort in the Swiss Alps that doubles as a billionaire's playground.

His only brief was to find some "skiing stories," he tells me. He ended up finding Sarah, Duchess of York, instead.

"So off I went with a photographer, and while we were there, we stumbled across the Duchess of York and her daughters, who were having one of those royal photo calls on the Alps on the side of the hill," Hardman says.

The Duchess Of York with Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie in Klosters in January 1992
The Duchess Of York with Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie in Klosters in January 1992.Tim Graham/Getty Images

Hardman didn't know it then, but 1992 was set to be a grisly year in royal history — the "annus horribilis," as Queen Elizabeth II called it in a now-famous speech marking her Ruby Jubilee.

Prince Charles, Prince Andrew, and Princess Anne ended their respective marriages, and the royal family's largest residence, Windsor Castle, was severely damaged in a fire.

The years that have followed have been just as tumultuous, particularly for the king.

The king's shadow

Hardman tells me he was inspired to write his new book, "Charles III," while making the BBC documentary about the first year of his reign.

Both projects give readers an emotional look at the origins of Charles' reign. In the book, for example, Hardman writes that Charles learned of Queen Elizabeth's death while driving back to Balmoral Castle from his nearby Birkhill Estate after previously visiting her earlier that day.

King Charles III and Queen Camilla stand on the Buckingham Palace balcony during the Coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla on May 6, 2023.
King Charles III and Queen Camilla stand on the Buckingham Palace balcony during the Coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla on May 6, 2023.Brandon Bell/Getty Images

"He had climbed into the car as both Prince of Wales and Duke of Rothesay (his title when in Scotland). Twenty minutes later, he would climb out of it as King Charles III — with the new Queen at his side," Hardman wrote.

King Charles laughs as Prince William pins something to his chest.
King Charles and Prince William at a coronation rehearsal.Chris Jackson/Buckingham Palace via Getty Images/Handout via REUTERS

Hardman tells me the experience allowed him to see a different side of the king.

"In fact, as I hope I make clear in the book, he was almost painfully reluctant to even discuss plans for his reign," he said, adding that Charles wouldn't have wanted to undermine the Queen's authority when she was alive.

King Charles (Dominic West) and Camilla Parker-Bowles (Olivia Williams) in "The Crown" season six.
King Charles (Dominic West) and Camilla Parker-Bowles (Olivia Williams) in "The Crown" season six.Netflix

Hardman is among a handful of people to publicly dismiss the characterization of Charles and Camilla in "The Crown." In 2020, two royal staff members told Business Insider they considered the show's portrayal of the couple unfair.

Netflix did not respond to a request for comment.

Looking back at Charles' life, Hardman said he's noticed the king has appeared much "happier" as he gets older (the king turned 75 in November). He said he noticed a similar pattern for the late Queen, who he described as more "smiley" and overall more content after her Golden Jubilee in 2002.

For his book, Charles gave Hardman special permission to access the Royal Archives (a private collection of documents, letters, and diaries relating to the royal family) to assist with his research.

Robert Hardman Queen Camilla
Robert Hardman is pictured speaking with Queen Camilla at a party held at St James's Palace in London in 2016.Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Hardman also spoke to an anonymous palace aide who alleged Queen Elizabeth was "as angry as I'd ever seen her" in 2021 after Prince Harry and Meghan announced that she had given her blessing to name their daughter, Princess Lilibet, after her.

"The couple then fired off warnings of legal action against anyone who dared to suggest otherwise, as the BBC had done," Hardman wrote in the book.

"However, when the Sussexes tried to co-opt the Palace into propping up their version of events, they were rebuffed. Once again, it was a case of 'recollections may vary' as far as the Queen was concerned. Those noisy threats of legal action evaporated and the libel action against the BBC never materialized," he added.

prince william, prince harry, meghan markle, king charles
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince William, and King Charles photographed at Westminster Abbey in 2018.RICHARD POHLE/Getty Images

Hardman received criticism from royal author Omid Scobie, best known for co-authoring "Finding Freedom," a biography on the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, in 2021.

Writing on X, Scobie said Hardman's story contradicts details shared in Gyles Brandreth's biography of Queen Elizabeth, titled "Elizabeth: An Intimate Portrait." Brandreth, a friend of the royals, writes that she reacted positively to Lilibet's name, according to screenshots of media coverage shared by Scobie.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Buckingham Palace, and Pegasus Books did not respond to a request for comment on the matter. Hardman declined to comment on Scobie's post.

Hardman's success will be remembered

Hardman's access to the royals is something that most journalists can only dream about. When I ask what his secret is, he insists that he's been turned away by the palace for documentaries and press opportunities in the past.

"I don't pretend to have any kind of special access, but I think it's important to be fair. I think if people know that you are fair, then they won't feel they've been turned over," he says.

For now, Hardman says he's perfectly content with not knowing what comes next for him.

"It's the joy of journalism — you don't really know what's happening. I don't know what I'm doing this week or next," Hardman says.

"I did promise my wife that there would be no more books after the last one, and then this one came along. So I may have to press the pause button for a little bit," he adds. "But yeah, you can't stop in this game."

Read the original article on Business Insider