‘Like a pilgrimage’: Crowds hail King Charles III after emotional tribute to queen

·4-min read
© Adrian Dennis, AFP

Crowds gathered around St James’s Palace in London as Charles III was proclaimed king on September 10, two days after the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. The mood was one of lingering grief – but also great affection for the new monarch.

The day after people flocked from all corners of the UK to mourn Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace, they made their way to St James’s Palace to witness her son be proclaimed King Charles III on September 10.

There was still a raw sense of shock that the queen was gone. Like the day before, many in the crowd commented how surreal it feels to say or sing, “God Save the King”, Britain's national anthem. But when Charles III waved to the public on his short journey from the proclamation to his new London residence, the crowd shouted that refrain with joy.

Although it was still “extremely sad” that the queen’s 70-year reign is over, there was something “very positive” in seeing the crowd’s enthusiasm for the new king, said Éric, a young Frenchman studying in London.

‘I think he’ll make a great king’

Indeed, people expressed a great sense of honour at witnessing his proclamation from the St James courtyard. “It was just brilliant,” said Vicky, a primary school teacher. “It’s the first time I’ve seen him. I was very happy, because I like him very much.”

“I was lucky enough to be invited into the court, to see for myself this change of the times,” said Londoner Stephen Burgess. “You were processing all of these customs and traditions and it was happening in real time; not on the television, not on the internet.”

Witnessing the proclamation “felt like a pilgrimage”, Burgess continued, such was the atmosphere of reverence, and such was the significance of this moment in British history.

Charles’s popularity had its ups and downs during his decades as Prince of Wales – notably during his bitter breakup with the beloved Princess Diana. However, there was a palpable sense today that the new monarch felt the pain of a shell-shocked nation in his televised address on Friday evening – speaking not only as king but also as someone whose dear mother had just died.

“I really think he’ll make a great king,” said business executive Tracy. “He embodies continuity with his mother – and he is sincere.”

“It’s difficult for him; his mother passed away just two days ago, and before being the queen she was his mother,” said Raffaella, an Italian living in London who had come to Buckingham Palace with a bouquet of flowers containing a drawing of Paddington Bear, referring to an iconic moment from the queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

“He must have all of these overwhelming feelings and I think he’s dealing with it great. I loved his speech yesterday. I found it really touching. I mean, I’m not English, I’m Italian; I’ve just lived here for a few years. But I started to cry," she said.

“I loved that part when he said, 'Now my mama is back with my papa',” Raffaella continued. “You could just see, even if he is 73 years old, how important his parents are to him, like they are to us all. You could see how even though he is king, he is very human. And that made me feel very close to him.”

Camilla is ‘great fun’

As well as sharing the nation’s grief for his mother, the king paid tribute to the new queen consort in that very tender speech. “I count on the loving help of my darling wife,” he said.

Camilla has gone from being Charles’s unpopular mistress in the 1990s, vilified by the tabloid press, to one of the most popular figures in Britain. In the years since she entered public life upon their marriage in 2005, it was striking to hear various people say enthusiastically, “Have you met Camilla?” before waxing lyrical about her charm and warmth.

One Londoner, who gave his name as David, asked precisely that question as he contemplated the mass of people lingering on the Mall after Charles was proclaimed king. He met Camilla when she turned on the Christmas lights at central London’s Burlington Arcade in 2005. “She was great,” he said. “Everyone got the sense that she is great fun.”

“I really like Camilla and I really like her and Charles as a team,” agreed Brigitte, who was having lunch with a friend after witnessing the pageantry at St James’s. “I remember seeing a photo of them together and they were laughing – really laughing, with their whole bodies. And you could just see that they have really got something together.”

A common thread among people expressing admiration for the new king is that the more they have seen of him – and also of Camilla – the more they like the pair.

The king’s speech on Friday showed a much more emotional side than anything people saw when he was prince of Wales. During those seven decades in his mother’s shadow, Brits “didn’t really know” Charles, is how French journalist Tristan de Bourbon-Parme put it. But people have now seen how he “speaks with great warmth”, with a “very human” quality.

“He couldn’t have started his reign any better.”