We will have to get used to this. King Charles III has popped into our living rooms to say hello for the first time as King.
It was a little startling to see a picture of the Queen on his desk, just as she often had a picture of King George or Prince Philip on hers when she went on television. It was a smart touch, sharing the moment with her.
He had already done the right thing by greeting mourners at Buckingham Palace, shaking hands rather than sweeping past them in the Rolls-Royce. In his broadcast he sought to soothe the upset felt by the nation, and, after a fashion, to indicate that he is only too well aware that his mother is a hard act to follow.
He spoke plainly, directly, and with some considerable warmth, about his “darling mama”, himself and the people. His bereavement is far deeper than ours, after all, and more consequential. He’s lost another parent; but he has also lost a somewhat enjoyable way of life with Camilla by his side – a rather jolly elderly couple perfectly at ease with themselves. At 73 and pootling along nicely, he’d be forgiven for not wanting to rush to the throne, if he ever really did.
Now he is King, with all the responsibility, work, scrutiny, restraint and media intrusion it entails. He must know the early months of his reign will be watched intently, and that he’ll constantly be compared to Elizabeth II. Inevitably, some will be waiting for him to stumble, though it has to be said he’s well used to a bad press.
He did his best to reassure us that he would try to live up to the high standards set by his mother. He said he would “uphold constitutional principles” and parliamentary democracy. It shouldn’t really be necessary for a constitutional monarch to say that, but it meant two things. First, that he would indeed refrain from controversy and keep his views about policy matters and culture wars to himself, publicly and, as far as possible, privately.
Second, you could also read into his words a commitment to resist any attempts by an over-mighty prime minister to – just to take a topical example – prorogue parliament unlawfully with the obvious intention of stymying the elected House of Commons from doing its job. He might also query – no more – why he’s being asked to sign legislation to measures that would breach international law. Given that Boris Johnson is gone, that most of Brexit is behind us and that Liz Truss is unlikely to go rogue, those dangers are passed. He will, as convention allows, warn and advise his ministers.
It was an address generous in spirit and with honours. William is made Prince of Wales, and Catherine becomes Princess of Wales, and he was pointedly kind about her. He also namechecked Prince Harry and Meghan in positive terms. He wishes them well, at least, and perhaps there is a gesture of potential reconciliation. Bereavement can force reflection, and make one wonder whether feuds are really worth it. At any rate, this was not a moment to prompt tabloid headlines about some “snub” to the Sussexes.
He hardly needed to, but, in the phrase used by another king, he is better able to undertake his duties with the woman he loves by his side. Somehow, in the quarter century since the death of Diana, Charles has managed to turn what was a story of betrayal of his first wife and a scandalous affair into an enchanting love story of a couple destined to be together at last. Now she is not only the love of his life but a sort of business partner, Queen Consort, “in recognition of her own loyal public service”.
“May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest” (from Hamlet) was a perfectly chosen closing line. He has a reputation for being wilful and stubborn, but his public humility seems to suit this diffident King very well. It’s an encouraging start.