A brilliant conversationalist, a cracking host and, surprisingly, an excellent actor, Charles III genuinely cares for people and strives to make a difference to their lives. Anna Tyzack speaks to some of those who have crossed his path.
It was a still life — glistening mackerel, fishing net, a knife and a board — and I’d been told to keep working on it as the then Prince of Wales made his way around our school’s art department. My brush became unsteady, however, and my cheeks burned as the royal party arrived in front of my easel. But, miraculously, conversation flowed: His Majesty spoke to me as a fellow watercolourist rather than a future king, observing that he used the same make of paints as me, instantly putting a shy 17 year old at ease.
This seems to be his way: ‘I don’t know what I was talking about, but meeting King Charles is one of my core memories,’ agrees Nicole Christie, a graduate of the Modern Artisan programme at Dumfries House in Scotland, part of The Prince’s Foundation. ‘I’ve met him three times now and he always remembers what we spoke of before.’
‘I’m glad to know that our fragile planet has such a friend’
As someone who has spent his adult life conversing with strangers, it’s hardly surprising The King is a good conversationalist; but it is his ability to listen that leaves those he meets feeling interesting and valued. ‘It doesn’t matter what walk of life you’re from, what age you are, he finds a common ground and makes you feel that you deserve to be there,’ observes the Welsh actor and singer Luke Evans, a Prince’s Trust ambassador who has met The King on a number of occasions and narrated ITV’s 2019 programme Charles: 50 Years A Prince.
Although mild mannered and gentle, His Majesty has a sense of fun; Sir Rod Stewart, a former ambassador for The Prince’s Trust who performed at The King’s 60th birthday, as well as the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations earlier this year, insists he’s the most likely of all the royals to get up and dance.
‘His great ambition is to find a red squirrel sitting on the breakfast table — or even on his shoulder’
Actress and comedian Miriam Margolyes also reveals in her memoir This Much is True that he and The Queen Consort are ‘cracking good hosts’. During a three-night house party at Sandringham in Norfolk, The King entertained Miss Margolyes — together with David Hockney and Stephen Fry — by performing a monologue written by Barry Humphries. ‘The Prince is a fine actor, he had a superb Aussie accent and he made us all laugh,’ she wrote.
Yet nothing is merely for show with The King; his interactions — be it a speech about the importance of letter writing to postal workers or a conversation with costume and prop-makers from the Royal Shakespeare Company — are imbued with a kindness and depth that make them meaningful.
Actor Richard E. Grant, who became friendly with The King after becoming an ambassador for The Prince’s Trust, was touched by His Majesty’s compassion when his late wife, Joan Washington, an accent coach, was diagnosed with lung cancer. The King sent her a two-page handwritten letter, full of sympathy, love and encouragement, before visiting with mangos and roses from Highgrove. ‘I think he’s a unique combination of enormous compassion, without ego — it’s a very rare combination,’ Sir Ben Kingsley, the Oscar-winning actor, remarked in a speech to mark the 40th anniversary of The Prince’s Trust in 2016.
Through The Prince’s Trust, the seeds of which were sown in 1976 with The King’s severance pay from the Royal Navy, His Majesty has made a difference to the lives of countless young people who are unemployed or struggling with their studies. Miss Christie was a fashion graduate failing to find work when she was accepted on to the high-level Modern Artisan course; less than two years later, she presented her first collection to The King and Queen Consort and The Princess of Wales, and gifted Princess Charlotte a silk hair accessory. Her pieces are now sold on fashion website Net-a-Porter. ‘It’s not throwing money at a problem, it’s throwing intelligence and care and affection, and I think at the centre of it is [His Majesty’s] profound affection for what he does and the people for whom he does it,’ Sir Ben continues.
‘There’s always that little sense of fun, the twinkle in the eye’
The environment has been The King’s other grand passion; he was campaigning against climate change, deforestation and the destruction of habitats long before they were hot topics. Those who worked with him at the organisations and charities he patronised as Prince of Wales speak of his commitment, thirst for knowledge and perseverance. ‘We know there is a King on the throne who has led this conversation, who has a deep understanding of all the issues involved and I think that is a matter of great good fortune for our country and for the Commonwealth,’ maintains journalist Sir Trevor McDonald.
Yet, away from his public duties, the new King also understands the importance of family and has enjoyed creating homes in London, Wales, Scotland, Gloucestershire and Transylvania, where he can focus on his interests, which include painting, reading and horticulture.
‘A wonderful champion of the countryside’
The landscape designer and historian Sir Roy Strong, who first met The King at a garden party thrown by historian Elizabeth Longford in the 1980s and was subsequently drafted to redesign the Highgrove gardens, describes His Majesty as very pleasant to work for; a happy man who loves his wife and his garden.
In this commitment to both family and monarchical duty, The King is his mother’s son. ‘Do not imagine for an instant that in the long years past he has not watched, absorbed and thought about what it means to be King,’ former Prime Minister Gordon Brown noted after Elizabeth II’s death. ‘He is well prepared and, I have no doubt, resilient for the task ahead.’
King Charles III by those who’ve known and worked with him
’His care for the world, wildlife and people are qualities that will make him a great King — a King for our time.’
Helen Browning, chief executive of the Soil Association
‘I feel privileged to know King Charles as a fellow organic farmer with a lifelong dedication to healthy, sustainable food and as a champion for Nature, the countryside and its people. His Prince of Wales’s Charitable Fund has supported more than 120 farmer-led research trials with our Innovative Farmers network — but his support goes far beyond financial generosity. He follows the work of pioneering farmers with avid fascination and takes inspiration from them. I have no doubt that this care for the world, wildlife and people are qualities that will make him a great King — a King for our time.’
‘His great ambition is to find a red squirrel sitting on the breakfast table’
Vanessa Fawcett, campaign director of The Red Squirrel Survival Trust
‘I’ve discussed red squirrels with The King more than once; he’s passionate about them and told me he lets them roam inside at Birkhall, in Scotland, where he leaves nuts in his pockets for them to find. His great ambition, he said, is not only to have one in the house, but sitting on the breakfast table or even his shoulder. In a letter to mark Red Squirrel Appreciation Day, he described how, without our efforts, future generations would be denied the pleasure of these inquisitive and delightful creatures.’
‘I’m glad to know that our fragile planet has such a friend’
Tim Scott Bolton, Royal Tour artist and author of A Brush with Rivers
‘I met King Charles in 2017 through my conservation work for farms and wildflower meadows in Transylvania with the charity Fundatia ADEPT; he saw my watercolours of villages such as Viscri, where he has a house, and invited me to join as Royal Tour artist on his visit to Romania, Italy and Austria. We stayed in various locations and visited half a dozen sites each day. It was impressed on me that I was to paint exactly what moved me, rather than what I might consider expected — I soon learnt to focus on one or two places, rather than trying to keep up with their Royal Highnesses. On a later royal tour of Jordan and Egypt in 2021, I spent two days painting at the Roman site of Umm Qais in the north of Jordan with its mesmerising views of the Golan Heights and the Sea of Galilee and the royal party joined me for a few hours. When The King gave a powerful speech on climate change at the Pyramids a few days later, I thought back to those views, glad to know that our fragile planet has such a friend.’
‘He believes that we are not separate from Nature, we are Nature, and that we cannot separate who we are from what we do’
Patrick Holden, organic dairy farmer and co-founder of the Sustainable Food Trust
‘I’ve known His Majesty for nearly 40 years and, in 2019, presented him with a Special Award in recognition of his commitment to supporting food and farming communities in Britain. He continues to astound me with his simple, yet profound observations born out of experience and intuition. He believes that we are not separate from Nature, we are Nature, and that we cannot separate who we are from what we do, which is all too apparent as we witness the impact of our industrialised food systems on the environment and on ourselves.’
‘I’ve been struck by his unswerving commitment to rare breeds’ survival, as well as his forensic knowledge’
Christopher Price, chief executive officer of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust
‘King Charles has long championed the UK’s rare native breeds of livestock and equines, with great skill and acumen, as patron of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. Whenever I’ve had the honour to discuss our work with His Majesty, I’ve been struck by his unswerving commitment to these breeds’ survival, as well as forensic knowledge about each breed and great foresight about their developing role in UK farming and land management. King Charles’s contribution to rare breeds’ survival is not in the abstract; His Majesty continues to make great and invaluable practical contributions to the cause through the highly successful breeding programmes for a wide range of rare breeds at Home Farm and the education centre at Dumfries House, as well as at Highgrove.’
‘He has an overwhelming sense of energy, a relentless feeling of wanting to get things done… but there’s always that little sense of fun, the twinkle in the eye’
Ben Pentreath, architect for The Duchy of Cornwall
‘It’s a strange thing to reflect that I’ve known The King for more than half my life. We first met in 1995, when I was a student at his architectural school, The Prince of Wales’s Institute of Architecture, then I began to design buildings on some of his projects. His vision of creating a built environment that is full of Nature, humanity, human scale, detail, traditional material, longevity, sustainability and a sense of beauty has moved from fringe to mainstream. He should be proud that a movement born in his experimental project of Poundbury in Dorset is now widely adopted across the country.
‘Many assume The King’s taste is only for the Classical; I’ve sensed something more subtle, intuitive, organic and whimsical. He has an overwhelming sense of energy, a relentless feeling of wanting to get things done, to exercise change for the better — an urgency that is always just one step away from frustration at the inertia of the world as he finds it. He hones into tiny details that others have overlooked. Every visit ends with the boss departing — doubtless to head off to another event or meeting — leaving the rest of us breathing a gentle sigh of exhaustion.
‘However, despite all the seriousness of the mission, there’s always that little sense of fun, the twinkle in the eye, the enjoyment of the whole absurdity of the world, that must be the necessary and natural self-defence mechanism of his entire family… that, and some of the kindest and most thoughtful letters I’ve ever received, at occasional, but crucial moments in my life.’
‘A wonderful champion of the countryside and the rural economy’
Sir William Worsley, chair of the Forestry Commission
‘His Majesty The King has been a wonderful champion of the countryside and the rural economy. I love his engagement with forestry — a passion we both share — and remember when he came to stay some years ago to see a horse extracting timber in our woods. He recently came and planted a tree at Forestry England’s National Arboretum at Westonbirt in Gloucestershire and I was pleased to plant the tree next to him. His interest and deep knowledge is something we all benefit from.’
‘The Prince’s Foundation’s Modern Artisan programme gave me values and drive’
Nicole Christie, fashion entrepreneur and Modern Artisan graduate
‘Completing the Prince’s Foundation’s Modern Artisan programme at Dumfries House changed my outlook on the fashion industry. It gave me values and drive. I’ve been told it’s unusual for a young person to want to learn how to smock, but I can do it in my sleep now and I’m determined to show the next generation the importance of sustainability and traditional skills. When I launched my sustainable luxury womenswear brand, Ellipsis, King Charles wrote me a letter to say he approved of the name. I always thought I’d have to go down south to get a job, but I’m now hoping to be in a position where I can employ workers in Scotland.’
‘Love of the countryside’
Mark Tufnell, president of the Country Land and Business Association
‘At Highgrove a few years ago, the now King hosted an event to look at ways to house retiring farmers. He spoke of his love of the countryside, the need to look after older members of farming communities and the opportunities for new entrants into the farming sector. I spoke to him afterwards and congratulated him for the work he was doing for those of us involved in the rural economy. He noted he had been raising the issue of the lack of housing for retiring farmers for many, many years and was pleased that changes were beginning to happen’
‘A passion for painting’
Dame Judi Dench, actress, who launched the Plant Britain campaign with King Charles in 2020
‘What struck me when we met was his passion for painting (he really is quite a remarkable painter), his love of walking, for trees, the countryside and Cornwall — everything I also feel so deeply about’
‘I love the fact he’s so enthusiastic’
Sir Roy Strong, author of Coronation: A History of Kingship and the British Monarchy
‘I love the fact he’s so enthusiastic about gardens. When I first met him, I’d recently created a garden from a field, which is what he was about to embark on at Highgrove. He wanted a romantic Cotswolds garden and that’s what I gave him, with windows through the hedges looking out to where Miriam Rothschild had planted wildflowers. I cut the hedges myself with my shears — and also created some new gateways, to save the gardeners dropping down with exhaustion as they made their way around the garden’
‘He understands how a place can be transformed without being spoiled’
Ptolemy Dean, architect, television presenter and the 19th Surveyor of the Fabric of Westminster Abbey
‘When my work at Westminster Abbey brought me into contact with King Charles, it was refreshing to meet someone who immediately understood the excitement and value of a building project and how a place can be transformed without necessarily being spoiled.
‘At Westminster Abbey, he has been steadfast and sure in his support, including for the new triforium access tower and galleries project and, more recently, the proposed reinstatement of a new structure on the site of the former Great Sacristy building. This was a part of the Abbey that was built by Henry III and was mistakenly demolished during the 18th century without anyone realising its significance. Unfortunately, this project was stalled by Covid-19, but we very much hope that it might still happen.’
Picture credits: Samir Hussein/WireImage; Millie Pilkington/Mark Williamson/Country Life Picture Library; Alamy; Getty
King Charles III spoke to the nation for the first time, paying tribute to his late mother The Queen, and
The Queen was famous for the twinkle in her eye and wicked sense of humour, as countless people have recalled