Sir John Major on King Charles III: ‘The King was so far ahead of received wisdom that he had to wait for it to catch up’

Ahead of the curve, diligent and gifted with an empathy that allows him to connect with all people, Charles III will be a great and much-cherished monarch, says the former prime minister John Major.

[This article appears in the special coronation commemorative Country Life issue of 26 April, 2023 — see what else is inside, and find out how to order a copy.]

No monarch of our nation has been better prepared than Charles III. He has moved into the role with a sure touch and a deep understanding of all that will be required of him.

I do not claim to be an intimate of The King — and nor should any politician — but I know enough to be confident that, as the years unfold, he will become a very successful monarch and a much-loved one, too.

The nexus between the monarch and the Government is a sensitive one. It can easily be misunderstood and more easily misinterpreted. The monarch has every right to be fully informed about the actions and intentions of the Government, not least because each and every one of them will have an impact on the lives of those he or she serves.

Some critics have complained that — when still Prince of Wales — The King ‘lobbied’ ministers too forcefully; but, in my experience, such a criticism is woefully misguided. During the years I was Prime Minister, we met to discuss a wide range of issues and I found the meetings to be hugely beneficial. Yes, I was questioned about policy. And, yes, opinions were expressed. Yet I was never put under any pressure to follow any particular course.

The Prince invariably put his concerns to me fully and fairly — as I believe it was his duty to do — but I have never known him, or any other senior member of the Royal Family, step over the accepted line between Crown and Government. The question, as I saw it, was straightforward. Would I prefer an heir to the throne who highlighted a legitimate concern about what is happening in our country or one who showed no interest in how our people live and the problems they face? The answer to me was clear.

“Charles III is a man who believes in evolution, not revolution, cares about the common good and will seek to heal, not divide. During troubled and uncertain times, we are fortunate to have such a monarch.”

As monarch, there is no doubt The King will be circumspect, but I hope not too much so. I know of no prime minister who did not find the late Queen’s private counsel of immense value and that will hold true for Charles III as well. The King has a personal gift of empathy and an understanding of hardship. Both are sharpened by an acute sensitivity to others. It is that sensitivity that underpins his ability to sympathise with the ambitions, the hopes and the fears of people from all backgrounds. To be able to do so is a great strength for anyone in public life — and most especially in a monarch.

He has a talent for putting people at ease and, as did the late Queen, knows far more about how his people live than anyone — other than those close to him — might realise. From early childhood, The King was immersed in a world that put duty to others before self. He saw his mother’s own dedication until the very end of her life. He will be no less diligent.

A modern man, he has often been well ahead of public opinion: on the encouragement of the young; on compassionate capitalism; on religious tolerance; on the built and natural environment; on agriculture; on climate change; and on so much more besides. Often, The King was so far ahead of received wisdom that he had to wait for it to catch up, which generally — albeit slowly — it did. Ideas he advocated that once were mocked have become orthodoxy.

The point is this: he leads opinion and does not follow it — nor is he influenced by fashionable chatter, for he has too much of his parents’ good common sense to do that.

I hope that The King will continue to talk — publicly as appropriate and privately when necessary — of the importance of community; of the natural world; of Nature; of compassion and caring; of his Armed Forces; and of his work for so many good causes. He should not be silent on issues that have been lifetime passions and upon which he is an authority.

Away from his duties, The King will still, I hope, find time for his private pursuits. His love of painting is known, but he also enjoys the theatre, notably Shakespeare. He loves listening to music — from classical to modern — and has an infectious sense of the absurd: it is no surprise that Monty Python films and Blackadder are among his comedies of choice.

Yet, perhaps, The King’s greatest passion remains that of creating gardens. His weekends at Highgrove and Birkhall were spent designing, landscaping, digging, planting and weeding — he does much of the physical work himself. No doubt, the gardens at Windsor, Balmoral and Sandringham will now receive equal attention. He will not waste his days of leisure. The King is a man with hobbies and interests aplenty, which is why he so easily finds a connection with all those he meets.

In a country and nation changing faster than is comfortable, The King knows our monarchy must continue to evolve. For centuries, there was a mystique around the Royal Family; but, over recent decades, public interest and modern media has pulled the curtain aside. Today, nearly every aspect of their lives is public property and nowhere is this searchlight more probing than upon The King and his immediate family. On any human level, this is intrusive and, at times, must be deeply upsetting, but The King carries the burden with dignity and fortitude.

Charles III is a man who believes in evolution, not revolution, cares about the common good and will seek to heal, not divide. During troubled and uncertain times, we are fortunate to have such a monarch.

On May 6, with The Queen beside him, we will move seamlessly from the Elizabethan to the Carolean age. As tradition dictates, bells will ring out and people will proclaim ‘God Save The King’.

From what we have seen thus far, I believe that proclamation will not merely be out of respect, but will — already — be out of genuine affection for His Majesty, King Charles III. Long may he reign.

Inside Windsor Castle, by kind permission of the Sovereign

As the new reign begins, John Martin Robinson takes an exclusive look at Windsor Castle, Berkshire — an official residence of