Nov 02, 2023

The making of a King: The pictures that capture Charles’s greatest passions

On 9 September 2022, in an address to the nation broadcast from Buckingham Palace, King Charles III pledged to serve the country ‘with loyalty, respect and love’. It was a speech that reflected his transition from heir to the throne to King, a role he had been preparing for, for some 73 years.

In the decades that preceded, every aspect of his life had been devoted to gathering the hands-on experience, from his training with the Royal Air Force, which started in 1971 while he was at Cambridge University, to his royal tours, which were crucial in cementing the bond between monarchy and Commonwealth. Indeed, over the last four decades, he has visited 48 of the 56 Commonwealth countries.

Here, we bring you 60 photographs that reflect on a remarkable life in waiting, together with his greatest passions and unique interests; from his ceremonial roles and family bonds, to his beloved homes and gardens, his adored animals and his distinctive trademark style – here is his extraordinary royal life in pictures.

It's in keeping with his steadfast character that the King has a self-effacing approach to all things style-related. ‘It's like a stopped clock. I’m right twice about every 24 hours,’ he told a fashion magazine in 2020. As he himself has wryly noted, he's featured on both best and worst-dressed lists, so gives little credence to the winds of wardrobe changes and instead resolved long ago to dress for himself and to promote British sartorial excellence. He does both with aplomb.

Quietly and assuredly, the then Prince Charles has cut his own style cloth since he was a teenager. Let's start with the most familiar item, the suit. Most of them, throughout the years, have been crafted by Kent, Haste & Lachter, Gieves & Hawkes, Hackett and most notably Anderson & Sheppard, and even though it's a tough item of clothing to stamp one's personality on – the point being uniformity – the King does so ever so subtly. His appreciation of pattern for example, whether windowpane or Prince of Wales checks, and his fondness for pastel tones to soften the patrician uprightness of blue and grey.

In his downtime, or on foreign tours, the King is just as judicious in his approach to dressing. Jaunty neckscarves on the slopes of Klosters, rustic knitwear and authentic tartans amongst the heather and a trusty Barbour in Norfolk that has been assiduously repaired over the years.

Because, long before it became de rigueur, the King's approach to dressing was always sustainable and respectful of the heritage of British textiles. Coats – including one of herringbone tweed that has been a wardrobe staple since 1986 – have lasted decades, suits are mended and shoes re-soled. Most of the brands speak to his passion for artisanal craft and human skill in the making process, whether it's Emma Willis shirts made in Gloucester or Crockett & Jones shoes made in Northampton. The King, with his very 21st century mindset regarding current matters, is singular in his approach to his sovereignty, and he's just as distinctive in his approach to style.

Words by Stephen Doig, Men's Style Editor

A boy born to be king. A brother set apart not just by birth order but birthright. A son who spent a lifetime waiting to fulfil his destiny and in those intervening years became first a father then a grandfather.

It was Charles's own grandfather George VI who amusingly branded the House of Windsor "The Firm". And above all else it is a family firm, in which succession matters and steadfastness is expected.

And so from the outset Charles bore all the hallmarks of an eldest child; diligent, sensitive, responsible, ever at pains to please his rather formal parents. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip would famously shake hands with their children and were not given to displays of affection. For that, the young Charles gravitated towards the Queen Mother and his great uncle, Lord Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, known as "Uncle Dickie".

Lord Mountbatten became his mentor and confidante, but his shocking assassination in 1979 by the IRA – who blew up his fishing boat off the coast of County Sligo, northwest Ireland, where he had a holiday home – affected Charles deeply. In his diary, the 31-year old Prince of Wales wrote of ‘agony, disbelief, a kind of wretched numbness. Life will never be the same now that he's gone.’

Not the same perhaps, but as the eldest of four, Charles felt his responsibilities keenly. Now 74, as a child he was always close to his extrovert sister, Anne, who was just 21 months younger. Less so to Andrew, 63 and Edward, 59, who was 15 years his junior. Any distance between Charles and Andrew has, of course, been exacerbated by the latter's withdrawal from public duties.

More happily, Charles's role as heir apparent saw his relationship with both his parents, particularly his late mother, Queen Elizabeth II, deepen and mature into mutual respect over time.

From the outset Charles sought to be a more hands-on, modern father to William and Harry; he would take them litter-picking on holiday in Britain and they were all keen skiers. And despite claims by his younger son in his incendiary memoir Spare that his father was emotionally clenched and didn't offer him the support he craved, Charles welcomed Meghan into the family and even walked her down the aisle at her wedding in St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle.

As is so often the way, Charles the "flawed" father has turned out to be a wholehearted, demonstrative grandfather; not just to his own five grandchildren, but also to the Queen Consort's five, who have been given a role in the coronation ceremony.

An historian might rightly juxtapose two moving images that summon up the 21st century evolution not just of Charles but the royal family itself. The first is the picture of a young Charles solemnly sitting beside his grandfather, King George VI, engaged in earnest conversation.

The other is the relaxed group photograph featuring Charles as a grandfather, Prince George sitting on his lap. Yes, the young Prince is second in line to the throne, but laughing and carefree as a nine-year-old should be; a legacy of King Charles's determination to uphold tradition yet do things differently – beginning at the very heart of the Family Firm.

Words by Judith Woods, Columnist

Unlike almost everybody else shuffling into Westminster Abbey this morning, this is not King Charles III's first coronation. You could forgive him for needing a quick recap on the ins and outs, mind. He was, after all, a slightly bored and mischievous four-year-old when he became the first child to witness his mother become Sovereign on 2 June, 1953.

After the ceremony, the young prince – freshly sporting his first medal, given for the coronation – reportedly careered around the corridors of Buckingham Palace with a surplus of energy. There, the young prince spotted the 1kg Imperial State Crown, adorned as it is with nearly 3,000 precious stones, sitting unattended on a table.

‘Prince Charles got his paws on it, however old he was, when we got back to [the] Palace,’ Lady Anne Glenconner, a maid of honour that day, recalled. ‘We thought he was going to drop it. We thought, "Oh my goodness, that would be a bad omen". But luckily, I think my mother, as a lady-in-waiting, seized it from him and took it away.’

Seven decades and scores of other medals later, as he prepares for his own day wearing the Imperial State Crown (somebody might want to keep an eye on Prince Louis around it…), it is safe to say that King Charles now knows precisely how to behave at a formal occasion. In fact, he could probably claim some kind of record.

In common with his late mother, the King's has been a life of service, but it has also been one of near-constant pomp, ceremony, and extravagant outfits. From investitures to State Openings of Parliament, Services of Remembrance to Garter Days, he's attended them all – often dozens of times. It's all part of the job, of course, just as others might include regular training days or breakfast meetings. But today's the big one. And nobody's better prepared than the man at the heart of it all.

Words by Guy Kelly

To his chagrin, the young Prince Charles was frequently described as ‘the world's most eligible bachelor’. Having once declared that 30 was a good age to get married, his occasional dalliances with well-bred women were religiously splashed across the gossip columns, the nation acutely invested in his choice of bride.

The future King is said to have had a short romance with Lucia Santa Cruz, daughter of the former Chilean ambassador to London, while at Cambridge University in 1969. The relationship was not to last, but the pair remained friends, with Santa Cruz credited as having first introduced him to the then Camilla Shand at a polo match in 1971. Charles and Camilla soon began dating, but their romance was paused when the Prince was called away on Naval duties and, later, when Camilla married cavalry officer Andrew Parker Bowles in 1973.

Other girlfriends came and went, among them Davina Sheffield, Lady Jane Wellesley, Sibylla Dorman, Cindy Buxton, Sabrina Guinness, Caroline Longman and Sarah Spencer, elder sister of Diana. Aware of the pressure to find the perfect candidate, Charles once idly proposed to Amanda Knatchbull, his second cousin, but was turned down, not least as she was acutely aware of his obsession with Camilla Parker Bowles.

Charles first met Diana Spencer at her family home, Althorp, in 1977 and is said to have found her "jolly" and "bouncy", but it was not until 1980 that he decided she was the one he would marry. Family, friends and institution were united in enthusiastic approval.

Charles was buoyed by such backing but Diana soon felt lonely and trapped. After five short months of courtship each had to be gently coaxed to the altar, already aware that they had precious little in common and that theirs was not a match that would bring them personal happiness.

Shortly before their lavish 1981 nuptials, Diana found a bracelet Charles had commissioned for Camilla, engraved with the initials GF – standing for Gladys and Fred, their pet names for each other, or Girl Friday. Either way, the bracelet symbolised the continuation of an illicit relationship too deep, too complicated for Charles to break off, despite the best of intentions.

Two sons followed, William in 1982 and Harry in 1984. But through the turbulent marriage, Charles resumed his relationship with Camilla. Charles and Diana separated in 1993; in 1995, she would famously tell Martin Bashir that ‘there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded’.

Charles and Camilla wed in 2005. She has always been the King's sounding board, and is one of few people who can successfully "manage" him. It is to her that aides turn as a last resort if they need him on board with something tricky. ‘Leave it with me,’ she says. A calming influence, few would deny that she has given him the confidence, happiness and support that he had never found elsewhere.

Theirs is a relationship that has overcome huge obstacles, doomed marriages, vicious news coverage, humiliating leaks. Yet their emergence as a couple so clearly in love and at ease with each other only bolsters their work as King and Queen Consort, which they now find themselves tackling together, in their mid-70s.

Together, they share a sense of humour and the sense of ridiculous that royal life often brings, they laugh, they commiserate and they work hard, ultimately relieved to be in it together.

Words by Victoria Ward, Royal Editor

Forty landscapes painted by the King are now on show at Sandringham to mark the Coronation. For him art means doing.

From these watercolours of Scotland, Wales and Norfolk, one has been chosen to decorate chocolate boxes in the Sandringham shop. Others from the same locations appeared on British stamps in 1994, and it is no disparagement of his talent to say that they would not have featured had he not been their painter.

Prince Charles began painting in the 1960s inspired by Robert Waddell, his Gordonstoun art master. Another friend, Derek Hill, 30 years his elder, who worked in a hut on Tory Island, 10 miles off Co Donegal, interested the Prince in landscape, also painting him as a buttoned-up 22-year-old.

In the open air Charles painted the same mountains at Lochnagar as his great-great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria. He likes to paint amid nature: ‘I find it transports me into another dimension.’ His paintbox accompanied him into the Alps above Klosters and the Himalayas of Bhutan.

Lithographs of the King's watercolours sell out for charity, at £5,000 a kick. But Bendor Grosvenor, the art historian, notes an opposite effect of his status: ‘He has a real gift and has been slightly pooh-poohed by the art culturati because he was the Prince of Wales.’

Similar bien-pensant pooh-poohing has been directed at the Duchy of Cornwall's extension to Dorchester called Poundbury. But the King has long championed buildings in the landscape on a human scale. Billa Harrod, the sociable wife of the economist Roy Harrod, took him as a young man on church crawls in her native Norfolk.

He sorrows at ‘monstrous carbuncles’ and losses. ‘What was rebuilt after the war has succeeded in wrecking London's skyline,’ he declared in 1988 in the BBC documentary A Vision of Britain.

Words by Christopher Howse

In the court of King Charles II, you couldn't move for spaniels. Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary that dogs were allowed to roam anywhere in Whitehall Palace during state occasions. ‘All I observed there,’ he wrote on September 4 1667, ‘was the silliness of the King, playing with his dog all the while and not minding the business.’ The incumbent King Charles is, thankfully, a more serious man. He's also a Jack Russell person.

King Charles might not be known for being quite so enamoured with animals as his late mother – then again, it's perhaps hard to compete with a woman who owned more than 30 dogs in her lifetime and at the time of her death had around 100 horses – but by any other measure, the King is a great animal lover.

It's a love that was forged in childhood. His beloved nursery playmate was Sugar, twin of the Queen Mother's corgi, Honey, and as an adult, he has always had dogs.

Horses have, inevitably, been important too, though his passion has always been more for polo than racing. He inherited his mother's racehorses on her death, but has since sold some 14.

An early brush with Sir David Attenborough may have been the moment that imprinted a life-long love of the natural world. The King and Princess Anne met Sir David at Lime Grove Studios in 1958 when they were just 10 and eight years old. Sir David introduced the young prince and princess to a cockatoo he’d brought back from his latest Zoo Quest expedition. Sixty five years and a lifetime of environmental activism later, the coin depicting King Charles's profile features a tiny bird hidden in the engraving. He also has a penchant for red squirrels, calling them ‘inquisitive and delightful characters’ in a letter to volunteers for the Red Squirrel Survival Trust (RSST), of which he is patron.

But dogs have been his most enduring love. If you received a Christmas card from the then Prince of Wales at some point in the nineties, chances are a Jack Russell called Tigga made a star appearance on the cover alongside Princes William and Harry. The King had Tigga from a puppy until his death at 18 in 2002, when a St James's Palace spokesman said the prince was ‘very upset, as Tigga was a companion for a very long time.’

One of Tigga's progeny, Pooh (surely named by the young princes), disappeared mysteriously near Balmoral Castle in 1994 never to be seen again; it was thought he may have got trapped in a rabbit warren. Another dog, a golden retriever called Harvey, reportedly came between the King and his then wife, the late Diana, Princess of Wales. Diana thought Harvey too smelly, so the prince rehomed him with one of his advisers.

These days, Beth and Bluebell are the King and Queen Consort's pride and joy – two rescue Jacks the Queen acquired from Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. And if ever you pay a visit to Highgrove, head for the gardens. Springing from the carpet of crocuses and snowdrops, ears pricked and tail wagging, you’ll find Tigga immortalised in woven willow – a fitting memorial for a much loved sidekick.

Words by Eleanor Steafel

The concept of home has always been important to the King. Reflecting on his school days some 20 years after he left Gordonstoun, he remarked: ‘I didn't enjoy school as much as I might have, but that was only because I'm happier at home than anywhere else.’

He has, of course, been in the fortunate position of having many beautiful places to call home, having grown up between Buckingham Palace, Clarence House and Balmoral.

But it was when he bought and restored Highgrove in Gloucestershire in 1980 that his personal taste for traditional architecture, country-house decoration, and gardening became known. ‘The garden at Highgrove really does spring from my heart and, strange as it may seem to some, creating it has been rather like a form of worship,’ he said in 1993.

The house was later redecorated by the late, great decorator Robert Kime, known for his multilayered schemes, whom Charles also hired to re-do the interiors at Clarence House in 2003. The two shared a love of textiles and antiques, and Kime later commented that the King took great interest in the decorating process: ‘He’d pop in a lot and would find three things wrong, and he’d always be right.’

Beyond London and Gloucestershire, as well as owning Birkhall on the Balmoral estate, in 2007 the King headed a consortium that raised £45 million to buy Dumfries House in East Ayrshire, not as an official home for himself, but partly to keep its unrivalled collection of Chippendale furniture intact.

That same year, he also bought Llwynywermod in Carmarthenshire, Wales, a 192-acre estate including a main house used by the King and Queen and two holiday cottages, sensitively remodelled by architect Craig Hamilton using sustainable, locally sourced materials. The interiors, by decorator Annabel Elliot, are lowkey and similarly locally sourced, with Welsh furniture and fabrics providing colour and warmth.

As King, his focus will now necessarily be on restoring and maintaining the royal residences, rather than expressing his own interior taste; but one suspects he will continue to influence through his passions for architecture, craft and design.

Words by Jessica Doyle, Design & Interiors Editor

From the day he was born, it was the destiny of King Charles III that he would, on his accession, become Commander-in-Chief of Britain's armed forces – a position in which he has vowed to serve with ‘loyalty, respect and love’. And, as with every other aspect of his life, this was a role for which the Heir to the Throne has had hands-on experience and ceremonial preparation since his youth.

The future King's practical training started in 1971 while he was at Cambridge University. Somewhat unusually, this was not with the Royal Navy (like his father, grandfather and great-grandfather), nor with the Army (like his great-great-grandfather), but with the Royal Air Force. For it was with the Cambridge University Air Squadron that he learned to fly, qualifying as a jet pilot in 1971 after further training at RAF Cranwell.

The then Prince of Wales went on to serve at sea with the Royal Navy and in 1974 qualified as a naval helicopter pilot. His employment with the ‘senior service’ ended in 1976 with the command for ten months of a minesweeper, HMS Bronington.

There was, however, to be one final chapter in Prince Charles's practical training with the armed services when, in 1978, he took a parachute training course. Although not remarked upon at the time, this probably had as much to do with avoiding the embarrassment of being a wingless Colonel-in-Chief of the Parachute Regiment, an appointment he took up in 1977, as it did with his safety in the air.

The colonelcy of the Paras was not, however, the Prince of Wales's first army appointment. This had occurred in 1969 with his appointment as Colonel-in-Chief of the newly-formed Royal Regiment of Wales. Unlike his mother, whose first colonelcy had been that of the Grenadier Guards, the choice of a relatively junior infantry regiment was made because it was Welsh, allowing him to wear a Welsh regiment's uniform at his Investiture as Prince of Wales on 1 July of that year – and, anyway, at the time his father was Regimental Colonel of the Welsh Guards.

In the years that followed, the future King's wardrobe continued to expand with the uniforms of many more British and Commonwealth units, culminating in his promotion in 2012 to the five-star rank of Admiral of the Fleet, Field Marshal and Marshal of the Royal Air Force.

However, although his armed services’ roles have been largely ceremonial, those servicemen and women with whom King Charles III has been associated since 1969 all attest to his very real interest and engagement in their professional tasks and personal welfare. He may now as King be at the apex of Britain's military, but no one fears that his commitment to his armed forces will wane.

Words by Christopher Joll, Regimental Historian of the Household Cavalry

King Charles has always had good taste, something his critics have often been keen to forget. He is credited for his tailoring and his love of poetry – for proof of the latter, look up his beautifully judged reading of Wordsworth's Tintern Abbey – but he knows his cars, too.

He started younger than most. As a toddler the future king had a choice of pedal cars. There was an aquamarine Austin J40, then a Triang Centurion sunbeam, not to mention a hand-me-down from his mother in the form of a battery-powered Citroen C4. He even had a miniature Rollalong caravan complete with gas, water and electricity, just in case he and his sister Anne decided to abscond from the royal nursery.

He acquired his first car proper when he went up to Cambridge in 1968: an MGC GT with all mod-cons, which at the time included an aerial, a car phone and heated rear screen, but it wasn't long before it was superseded by his 21st birthday present from his parents. The Aston Martin DB6 Volante Mk 2 in Seychelles Blue, a car fit for a British prince if ever there was one. There have been other Astons since. In 1986 the Emir of Bahrain gave him a V8 Vantage Volante. Later he traded that in for a Virage Volante, around the same time he bought a Bentley Turbo RL.

But the DB6 remains his first and truest vehicular love. He still drives it today, albeit with an engine that has been converted to run partly on ethanol made from wine. The car's most famous outing in recent years was when William drove Kate away in it from their wedding, admitting afterwards that he had driven with the handbrake on.

It has not been classic British engineering all the way. For his first public outing with the Queen Consort, Charles turned up in a Vauxhall Omega, but later converted his fleet to Audis, after a canny offer from Audi's head of marketing. Recently he has moved to a Jaguar i-Pace for day-to-day travel, in keeping with his environmental commitments.

Alternately fast, powerful, sleek, elegant, awkward, and when it comes down to it, surprisingly German: the King's garage tells the story of a monarch who has had to adjust to a changing world, and done so – mostly – in style.

Words by Ed Cumming

There is a bewildering array of skills that a member of the Royal family must master, but surely the most difficult of all is interacting with the public.

Unpredictable, relentless and potentially dangerous, encounters with ordinary people at home and abroad help to shape our impressions of the Windsors, for better or worse.

The late Prince Philip committed most of his famous gaffes during his attempts at small talk with the public, but his eldest son, the King, has an unerring ability to make a connection with people he meets, no matter how short the scraps of conversation might be. It is a hugely underestimated task.

As a small boy, Charles would sometimes accompany his parents as they walked through crowds of people, camera shutters clicking, so he has never been afraid of the throng. Even when wellwishers go way beyond the usual handshake, he has always taken it in unflinching good humour: the grab-and-smooch move from 16-year-old Gilda Larbey during a walkabout in Perth, Australia in 1977; the stolen kiss in the surf from another Australian, model Jane Priest, in 1979, and countless pecks on the cheek before and since.

Even hecklers are met with good grace. In Birmingham during the 2022 Commonwealth Games a man in the crowd shouted: ‘Aren't you coming down the pub Charlie?’ He turned and shouted back: ‘I am if it's your round!’

The King's interests are so diverse, and his suitcase so well-travelled, that he can usually find something in common with those he meets at receptions, chatting for 30 seconds or so before moving on to the next guest with a backward glance, a chuckle and a trademark point of his sausagey index finger. None of them leave feeling short-changed.

Having been pigeonholed by the public as eligible bachelor, as second fiddle to a beautiful first wife, and as adulterous cad, the King has had his ups and downs in his relationship with the people, but over the past two decades he has won back their respect by getting on with the job in hand and with a pitch-perfect response to his mother's death.

The constraints of monarchical duties have reduced his interactions with the public, but as his recent State visit to Germany showed, his standing abroad remains undiminished, and on the home front his pride and faith in the British public has never been in doubt.

Words by Gordon Rayner, Associate Editor

The King has spent much of his life circumnavigating the globe acting as an ambassador for Great Britain, shaking hands with countless presidents, prime ministers, and state leaders along the way.

Over the last four decades, he has visited 48 of the 56 Commonwealth countries, returning with the Queen Consort on several occasions.

His overseas voyages began in 1954, when the then six-year-old Prince Charles travelled to Malta aboard HMY Britannia on her maiden voyage alongside his sister, Princess Anne. In the years that followed, the future King would embark on visits to far-flung spots across the globe, becoming an integral diplomat for Britain in exercising the Royal family's famous soft power.

From befriending Nelson Mandela during a tour of South Africa with Prince Harry in 1997 to rubbing noses with locals in Fiji for centenary celebrations in 1974, the King has helped cement Britain's reputation on the world stage.

He has often spoken of the importance of the Royal family's commitment to the Commonwealth ‘family’, most recently during his first Commonwealth Day Service as monarch.

Royal tours have been crucial in cementing the bond between monarchy and Commonwealth in the past. The King's famous month-long 1983 Australia tour, during which he was accompanied by the late Diana, Princess of Wales, saw the pair's popularity eclipse a wave of Republicanism sweeping the nation.

Elsewhere, he has taken part in international economic forums, fundraisers, charity events, independence ceremonies, state funerals and more, while steadfastly continuing to champion his many personal causes – from environmental interests to the arts – globally.

Royal tours are meticulously planned, often taking months to put together, and days are packed with engagements. While shadowing the then Prince of Wales on tour in Morocco in 2011, former Telegraph royal correspondent Gordon Rayner found that while on tour Charles eschews lunch, a ‘luxury that gets in the way of his work’.

Since his accession, the King has continued to represent the monarchy abroad. Although his first state visit as monarch was cut in half at the eleventh hour by the French president, the King was widely hailed as a success in Germany where he received a standing ovation after an address at the Bundestag in March.

His three-day tour of Berlin and Hamburg with the Queen Consort renewed and cemented the "special bond" Britain shares with Germany, as his many other Royal tours have done in the past.

Now at 74, the new King faces a more gruelling foreign and domestic schedule than ever before.

But like his late mother, who said ‘I have to be seen to be believed’, the King has long recognised the significance of royal tours. So his reign will doubtless comprise many more air miles – and many skipped lunches.

Words by India McTaggart, Royal Correspondent