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The rule of King Charles

The rule of King Charles

It is thought that Britain’s new monarch will favour a slimmed down royal family. What will this look like?

The balcony at Buckingham Palace has long been a staging post of history.

Built at the request of Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria, it’s where a 9-year-old Princess Elizabeth appeared with her family to mark the Silver Jubilee of her grandfather George VI all the way back in 1935.

A place where, a few years later, she stood alongside Winston Churchill to celebrate the end of World War II.

“On many a brilliant occasion in the past, the people of these great hearted unconquerable islands have swarmed outside the palace, but never was there a deeper, more heartful, expression of joy than this.”

Footage from VE Day, 1945

And it’s where, in 1953, the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II greeted the nation in her royal regalia, spitfires flying overhead.

[The new Queen emerges on her balcony to shouts of “we want the Queen”]

The balcony has been a centrepiece for new royal babies and marriages, coronations and commemorations; 

And who appears on the balcony has been a subject of fascination and speculation, an insight into how the royal family wants to project itself.

For the late Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002, you can see 20 members of the royal family, many more than most people could have named.

But by the Diamond Jubilee in 2012, just six royals appeared, something that Prince Andrew, who didn’t make the cut, was reportedly pretty unhappy about.

With a few exceptions, that pared down approach is what we’ve seen since. 

When the Queen stepped out onto the balcony for the final time for her Platinum Jubilee in June, she, again, only had her inner circle around her.

It’s a glimpse into the future we are likely to see under King Charles.

***

The royal family lists the line of succession on its website.

23 names stretch down the page from Prince William, the first in line, all the way to Master Lucas Tindall, the Queen’s youngest great grandson.

But it’s thought that King Charles will only want a few people representing the sovereign. The inner core will be the King, alongside Queen Consort Camilla, and the Prince and Princess of Wales, William and Kate. 

And then Prince Edward, Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, and Anne, the Princess Royal, who all rushed to Balmoral in the Queen’s final hours.

That group of seven appeared with the Queen at the steps of Windsor Castle in December 2020 to celebrate key workers during the pandemic.

[Clip of the Queen and other royals thanking key workers]

The makeup of the list is not, of course, entirely by choice. 

In 2019, Prince Andrew was forced to give up his official duties after a disastrous interview with the BBC about his connections to the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. 

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle stepped back from the royal family a couple of months later to build a new life in California.

“Buckingham Palace has confirmed that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex will not be returning as working members of the royal family.”

BBC News

But, still, the list reflects the arrangement King Charles appears to want. 

***

Slimming down the monarchy might not just involve who appears at royal events and carries out key public duties.

One practical change might be to do with who receives a portion of the Sovereign Grant – and how much they get. 

This grant is a huge sum of money – last year it was £86 million – and it flows to the royal family. 

It normally represents 15 per cent of the profits of the Crown Estate: the land, property and assets belonging to the monarch. 

But more recently it has been at 25 per cent to help pay for the renovation of Buckingham Palace.

There has been some controversy about how this money was spent. In 2020, Prince Andrew took a private jet flight to attend a golf championship in Northern Ireland. It cost £16,000.

So one way King Charles, a committed environmentalist, could slim down the monarchy is to control this kind of spending.

Then there’s the question of the Crown Estate itself.

In October 2021, the Mail on Sunday reported that King Charles plans to reduce the Buckingham Palace royal residence from 52 rooms to a single apartment. There’s even been talk of Balmoral Castle, being turned into a museum for the Queen, who spent many happy summers there.

Balmoral is a place one looks forward to very much. I think it has an atmosphere of its own.

Of course, this might just all be talk.

From the Princess of Wales recycling outfits, to King Charles running an organic food company, the royal family wants to give the impression that it cares about spending money, about the resources it uses.

But you can’t get around the fact that the project to refurbish Buckingham Palace, which I mentioned a little earlier, is set to cost the taxpayer £369 million.

*****

King Charles is now Britain’s ruling monarch. And that means he can make major decisions about the future of the royal family.

Perhaps it will mark a new era, where we see less of the bitpart players and hear fewer stories about their spending.

The first place we should look is Buckingham Palace’s balcony.

Today’s episode was written by Xavier Greenwood and mixed by Sean Collins.