King Charles III has officially just had his first day off as sovereign.
On Thursday, for the first time since the death of his mother the Queen last week, the newly ensconced sovereign has taken a break. He and the new Queen Consort were seen landing in a helicopter at Ray Mill House, Camilla’s private bolthole in Wiltshire.
Charles clearly needed a bit of a break, a chance to soak in the tub with some Molton Brown bubble bath (the sudsy royal warrant since 1971) and to re-read the Magna Carta to double-check it still limits royal authority.
It’s only one week into the job he has waited more than 50 years to do and he has already managed to have not one but two tanties caught on video. (If that’s how he treats his fountain pens in public, imagine how he does in private.)
But sadly, I’m not sure that the King’s 24 hours of R&R would have been that R-worthy after he saw the latest images of William and Kate, the new Prince and Princess of Wales.
On Thursday, right around the time that the King was possibly considering doing a sheet mask and asking a footman for a shoulder massage, the Waleses made their way to Sandringham, the Queen’s privately owned Norfolk estate, to thank the public for the outpouring of condolences and flowers. (It was their second such outing of the week, but this time, there was no Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex by their sides, no slightly rictus faces and a certain thrumming level of discomfort all round.)
This time around? The Waleses weren’t just met with crowds and a flotilla of plastic-wrapped flowers but a sea of blooms and the sight of thousands of people waiting to see them.
Let me be clear here: This is rural Norfolk we are talking about, 180km away from the capital, not Windsor which is just outside central London. The closest train station, Kings Lynn, is still a roughly 40-minute bus ride away from the 8000-hectare royal estate.
At one stage, Norfolk police warned that an “increasing number” of mourners were likely to join the throng with officers putting in place a one-way system to handle traffic, the Times reported.
These people, from schoolchildren to pensioners, had managed to get themselves to the middle of nowhere to pay their respects and to catch a glimpse of the newbie Waleses.
If ever there was a moment that should make Charles choke on his afternoon fruitcake, it’s this.
Now, finally, the 73-year-old is on the throne and yes, the reception he has received as he and Camilla have toured the UK, including trips to Scotland to Northern Ireland, has been far more effusive than anyone could have predicted. (Quite how much of that is out of respect for Her Majesty and how much out of support for the new King and Queen Consort, I’m not sure.)
Charles’ time to shine might have arrived, but if these new images of William and Kate are anything to go by, he could well find himself on the precipice of being eclipsed. Whoops.
Polling for years has told the same story: Brits prefer William.
A survey done by YouGov just before the Platinum Jubilee found that exactly three-quarters of Brits have a favorable view of the Prince, while Charles just squeaked over the halfway mark with 54 per cent.
This week, the new King has enjoyed a bump in his numbers with 63 per cent of people now saying they think he will do a good job as monarch – but he is still nowhere near William. (Queen Consort Camilla comes in at 53 per cent on the same question, which is pretty impressive given that she was once considered the most hated woman in Britain.)
In more bad news, over 35 per cent of people said they want Charles to step down at some point to make way for William, which is higher than the 25 per cent of respondents who thought the Queen should hand over the reins to him back in may
For Charles, starting out his reign well into his eighth decade, he now faces not only a much, much shorter time on the throne – about 25 years if he shares his mother’s longevity – but having his time as monarch outgunned and outshone by that of the vastly more popular king and queen-in-waiting.
To some degree, it’s hard not to feel a tad sorry for the bloke. Charles has spent much of his life in the shadow of his mother, the perpetual study who the world never took particularly seriously. And he also ended up in the shadow of his wife, after the fawnlike teenager he picked as his bride turned out to be a media-savvy 20th century fury in a pie-frill collar.
And now? Now finally that Charles is King? He faces the same sorry dynamic repeating itself with William and Kate who have unintentionally landed themselves the starring roles, shunting Charles off into supporting territory. Again.
Part of the issue here is not just that he is less appealing in contrast to the younger and more photogenic Wales but that also, over the last week, their star has risen too.
They are just too damn good at their jobs.
Take this video posted by Howard Junior School showing William with a gaggle of slightly awe-struck primary schoolers during the Sandringham visit. Impressively, he doesn’t talk down to them and there’s nothing robotic about his interaction. Instead it is a genuinely sweet moment.
The clip shows him asking the children if they had made the large Paddington Bear left by the gates: “It’s brilliant. Do you like Paddington? Did you see the skit with Paddington and my grandmother? … Did you all wonder what she had in her handbag? No one ever knows what’s in her handbag but Paddington did though.”
He not only asks them questions, but he listens too.
Then there was the moment during the same walkabout when Kate led a schoolgirl over to add her flowers to the thousands other tributes, and was reportedly on the verge of tears.
According to the Timesat one point William told a mourner, “Don’t cry now, you’ll start me.”
I suppose it boils down to the fact that the Waleses never come across as two people who have learned their royal lines and can now deliver them by rote. Instead, they seem to be two people (two increasingly tired-looking people, it must be said) who genuinely care.
Charles and Camilla are both grandparents in their 70s and hail from a much more emotionally constipated generation. They are never going to be able to be as relevant or popularly resonate and connect with the masses in the same way. Nor can they ever hope, even in their wildest dreams, to compete with the Waleses’ celebrity wattage.
For the King, it’s hard not to wonder how it must feel, after decades and decades of work and speeches and setting up charities, to now be facing coming off as second best, even as he is at the pinnacle.
Deja vu Your Majesty?
Daniela Elser is a writer and a royal expert with more than 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.