There are two narratives in Robert Hardman’s Charles III. The first is an account of the King’s first year on the throne. This is superbly researched and fascinating. We learn, for instance, that when Queen Elizabeth II died, the state trumpeters were on a plane to Canada and the bearer party was in Iraq. (Their first order on their return was to get a haircut. Their second to carry a comb.)
The second is about magic, but since Hardman doesn’t admit this explicitly, the book has the flavour of an intellectual trying to cast a spell. I don’t understand why royalists can’t just say that a monarch occupies a space to prevent something worse occupying it. Monarchism is practical, is the royalist line, considering what people are. It is republicans who are dreamers. Perhaps this isn’t interesting enough. Or perhaps it is the flip side of our British good sense. This is where we go wild, and camp.
Hardman, a newspaperman in the old style, is trusted by the royal family and is rewarded by interviews with the Princess Royal and Annabel Elliot, the Queen’s sister. The latter paints a portrait of Camilla as an unassuming person, who ‘might have that extra glass or that extra biscuit or whatever’. The detail is glorious. Camilla’s family call her Lorraine (for la reine), but any theory that the King and his wife are cousins through Edward VII gets short shrift from Hardman.
The best interview is with the Princess Royal. When the imperial state crown was removed from her mother’s coffin, she admits she felt ‘rather weirdly… a sense of relief – that somehow it’s finished’. Another good interviewee is Richard Chartres, the former Bishop of London, who, on the exhaustion of being royal, imagines that ‘geniality kills in the end’.
King Charles emerges as very odd: how could he not be? He is the first monarch in four generations to be born to it: Elizabeth II, George VI and George V were accidental monarchs, and this may explain their comparative realism.