Like a good proportion of the population and millions of others around the world I watched the televising of the coronation of King Charles III last week. I was enthralled by the service, the ceremony and particularly the music with two orchestras and several choirs and as well as the old standards by Handel and Walton twelve new pieces commissioned by the King, himself not only a music lover but an accomplished musician. I was impressed by the sheer numbers who turned out on the streets to watch the procession despite the rain, but I think the view from my comfortable armchair was clearer and more comprehensive without the heads of other people in the way.
While the TV coverage was largely respectful the press coverage was more mixed with much of it focused on what they perceived as the soap opera part of the story. There was seemingly endless coverage of the Princess Diana saga, the Duke of York scandal and the Harry and Meghan fiasco. While I can see how all of this sells newspapers, I think it has little relevance to the constitutional impact of the monarchy and its role in the modern world.
The King’s mother was a much-loved monarch who in her long lifetime became possibly the most famous woman in the world. She and her husband travelled more widely than almost anyone. She met and got to know the leaders of many nations. in her long reign she worked with 15 Prime Ministers meeting them almost every week. Noone knows exactly what happened in all those meetings, but we can be sure that she would have passed on her knowledge and experience, particularly with those who were new to the role, i.e., all of them except her first, Sir Winston Churchill. But we know that he was very fond of her and despite her youth, she was only 25 when her father died and she became Queen, he respected the fact that she had been long prepared for the role.
King Charles has had the longest preparation for the role of any British monarch. He will obviously not have as long in the role as his mother despite the fact that we will all sing “Long may he reign over us”, but I hope he gets a good stretch as I believe he can do a great deal of good. He already has. I had the pleasure of working with him on the launch of Duchy Originals on which I blogged about ten years ago. [i]
It was a successful food range that raised significant moneys for his charities as well as setting an example to British farmers about how to establish quality food products in the British market.
But of far greater significance has been his work with the Prince’s Trust. The then Prince of Wales founded the Prince’s Trust in 1976 with the money he received on leaving the Royal Navy. Its purpose is to help vulnerable young people to get their lives on track. It supports 11-to-30-year-olds who are struggling at school or to get into work. Many of the young people helped by the trust face issues such as mental health, homelessness or trouble with the law. It runs a range of training programmes, providing practical and financial support to build young people’s confidence and motivation. Every year it works with about 60,000 young people and gets a 75% success rate in them moving on to employment, education, volunteering or training.
The Prince’s Trust is one of the most successful funding organisations in the UK and is the UK’s leading youth charity, having helped over 1,000,000 young people turn their lives around, inspired 125,000 entrepreneurs, and given business support to 395,000 people in the UK. It continues to innovate and its efforts over the years have been worth billions.
The King has not been a hands-off leader and those who know him well describe him as the hardest working person they know. He will have met a great number of the young people his charity has helped, and he is a good listener who will have heard of their struggles and will personally offer ways to help. Those who see him as some spoilt royal who only knows the good life do not know him at all.
I also met him through another of his charitable initiatives, Business in the Community. He founded this in 1982 with the objective of promoting responsible business. It works with companies in the UK and internationally, who are committed to improving their impact on society and the environment. When I was MD of Sony UK, I was invited to one of their meetings which the Prince opened and was then managed by the then CEO Dame Julia Cleverdon. The Prince had introduced the concept of Seeing is Believing and he wanted to invite business leaders to see for themselves some of the problems in society and then be motivated to use their skills, knowledge and networks to help solve them.
I was then included in a group of business leaders and civil servants to see the problem of homelessness in Bristol which at that time had the biggest problem of homelessness outside London. We met people in local government, charities and, yes, even some homeless people and heard their stories. What was quickly clear to us was that while the people working in the sector were well-meaning nothing was joined up. Communication was poor or non-existent. We sat around a table and thrashed out some recommendations which were implemented, and the problem greatly reduced.
Amanda Mackenzie OBE is now the CEO. Amanda is a friend of mine and can confirm everything I am saying here. Business in the Community is one of The Prince’s Charities, a group of not-for-profit organisations of which he is president. Seventeen of the nineteen charities were founded personally by The Prince.
Prince Charles was often pilloried in the media as someone with quite eccentric views, but he has been proven right on so many issues. He gave his first speech on the dangers to the environment of pollution, particularly from plastic over 50 years ago. His strictures on architecture are now mainstream. His founding of Poundbury is now seen as an excellent model.
Clearly he understands that the role of sovereign is different but that does not mean that he can’t be influential and not only in this country. When he was crowned last week it was not just as King of the UK, but also of 14 other Commonwealth realms. He is also Head of the Commonwealth itself, a voluntary association of 56 independent countries, an important and unifying role. Not all the members of the Commonwealth are former British colonies. The last four countries to join the Commonwealth – Rwanda, Mozambique, Gabon and Togo have no historical ties to the British Empire.
I am strongly optimistic about his reign and believe he can be a major force for good. Meanwhile I hope that the young who all suffer from the fact that they are not taught history properly and their teachers are now mostly left wing will see that constitutional monarchy is the best model. A constitutional monarchy is one in which the monarch exercises their authority in accordance with a constitution and is not alone in making decisions. As well as the UK they include Australia, Canada and New Zealand where Charles III is the King. But they also include the Netherlands, Spain, Belgium, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and Japan, all stable and successful countries. Political scientist Vernon Bogdanor, paraphrasing Thomas Macauley, has defined a constitutional monarch as “A sovereign who reigns but dioes not rule”. But the other factor that defines them is that unlike elected presidents of republics, they have prepared for the role since they were young. And no one in history has been better prepared than King Charles III.