There was also the natural tension between mother and son over the delicate fact that until the queen’s abdication or death, her son would forever be in limbo. According to Smith, Charles was occasionally heard to ask, “Why doesn’t she abdicate?”
Prince Charles’s frustrations boiled over in 1994, when Dimbleby’s autobiography was released. He had granted extensive interviews with Dimbleby for the book which painted his parents as remote and unfeeling (not dissimilar to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s bombshell interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2021). “There was resentment in the royal family that he used Jonathan Dimbleby to complain about it,” Fitzwilliams says. Not only were Charles’s parents hurt, his siblings were as well. Princess Anne said the insinuation her parents were not caring was “just beggars belief,” per Smith.
However, more recently, as the queen began to recognize Charles’s enormous charitable contributions, and as he’s settled into a happy life with Camilla, it seemed their mother-son relationship improved. “As time has passed, they have got closer,” Fitzwilliams says “I think there’s no doubt that I think he tremendously admires his mother. I think that there is a strong mutual respect.”
They also shared several interests, including a love of the country, excellent comic timing, and as Dimbleby notes, “a similar sense of the ridiculous.” This was on display in 2014 during an event at Royal Albert Hall, as Prince Charles paid tribute to his mother in front of a star-studded crowd. Jobson writes:
These public displays of warmth between the queen and her heir proved to be excellent promotional tools for the monarchy. “When there is a form of public intimacy, like the word Mummy or whatever between them, I think that that goes down very well with the public,” Fitzwilliams says.
In 2016, Prince Charles helped spearhead the documentary Elizabeth at 90: A Family Tribute. “The most affecting segments showed Charles and his mother, side by side…in an ornate palace drawing room,” Smith writes. “As they lit up with recognition of long-ago memories—her mental acuity on full display in her quick and accurate recollections—they chuckled and chatted. The warmth of their relationship was unmistakable.”
It has been reported that the queen shared dispatch boxes with Prince Charles, and deferred increasingly to him as he essentially operated as a “shadow king” in the time before her death. Charles has long advocated for slimming down the monarchy, and reportedly took the lead in the palace’s response to Prince Andrew’s scandals and downsizing the royal footprint.
It remains to be seen what lessons Charles will take from his mother when he ascends the throne. “She’s unique in the way she has carried out the role. Charles cannot possibly, nobody could emulate her. And his views on many things are known and, of course, hers aren’t,” Fitzwilliams says.
But as she grew older, the queen became more expressive about her view of her eldest son. In 2018, she toasted Charles at his 70th birthday party, with a speech that showed the love behind her reserved facade.
“I have seen Charles become a champion of conservation and the arts, a great charitable leader—a dedicated and respected heir to the throne to stand comparison with any in history—and a wonderful father,” she said. “Most of all, sustained by his wife, Camilla, he is his own man, passionate and creative. So, this toast is to wish a happy birthday to my son, in every respect a duchy original.”