He has yet to be crowned, but it seems the public has already made up their minds. King Charles III is already The People’s King if today’s walkabout at Lambeth Bridge in London and the past week is anything to go by.
This morning, after conducting official audiences at Buckingham Palace and ahead of tomorrow’s State Reception for visiting Heads of State ahead of Monday’s funeral, the new King was driven to Lambeth Bridge to meet with some of the hundreds of thousands of people who were queuing to see the late Queen Elizabeth II lying in state at Westminster Hall.
Joined by his eldest son Prince William, now heir apparent and Prince of Wales, father and son conducted an impromptu walkabout which lifted the spirits of those who had queued overnight (the longest wait was 24 hours) in the cold, so that they could pay their respects to the late monarch.
Charles and William worked different lengths of the crowd, and it was clear they were both amazed by the turnout (the queue stretches back to Tower Bridge) and deeply touched by the warm words of support from those they met.
Charles was keen to know where the people had come from and how long they had been waiting, assuring them “it isn’t long now.”
William told the crowds they were “doing incredibly well” before checking to see if they could still feel their fingers and toes and apologizing for the long wait.
Charles, who famously hates selfies and can’t bear mobile phones, used the occasion to implement a new request. Those greeting the king were politely asked by his bodyguards to “please put your phones down and enjoy the moment.”
The sea of mobile phones at every moment of this national grieving has been ubiquitous. It has also resulted in a sometimes strange atmosphere of half-clapping as people cheer on the king, whilst trying hard not to drop their smartphones.
One hopes this might become part of the protocol when it comes to meeting Charles III but given people want to record the moment for posterity, one suspects smartphones will continue to annoy Charles as much as his leaky ink pens.
Since his mother’s death, the King has visited all four kingdoms of Great Britain with a common purpose for each fleeting trip; to honor the memory of his beloved mother, the Queen, and to meet as many people as he can.
In the past week, he has met hundreds of people and shaken thousands of hands, appearing to draw as much comfort from the public as they have from seeing their new king.
At a time when the nation is mourning its queen of seventy years, the fact that we had a new king the moment the queen’s heart stopped beating is a soothing balm to a nation during this time of transition and great flux.
While plans for this moment – known as London Bridge – have been in place for many years, the reaction to the Queen’s death and the reception of the new King could not be planned for.
Fortunately for Charles, he has been embraced. “You are doing a great job,” one person in the crowd shouted out to him, and there were cries of “Long Live the King.”
That will, no doubt, give Charles strength over the coming days.
Listen to Vanity Fair’s DYNASTY podcast now.