Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, Charles Takes Greater Public Role (Timeline)

Prince Charles prepares for a greater role as Queen Elizabeth II becomes more selective of her UK and international engagements.

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ALASTAIR GRANT/Associated Press

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles, right, walk through the Royal Gallery in the Houses of Parliament prior to the Queen making The Queen’s Speech during the State Opening of Parliament in London, Wednesday, June 21, 2017.

LONDON — It’s good to be queen.

No one knows that better than Queen Elizabeth II, who’s showing no signs of stepping aside after 70 years on the throne. But the aging sovereign is giving Prince Charles, her eldest son and heir, an increasingly prominent role.

Last month Charles, 73, accompanied by his wife, Camilla, presided over the State Opening of Parliament, one of the monarch’s most important duties.

The subtle transition illustrates challenges confronting the royal family. As Britain celebrates the queen’s Platinum Jubilee this week, the royals are working to cement the position of a sometimes misunderstood heir and demonstrate that the House of Windsor will live on.

“Charles and Camilla are a question mark for the future when it comes to the monarchy,” said Robert Lacey, a royal historian and adviser on the Netflix series “The Crown.” 

Much of that is due to Elizabeth, who on her 21st birthday pledged to serve Britain and the Commonwealth for her whole life. 

But her problems in moving around force her to be more selective in her public engagements and open a door for Charles, who has spent the past three decades trying to overcome the fallout from the messy breakdown of his marriage to Princess Diana.

It took years for many in Britain to forgive Charles, whose admitted infidelity and longtime links to Camilla torpedoed his relationship with Diana who died in a Paris car crash in 1997, five years after her split from Charles. 

Charles and Camilla are a question mark for the future when it comes to the monarchy”

— Robert Lacey

But the public mood has softened since Charles married Camilla Parker Bowles in 2005. Earlier this year, the queen sought to bolster the couple’s position by expressing her “sincere wish” that Camilla be known as “Queen Consort” when Charles becomes king. Elizabeth’s words rejected arguments that the history of the relationship should relegate Camilla to some lower status.

Charles, meanwhile, has been ready to step in whenever required, most dramatically when he presided over the opening of Parliament and delivered the Queen’s Speech, laying out the government’s legislative program.

The event is a symbol of the monarch’s constitutional role as the U.K.’s head of state. The choreography of the day emphasized a queen who was absent, yet still present. Her throne was removed, but in its place the Imperial State Crown sat propped on a cushion. Charles wore the uniform of an admiral of the fleet — rather than sweeping ermine robes.

Because Charles has been waiting in the wings for so long, his passions are well known. For example, he began campaigning for environmental causes long before they were mainstream concerns. He has been accused of meddling in politics, something the monarch is barred from, by speaking up about property developments he opposed and other issues.

It may be the shape of things to come.

Tiwa Adebayo, 23, a journalist and blogger, says the royals need to be more vocal about issues like this, speaking out on topics such as inequality and immigration, if the monarchy is going to be relevant in the future. She cited the Dutch royals as a model for the future.

“I think that’s the sort of monarchy we want,” she said. “And so this kind of not getting involved with politics, but kind of getting involved in politics, not getting too involved in societal issues but speaking when it’s convenient, I don’t think that’s really going to fly anymore.”

For now, Charles has recognized that he can be a bit less stuffy in public — more accessible even. Nowhere is that more evident than in a special jubilee appearance on a television soap opera.

Charles and Camilla will surprise residents at a street party held to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee on the long-running BBC show EastEnders. In a clip shown after a recent episode, partygoers are told “You have got to see this mystery guest” — before the royal couple pulls up in a car beside The Queen Vic pub.

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