Image Credit: Reuters

King Charles III on Friday started the first full day of his new reign as Britain and the world commemorated the extraordinary life of his late mother, Queen Elizabeth II.

At 73, Charles is the oldest monarch yet to ascend the throne of the United Kingdom, following the death of his “cherished” mother at her Scottish estate of Balmoral on Thursday.

He returned to London from Balmoral, where the 96-year-old queen died peacefully after a year-long period of ill health and decline, at the culmination of a record-breaking reign of 70 years.

“During this period of mourning and change, my family and I will be comforted and sustained by our knowledge of the respect and deep affection in which the queen was so widely held,” Charles said in a statement.

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One of the planet’s most recognisable people, she was the only British monarch most people alive today had ever known.

The tributes were universal, including from Russia and China.

Prince Charles has been preparing for the crown his entire life. Now, at age 73, that moment has finally arrived.

Charles, the oldest person to ever assume the British throne. No date has been set for his coronation.

After an apprenticeship that began as a child, Charles embodies the modernisation of the British monarchy. He was the first heir not educated at home, the first to earn a university degree and the first to grow up in the ever-intensifying glare of the media as deference to royalty faded.

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King Charles III Image Credit: AFP

Image as a public figure

“He now finds himself in, if you like, the autumn of his life, having to think carefully about how he projects his image as a public figure,” said historian Ed Owens. `A shy boy with a domineering father, Charles grew into a understated man who is nevertheless confident in his own opinions. Unlike his mother, who refused to publicly discuss her views, Charles has delivered speeches and written articles on issues close to his heart, such as climate change, green energy and alternative medicine.

His accession to the throne is likely to fuel debate about the future of Britain’s largely ceremonial monarchy, seen by some as a symbol of national unity and others as an obsolete vestige of feudal history.

Charles will be the head of state for the UK and 14 other countries, including Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.

Charles has said he intends to reduce the number of working royals, cut expenses and better represent modern Britain.

It took time for many in Britain to overcome Charles public divorce with Diana before “the people’s princess” died in a Paris car crash in 1997. But the public mood softened after he married Camilla Parker Bowles in 2005 and she became the Duchess of Cornwall.

Camilla’s self-deprecating style and salt-of-the-earth sense of humour eventually won over many Britons.

She helped Charles smile more in public by tempering his reserve and making him appear approachable.

Last February, Queen Elizabeth II said publicly that it was her “sincere wish” that Camilla should be known as “Queen Consort” after her son succeeded her, answering questions once and for all about her status in the Royal Family.

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FILE - Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, center, and Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, left, react as the Queen prepares to cut a cake as they attend an event in celebration of 'The Big Lunch 'initiative, during the G7 summit in Cornwall, England, June 11, 2021 Image Credit: AP

A King in the waiting

Prince Charles Philip Arthur George was born Nov. 14, 1948, in Buckingham Palace. When his mother acceded to the throne in 1952, the 3-year-old prince became the Duke of Cornwall. He became Prince of Wales at 20.

Charles studied history at Cambridge University’s Trinity College, where in 1970 he became the first British royal to earn a university degree.

He then spent seven years in uniform, training as a Royal Air Force pilot before joining the Royal Navy, where he learnt to fly helicopters. He ended his military career as commander of the HMS Bronington, a minesweeper, in 1976.

Charles’ relationship with Camilla began before he went to sea, but the romance foundered and she married a cavalry officer.

He met Lady Diana Spencer in 1977 when she was 16 and he was dating her older sister. Diana apparently didn’t see him again until 1980, and rumours of their engagement swirled after she was invited to spend time with Charles and the royal family.

They announced their engagement in February 1981. The couple married on July 29, 1981, at St. Paul’s Cathedral in a globally televised ceremony. Prince William, now heir to the throne, was born less than a year later, followed by his brother, Prince Harry, in 1984.

The public fairy tale soon crumbled. William and Harry were caught in the middle. While the princes revered their late mother, they said Charles was a good father and praised him as an early advocate for issues like the environment.

Tensions persist inside the royal family, underscored by the decision of Harry and his wife, Meghan, to step away from their royal duties and move to California in 2020. Charles soldiered on, increasingly standing in for the queen in her twilight years.

In 2018, he was named the queen’s designated successor as head of the Commonwealth, an association of 54 nations with links to the British Empire. The process accelerated after the death of her husband, Prince Philip, on April 9, 2021.

As Elizabeth’s health declined, he sometimes stepped in at the last moment.

On the eve of the state opening of Parliament this year, on May 10, the queen asked Charles to preside, delegating one of her most important constitutional duties to him — evidence that a transition was underway.

Camilla said in a 2018 documentary, “I think his destiny will come.” “I don’t think it does weigh heavily on his shoulders.”

(With inputs from agencies)