At long last, Charles is the king. And at 73 years old, the longest-serving heir in British history has had a whole life while he’s waited to ascend the throne. That means the former Prince of Wales had plenty of time to pursue a Naval career, establish a catalog of charities, marry twice and collect his fair share of scandals along the way.
What do Americans need to know about the man now atop the royal food chain? Here, culled from interviews, media coverage and royal communications, is a primer on the life of Charles.
Charles was close with his maternal grandmother — the Queen Mother — who encouraged his love of nature and art. At two years old, he would sit on her bed and play with her lipstick tubes, awed by the colors.
She also encouraged kindness in Charles — including by sharing candy with other children and picking the weakest person first when choosing teammates for games.
Charles became heir apparent at the age of three, following the death of his grandfather King George VI and his mother’s accession to the throne when she was 25.
In an interview when he was 20, Charles was asked whether his father had been a “tough disciplinarian” and whether the prince had been told to “sit down and shut up.” Charles responded: “The whole time, yes.”
Charles was a sensitive child — Winston Churchill, after observing him at three, remarked: “He is young to think so much.”
Charles is related to Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Dracula. The grandmother of Elizabeth was believed to be descended from two of Vlad’s sons.
Charles was bullied at school — children called him “fatty” and picked on his prominent ears. His great-uncle, Earl Mountbatten, urged Charles’ parents to have them surgically pinned back to no avail.
At age 14, Charles ordered a cherry brandy for two shillings and a sixpence in an Isle of Lewis pub after riding on a Gordonstoun School sailboat. It was illegal for under-18-year-olds to be served, and, unfortunately for Charles, a reporter was sitting at the bar. A national scandal ensued, and the prince’s bodyguard, Don Green, lost his job.
Charles read archaeology and anthropology at Cambridge University, changing to history for the second part of his degree, and graduated in 1970 with a 2:2 (the British equivalent of somewhere between a 2.7 and 3.0 GPA).
In 1969, Charles spent a semester at Aberystwyth University and began Welsh lessons with nationalist Tedi Millward ahead of Charles’ investiture as the Prince of Wales. This chapter of his life inspired an episode of The Crown titled “Tywysog Cymru,” meaning “Prince of Wales.”
Charles made his first trip to Washington in 1970 and spent time with Richard Nixon’s daughter. He later reflected: “That was the time when they were trying to marry me off to Tricia Nixon.”
He has since visited Washington more than 20 times, and met every president apart from Jimmy Carter. When Charles met Joe Biden at COP26 in November 2021, the president remarked “We need you badly … I’m not just saying it.”
In 1971, Charles embarked on a career in the Royal Navy. He qualified as a helicopter pilot, but gave up flying after he crashed a Queen’s Flight passenger jet in the Hebrides in 1994.
Charles has a love for magic, and was inducted into The Magic Circle in 1975 after performing a cup and balls trick. Though his acceptance may have been pre-decided, as his certificate was signed in advance of the audition.
In 1976, Charles founded The Prince’s Trust, which helps 11-30 year-olds gain education and career opportunities. He had used his Navy severance pay — £7,400 — to fund 21 community initiatives nationwide, which became the charity’s pilot projects.
He once sent Barbra Streisand flowers. She later commented “I had a very funny line on stage when he came to see [my] show. I said, ‘You know, if I played my cards right, I could have wound up being the first Jewish princess!’”
In 1980, Charles published a children’s book titled “The Old Man of Lochnagar,” filled with “such characters as a grouse who repels visitors, underwater haggis who revolve as they swim, the miniature green people of Gorm, and the birds and fishes who live in the skies and lochs around Balmoral.”
In May 1984, Charles had something to say about a proposed extension of London’s National Portrait Gallery at the 150th anniversary of the Royal Institute of British Architects: “What is proposed is like a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend.”
In 1993, construction began in Poundbury, Charles’ planned community based on the principles of New Urbanism. The site now has a population of around 4,200.
Student David Kang fired two blank shots from a starting pistol at Charles during an awards ceremony in Sydney, Australia, in January 1994. Kang was protesting the plight of Cambodian boat people and had written to Charles the prior month arguing that some had been detained for four years.
In August 1996, Charles and Diana’s divorce was finalized.
On Aug. 31, 1997, Diana was killed in a car crash. Charles flew to Paris to accompany Diana’s body back to England.
A teenage girl slapped Charles in the face with a red carnation during the prince’s tour of Riga, Latvia in November 2001 in protest of Britain’s role in the Afghanistan war. The 16-year-old, Alina, said that “Britain’s the enemy of the world” as she was escorted to a police van by armed guards.
In 2003, Charles sent a bottle of scotch to recovering alcoholic Ozzy Osbourne following the singer’s quad bike crash.
Charles is the Patron or President of over 400 organizations.
On April 9, 2005, Charles and Camilla became the first British royals to marry in a civil, rather than a church, ceremony. Elizabeth and Philip were not present, but attended a later blessing at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.
Charles announced he would give the $25,000 sum he received as winner of the Vincent Scully Prize for architecture to Hurricane Katrina victims in November 2005. Charles said that he and Camilla had been “absolutely horrified” by the destruction they had witnessed on television.
Charles was given the Harvard Medical School Global Environmental Citizen Award in 2007. He was presented the honor by Al Gore, who had previously won the award.
In 2009, Charles placed first on Esquire UK’s best dressed list, beating Barack Obama, who placed fourth.
Charles’ U.S. Secret Service codename is “Unicorn.”
In 2012, an Ecuadorean stream frog was named “Hyloscirtus princecharlesi” in recognition of Charles’ conservation efforts.
In 2015, a released cache of memos written by Charles to government ministers showed the prince’s lobbying on subjects ranging from the Iraq War, to the nutritional content of school meals, to fishing.
Charles shook hands with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams in Galway, Ireland, in May 2015, marking the first meeting between a royal and a leader of the nationalist party since the founding of the Irish state in 1921. Adams had once justified the murder of Charles’ great-uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten, by the Provisional IRA.
Charles’ Aston Martin runs on surplus English white wine and whey from cheese processing.
In 2017, Paradise Papers revealed that Charles’ private estate bought shares worth $113,500 in a Bermuda company, Sustainable Forestry Management. Charles has since campaigned on climate policy without disclosing this financial interest, though his interest in the environment predates the investment.
Charles usually has fruit — often plums from the garden — and granola for breakfast, according to a former royal chef. Charles is also a fan of boiled eggs, and one of his favorite meals is lamb with wild mushroom risotto.
At the 2020 World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Charles launched the Sustainable Markets Initiative, an effort to push businesses towards sustainable practices.
Charles refrains from eating meat and fish two days a week and dairy products one day a week.
Charles, though fully vaccinated, caught Covid-19 twice.
Charles is a Burnley Football Club fan.
Charles traveled to Barbados, a former British colony, to attend events marking the country’s transition to a republic in November 2021. In a speech there, he acknowledged “the appalling atrocity of slavery.”
In February 2022, it was announced the Metropolitan Police would investigate claims that Saudi businessman Mahfouz Marei Mubarak bin Mahfouz was offered help obtaining a knighthood in exchange for a significant cash donation to The Prince’s Foundation.
Charles doesn’t travel light: He reportedly sends a truck to his friends’ country houses the day before he is due to arrive for visits with his orthopedic bed, a lavatory seat, and landscapes of the Scottish Highlands among other personal items.
In June 2022, it was reported that Charles had privately criticized the UK government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, calling it “appalling.” One senior cabinet minister warned that political interference from Charles as King would “present serious constitutional issues.”
Plans for Charles’ coronation have been given the codename “Operation Golden Orb.”
Charles accepted €3 million in cash donations to one of his charities by former Qatari prime minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani, according to reporting published June 2022. The cash was handed to the royal in a Fortnum & Mason shopping bag, a holdall and a suitcase.
The next month, London’s Sunday Times reported that Charles accepted a £1 million donation for the Prince’s Trust from Bakr and Shafiq bin Laden, half-brothers of al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden. Charles’ Clarence House office said that the donation had been accepted by the charity’s trustees, rather than the prince himself.
Charles once said “I happily talk to the plants and trees, and listen to them. I think it’s absolutely crucial.” Clarence House has also tweeted that after Charles plants a tree, “he often gives a branch a friendly shake to wish it well.”
The Prince of Wales’ feathers — which features on his coat of arms — consists of three ostrich feathers and bears the motto “Ich dien,” which is German for “I serve.” It is considered one of the symbols of Wales — alongside the daffodil, red dragon and leek — and was adopted as the logo of the Welsh Rugby Union.
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