Royal Rebrands Are A Thing. Has Charles Already Started His?

So-called "pengate" probably wasn't part of the plan.

King Charles III has been in the spotlight for his entire life – but is he due a rebrand now he’s head of state?

Until September 8, Charles was the world’s longest serving heir, having been the first-in-line to the throne since 1952. That’s 70 years – his mother was crowned when he was just three years old.

However, during that time the royal has had a rather tumultuous relationship with the public. Perhaps, as he transitions into his new role as sovereign, Charles is looking to rejuvenate his image too.

But, why would he need a rebrand?

The King has faced a great deal of scrutiny over the years, and his public persona has not always emerged intact.

In 1994, he indirectly insulted his own parents by telling interviewer Jonathan Dimbleby they were not supportive throughout his childhood, prompting pundits to speculate about a royal rift – and that Charles had overshared.

During this same period, Charles’ reputation was on the line due to his declining relationship with his first wife, Princess Diana.

Not only was she seen as the “People’s Princess” and more popular than him, their tense separation in 1992 and her subsequent death in a car crash in 1997, led to an outpouring of grief – and many people turning against the royals in rebellion.

Charles’ affair with his current wife, the Queen consort, then known as Camilla Parker-Bowles, through part of his marriage to Diana was highly publicised. Camilla was also married during their affair, pushing more of the public to side with Diana, then Princess of Wales.

While Charles and Camilla have been happily married since 2005, the popular Netflix series The Crown has been raking up the entire history of the Queen’s reign for the past few years, with a fair amount of artistic license, too.

This has caused renewed anger among younger generations who may not have experienced the tension between Charles and his parents, and his ex-wife, the first time around.

Further questions over the future of the royal family under Charles’ hand emerged when his second son Prince Harry and wife Meghan Markle announced they would be leaving ‘The Firm’. The Sussexes have since indicated a rift still exists between them and the new King.

Charles, too, has been criticised for “meddling” in politics and supposedly lobbying politicians after his “black spider memos” were revealed by the Guardian in 2015. This was particularly worrying for many Palace staff, because Charles is part of the constitutional monarchy – he is meant to be apolitical.

King Charles III in Westminster Hall
King Charles III in Westminster Hall
via Associated Press

Has he already started the rebrand?

Yes. It seems that just days into his reign, Charles was already trying to shake off some of the more “stuffy” imagery, and stiff upper lip attitude often associated with the crown as he ushers in his own reign at King.

As soon as he returned to London after being by the Queen’s side during her death, he jumped out of the car and started greeting the crowds outside Buckingham Palace.

During the unscheduled walkabout, he shook hands with well-wishers and was even kissed on the cheek by one member of the public.

He referred to his mother as “Darling Mama” in his first official address to the nation on Friday, in an unexpected emotional turn, and he has since said: “I was very lucky to have her as my mother.”

He also explained he was passing the Queen Consort title on to Camilla because of her loyal service to the country over the last 17 years, tacitly acknowledging their complicated past.

He indicated the Duchess of Cambridge would become the Princess of Wales – a title not used in public since Diana was alive – and extended his love to Harry and Meghan in his speech, in a bid to provide the sense of a more united monarchy.

It’s worth noting that in the same speech, Charles indicated that it was time for “change”, and suggested he is going to be leaving all his passion projects behind as he adapts to life as sovereign.

“My life will of course change as I take up my new responsibilities,” he said on Saturday. “It will no longer be possible for me to give so much of my time and energies to the charities and issues for which I care so deeply. But I know this important work will go on in the trusted hands of others.”

Is it working?

Well, to an extent. A YouGov poll published on Tuesday shows people already have more faith in him than before he inherited the throne.

In May, it was a pretty even split between those who thought he would do a bad job and those who thought he would do a good job as monarch, at around 30% on either side.

In fact, ever since July 2019, approximately 30% of respondents did not believe in the monarch’s future on the throne – up until now.

New polling has found 63% of respondents believe Charles will make a good King.

But, as ever, the support is not unanimous.

Those on social media have been more critical, with two separate clips showing Charles losing his temper over pens in the last few days going viral.

When visiting Hillsborough in Northern Ireland on Tuesday, the King signed the estates’ visitors’ book and became infuriated when he found his pen was leaking.

He was caught on camera saying: “I can’t bear this bloody thing!”

A similar incident unfolded during the Accession Council on Saturday, when he was seen shooing staff to clear his desk while he signed his proclamation.

It’s probably too early to tell, but it’s certainly going to be an uphill battle to earn the same reputation his mother had.

As YouGov noted at the Platinum Jubilee celebrations, the Queen has maintained a positive view with around 70% of the population for at least the last decade.

Other successful royal reinventions

What makes it likely that he will get a rebrand anyway? Well, royals have done it before. Quite often, in fact.

Camilla’s is probably the most remarkable. As Charles’ first love, she was deeply unpopular for her affair with Charles throughout his first marriage and the scandalous rumours that leaked about their relationship certainly did not help.

After Diana’s death, Charles even tried to keep his relationship with Camilla out of the public eye, to avoid further scrutiny.

Even when they wed, she chose not to take the title Princess of Wales, despite it technically being her moniker as the official wife to the Prince of Wales from 2005 onwards.

However, over the years she had reshaped her image completely. This became clear when the Queen confirmed that it was her “sincere wish” for Camilla to take the much-disputed title of Queen consort earlier this year – a step away from tradition, considering both Charles and Camilla have been divorced.

It was also a title that many still associated with Diana.

Camilla Parker attending an event as president of the National Osteoporosis Society.
Camilla Parker attending an event as president of the National Osteoporosis Society.
Tim Graham via Getty Images

The Queen also rebranded throughout her reign. When she first became monarch after her father’s abrupt death in 1952, she suddenly had to prove herself, not only as the first female monarch since Queen Victoria, but as a 25-year-old sovereign.

Famously, she reinvented herself again after Diana’s death – even if some felt her hand was forced. The occasion saw a huge slump in the royal’s popularity, with the public looking unfavourably on the Queen for not welcoming the princess wholeheartedly (in their eyes) into the royal fold.

Since then, she has became the country’s “grandmother” instead, appearing much warmer in her public appearances and being seen as a reassuring face during times of crisis – especially during the Covid pandemic.

Princess Diana, too, changed her image from a shy teenager when she first met Charles, to the most fashionable member of the royal family, and keen humanitarian.

After her divorce, she adopted another new persona, taking more fashion risks than she could have as a working royal and standing up for more controversial causes such as joining the campaign to eradicate all landmines in Angola.

Lady Diana Spencer in 1980 (left) and Diana in 1995 when she was Diana, Princess of Wales
Lady Diana Spencer in 1980 (left) and Diana in 1995 when she was Diana, Princess of Wales

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