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How Charles' past will influence his new role as monarch


Britain and the world have been getting used to King Charles in the last few days. That's following decades of knowing him as the Prince of Wales starting in 1969, when he was just 20 years old.


KING CHARLES: I think I serve is a marvelous motto to have.

RASCOE: Through his marriage to Lady Diana Spencer in 1981 and it's even more spectacular collapse.


CHARLES III: That is the last possible thing that I ever wanted to happen. I'm not a total idiot.

RASCOE: There have been stories about his mistress and then their marriage. There have been stories about his relationship with his children, his opinions on architecture, his charities and causes.


CHARLES III: The planet's health today will dictate the health, happiness and economic prosperity of generations to come.

RASCOE: The question on many people's minds is this - how will King Charles's past influence his new role as monarch? We're putting that question to Sally Bedell Smith. She's the author of several biographies of Britain's royal family, including "Prince Charles: The Passions And The Paradox." And she joins us now. Good morning.

SALLY BEDELL SMITH: Good morning, Ayesha.

RASCOE: First, what is your impression of how King Charles, now, has handled his role since his mother's death?

SMITH: I think he's handled it really impeccably. The speech that he gave was very thoughtful. He emphasized tradition, that his mother was an extraordinary model for him and that he wanted to continue in the spirit in which she reigned. He emphasized that he was going to reign as a constitutional monarch, and there are a lot of restrictions placed on the person who takes that role.


CHARLES III: My life will, of course, change as I take up my new responsibilities. 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.

SMITH: And so I think both in substance and also in style, we could see how he is going to be different.


CHARLES III: This is also a time of change for my family.

RASCOE: He seemed more emotional. He seemed to kind of show that, you know, he was hurting a little bit.


RASCOE: He's trying to figure out how to carry on. Is that a difference?

SMITH: I think it is. The queen would have just - she was very good at compartmentalizing, and all of her Christmas broadcast speeches were very personal. But her method of delivery just didn't have the same drama. I mean, Charles loves to go on the radio and recite T.S. Eliot. He is a student, I mean, a serious student of Shakespeare. And he threw in a line from Shakespeare at the very end. He is, in so many ways, different in temperament and personality from his mother.

RASCOE: Do you think that he will embrace being a 21st century monarch? The world is changing. Is he going to offer some changes for a changing world?

SMITH: I think one of the hallmarks - I'll just refer back to the queen because one of her hallmarks was that she accepted and even embraced change. She did it in such an incremental way that it was almost barely noticeable. She did even, you know, some fairly dramatic things, you know, by throwing out old traditions that, you know, had sort of lost their meaning, like the debutante presentations, which she did very early on. She got rid of them. But in other ways, she began interacting with people in a more personal way. And I think what he knows now, probably more than ever, from having observed his mother, from having studied the British Constitution when he was at Cambridge and having had the advantage of advisors who were mindful of how a constitutional monarchy works, I don't think he's going to do anything that will violate that in any way.

RASCOE: Bottom line, do you think the British public is ready to embrace Charles as the king, as sovereign?

SMITH: Well, we have only a small amount of evidence. I mean, certainly, the way he was greeted when he went to Buckingham Palace, the crowds that turned out for his accession at St. James's Palace and for the procession of the proclamation through the streets of London - it's now going to go up to Cardiff and Belfast and Edinburgh and, I think, will in all likelihood see a lot of welcoming crowds there. I think he will certainly have a honeymoon period. But there are forces, you know, who are very adamantly in favor of getting rid of the monarchy. I expect, after a decent interval, they'll probably be making more noise, and that will be a challenge for him. I mean, the monarchy, the sovereign and all the people who are part of the royal family know that the monarchy exists only with the support of the people. The people have to believe in the monarchy, and they have to approve and admire the king.

RASCOE: That's royal biographer Sally Bedell Smith. Thanks so much for joining us.

SMITH: You're welcome, Ayesha. It was my pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.