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What to expect with King Charles as head of British monarchy


With the coronation behind us, we'd like to spend some time thinking about what we can expect from King Charles as sovereign and what the future of the monarchy may look like with him at the helm. So we called Pauline Maclaran. She's a professor at the University of London and co-author of the book "Royal Fever: The British Monarchy In Consumer Culture." Professor, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

PAULINE MACLARAN: Hello. Thank you very much for having me, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: This is the first time in 70 years, of course, that the British people have witnessed a coronation. So just to start us off, I mean, what's your reaction to the ceremony, and what is the mood like there?

MACLARAN: Well, there is a great mood of festivity, needless to say, because this goes with three days of holiday, really. So people are certainly celebrating. There are crowds in the mall to witness the procession to the abbey for the coronation. And there's lots of street parties that will be happening either later today or tomorrow.

MCCAMMON: May I ask, are you celebrating in some specific way?

MACLARAN: I - tomorrow, I hope to be attending a street party in my neighborhood. Street parties are a great chance for people to get together, and we've already heard lots of people expressing not necessarily even their support for the monarchy but using the coronation as an excuse for a celebration with friends and family and neighbors.

MCCAMMON: Of course, King Charles has been the sovereign since September after the death of his mother. Over the last nine months, what do you think we've learned about him as king, and what can we expect for the monarchy moving forward?

MACLARAN: I think what we've learnt about him so far as King is that he is proving to be more approachable and humble and likeable overall than I think was generally expected by the public. I think he's been at pains to show that he really wants to serve the people. He wants to be seen as a man of the people. That has been said, he's done several impromptu walkabouts. We saw the most recent one, actually, yesterday after a reception for foreign dignitaries that were coming over for the coronation. On his way back in the official limousine, the cars were stopped and he got out and shook hands with the crowds. So I think that gives a flavor of what he's like and how he wants to be seen.

MCCAMMON: Well, I do wonder about King Charles' relationship with the Commonwealth as a whole. He's a sovereign of the Commonwealth, a political association made up of 56 extremely diverse nations. And there's some very ugly history there, of course, with colonization. After the passing of Queen Elizabeth, there were rumblings that some countries may leave the Commonwealth. Is this a concern for King Charles? And how might he navigate it?

MACLARAN: I mean, it's obviously not Charles that will be navigating it himself. It will be the advisers and the government position on what role can he play and what role can Britain play in the Commonwealth without necessarily being head of state of various countries? They already have roles. You know, there are various countries in the Commonwealth of which he is not head of state. So this can be done, but they're going to have to rethink Britain's role with the Commonwealth because for sure there are several countries, not least Canada, Australia and the Caribbean countries, who are likely to abandon the idea of the British monarchy as their heads of state.

MCCAMMON: Now, in recent years, of course, the royal family itself has come under fire. There have been some extremely serious issues. I'm thinking of Prince Andrew being accused of having sex with a minor, accusations of racism in the family from Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, as well as the public outcry over just the family's cost to the taxpayers. Do we have a sense of how King Charles plans to try to keep support for the monarchy, you know, while dealing with these kinds of serious issues?

MACLARAN: Well, I think we already see him working to overcome some of these issues. Now, the Prince Andrew scandal we know he has been dealing very strictly with Andrew in keeping him away from official roles. With the racism claim, I should point out that Harry and Meghan have since said they did not call the family racist. There may be unconscious bias. I think they have been differentiating. In the Oprah interview, it was interpreted that what they were saying was that the family was racist. But Harry, in a fairly recent interview, actually said the family was not racist.

But given that, there is no doubt that the royal family does have to prove and that Charles, obviously, as its head, has to prove, that the family is embracing of diversity, and I think he will try and do that. He always has been very keen to embrace other faiths and other viewpoints and other cultures, in fact. And we saw today in the coronation that he had the gospel choir. That was a new departure for the coronation. So I think he will do more of this and try and overcome the problems associated with that in those ways by particularly sponsoring good causes that reflect his quest for more diversity and inclusion. But there's no doubt it will be quite a difficult task.

MCCAMMON: And finally, how important will King Charles' work as king, for however long that time may last, be for setting the tone for what his son, Prince William, will walk into when he very likely someday inherits the throne?

MACLARAN: I think it will be very important because really, Charles has to pave the way for William to eventually inherit the crown. In other words, Charles really has to make the monarchy fit for purpose for the 21st century and onwards. And I do think that is what he is indicating he intends to do.

There are definitely areas that we have discussed, in fact, already in this interview, that he wants to change and he realizes that the institution needs to get those young people that are crucial, of course, to the future of the monarchy. So, yes, I think what Charles will do - and obviously he'll be doing this with not only Camilla at his side but William and Kate at his side, and they will be essential in helping him develop ways, I think, to ensure the future of the monarchy.

MCCAMMON: That's Professor Pauline Maclaran speaking to me from London. Professor, thank you so much for sharing your expertise with us.

MACLARAN: Thank you very much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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