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As the U.K. preps for Charles' coronation, what do Britons think of their new king?


Charles III will be officially crowned Britain's king in a jewel-studded ceremony this weekend. So what do people in the U.K. think of their new monarch?

ARIANNE CHERNOCK: Well, the buzzwords this week have been apathy, ambivalence and indifference.

MARTÍNEZ: Arianne Chernock is a professor of history at Boston University. I asked her about the shift in public opinion since the coronation of Charles' mother, Elizabeth II, 70 years ago next month.

CHERNOCK: I was really struck looking at coverage of Queen Elizabeth's coronation. The New York Times said in 1953, we might be less interested if instead of a charming young woman, some dignified middle-aged man were being crowned. Flash forward to 2023, and that is what we have - not just a middle-aged man, an older man in his 70s and one who's not exactly dignified, right? We know so much about this person who's about to be crowned, probably too much.

MARTÍNEZ: And maybe not necessarily in touch with the culture today and how this society sees things. I want to bring up the allegations of racism in Harry's book, "Spare." They didn't point at Charles directly, but could he have done maybe more to create a greater sense of inclusiveness at the palace?

CHERNOCK: I think he needs to if he is going to have a relevant reign, one that actually speaks to his increasingly diverse constituents, not just at home, but in this Commonwealth where we're seeing so much transition. Australians have expressed ambivalence about this coronation. That is certainly troubling for Charles.

MARTÍNEZ: Charles is 74. How much does that play into any efforts he might have to maybe connect with younger generations?

CHERNOCK: He has to really show that he hears his constituents. By the end of her reign, Queen Elizabeth could just kind of make appearances with her corgis and curry quite a bit of favor. Charles and Camilla are going to have to work so much harder to connect with people by showing that they are going to lean in to some of these difficult conversations, not run away from them.

MARTÍNEZ: In what way could Camilla be a good partner for Charles right now?

CHERNOCK: Well, Camilla comes with her own baggage, there's no question. But both are extremely human. They can talk about their life experiences. They can talk about the messiness of their own lives, and they can continue to pursue the issues they've been really passionate about for some time. For Camilla, she's become a real advocate for domestic abuse victims. I think that kind of work could resonate with British publics and global publics, as well.

MARTÍNEZ: Do you think they could still do that, though? Because I know as Prince of Wales, Charles has been an advocate for several causes - curbing climate change, preserving historic architecture. You mentioned what Camilla has been into. I mean, how do you think they'll be able to balance advocacy with a tradition of apolitical objectivity in the future?

CHERNOCK: I think they could take a real cue from Princess Diana, actually, who is, in many ways, the other woman in the room in the coronation on Saturday. Diana really showed the world, I think, how you can use the role of princess to destigmatize AIDS, bring awareness to issues like landmines, all of these really important issues.

MARTÍNEZ: And how important is public opinion to the job of the king of England?

CHERNOCK: The job of the king or queen is a long one. It's not like being an American president. He will be on that throne for some time. So they have to think about this beyond the polling. Polls go up and down. They have to think beyond the polls of the moment.

MARTÍNEZ: What will Charles need to do - No. 1 thing to keep public opinion on his side, for now at least?

CHERNOCK: I think they have to make a real case for the continuing relevance of the monarchy. Britons don't have to have a monarchy. They rule with the consent of the people. And I think to create that sense of relevance and connection, they need to lead conversations about race, slavery, imperialism, all these complex legacies, what it means to be part of a multicultural society today.

MARTÍNEZ: The thing is, I mean, there are some people who, no matter how much they try to unite, they divide despite good intentions. Do you see Charles as a uniter, a divider or it doesn't matter?

CHERNOCK: The role of the sovereign in Britain is one that has to be uniting. Britain right now is a nation facing economic crisis, lots of questions about dissolution, the future of the nation, struggling with racism and with its imperial legacies. He has to help bring people together around these issues and become that symbol that is above politics if he is going to be successful.

MARTÍNEZ: That is Professor Arianne Chernock at Boston University. Thank you very much.

CHERNOCK: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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