How King Charles and Princess of Wales’ cancer battles have the Royal family members closer than ever

Robert Hardman
Daily Mail
8 Min Read
King Charles and Catherine, Princess of Wales have grown close in their health battles.
King Charles and Catherine, Princess of Wales have grown close in their health battles. Credit: CHRIS JACKSON/AFP

Windsor will be witnessing a very different sort of Easter this year.

Last time, we saw a full turnout of the Royal Family in the spring sunshine at St George’s Chapel. The chief concern back then was the countdown to the Coronation.

This year, it is going to be a much smaller affair. We are likely to see the King and Queen but his health, of necessity, demands a much-reduced crowd around him.

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The Princess of Wales and her family are not expected at all. They want to make the most of the Easter holidays and maximise her three wishes: time, space and privacy.

The contrasting images of Easter Sunday 2023 versus 2024 will, therefore, paint a pretty bleak picture.

To listen to some of them this weekend, you might imagine that Buckingham Palace staff are in a bunker pondering an existential crisis.

Monarchists may well wonder if things have ever before looked quite so dismal for the dear old Crown. To which the answer is: yes — and remember the 1990s.

Within the Palace, there is a determined, proactive mood.

Of course, there are the natural fears and anxieties brought on by any cancer diagnosis. That two senior members of the family should be enduring this in parallel has left everyone reeling.

Nor is it overlooked that the King’s nieces, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie — both very close to their cousins — are rallying around their mother, Sarah, duchess of York, as she also undergoes treatment for cancer.

However, both the King and the Princess of Wales have made it very clear that they are not merely coping. Rather, they are looking ahead with a purpose and a resilient frame of mind.

“I am well and getting stronger every day,” the Princess told us on Friday.

Within the King’s household, the recurring worry is how to reduce a workload which he himself has no inclination to reduce. For amid the gloom, he has been greatly buoyed by a number of factors — as well as the sackloads of ‘Get Well’ cards from around the world.

What is now abundantly clear is the depth and strength of Britain’s affection for its monarchy. It is also a reminder of the Royal Family’s immense contribution to what politicians call the “soft power” of the nation.

The global response to last week’s news from the Princess of Wales astonished even veteran royalwatchers.

For America’s CBS to interrupt its coverage of a key basketball game, for the White House to issue on-the-hoof personal statements, for the Princess to start clocking up internet hits in the billions — these are merely reminders that the monarchy is much more than celebrity with crowns.

On a personal level — and this is all about two deeply personal royal crises — the Princess’ diagnosis has also served to bring the King closer to his elder son and even closer to Catherine.

He has long admired the way she has endured the brickbats of royal life, mellowed his son and heir, raised his grandchildren and built up an in-depth portfolio of charity work.

This weekend, The Sunday Times reported that he had “toddled” round to her part of the London Clinic when their hospital stays overlapped earlier this year.

In fact, I learn that this was more than a “toddle”. He came to see her at least twice, accompanied by the Queen, too.

There is no one better placed to advise on making a major broadcast to the nation (right down to the hazards of recording at Windsor, beneath the Heathrow air traffic).

The day after the recording, he also invited Catherine to lunch at the castle, no doubt by way of reassurance.

It was the King’s handling of his own diagnosis, I understand, which played a key part in the Princess’s decision to broadcast to the nation.

At first, both she and Prince William had been firmly in favour of maintaining a news blackout following her initial statement about abdominal surgery in January.

Over time, she had come to realise that the King’s example of judicious, sparing candour is ultimately preferable to letting the online lunatics take over the asylum of public discourse.

There were other factors, too.

The previous statement concerning the Princess’s health had said she was unlikely to resume public duties until “after Easter”. Once the subsequent discovery of cancer had led to a course of preventative chemotherapy from late February, that timetable was untenable.

The Kensington Palace household of the Prince and Princess was also undergoing substantial staff changes.

Throw into the mix the row over the edited Mothering Sunday photograph plus news of an investigation into a potential data breach of her medical records — a thoroughly distressing thought for anybody — and you have layer upon layer of added stress at possibly the most stressful time of her life.

And that is not including the festering toxicity of social media trolls whipping up debates on the back of one baseless rumour after another.

Once that poison had reached the school gates — and it had — then the children became the priority.

The Prince and Princess decided that the last day of term would be the appropriate moment to clear the air.

There had been similar royal thinking in 1976 when Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon were planning to announce their separation (leading to the first senior royal divorce since Henry VIII).

Ron Allison, then press secretary to the Queen, once told me that, although rumours abounded, the Palace had held the official announcement back to March 19, 1976. That, too, was the Friday on which the couple’s young children broke up for the Easter holidays.

There are other reasons for the relative calm within the Palace.

Before and immediately after the King’s accession to the throne, there were two main concerns. One was the smoothness of the transition from monarch to monarch.

Not unrelated was the prospect of concerted republican attempts to undermine the institution at a moment of maximum vulnerability.

In fact, Charles III led from the start with a sureness of touch which has confounded his strongest critics. Republicanism remains very much a minority sport, good for a debate on campus but of fleeting interest to the vast majority.

Amid much political and global turmoil, the King has delivered the all-important continuity which monarchy is supposed to represent.

Less than a year on from his Coronation, it feels as if he has been on the Throne for years. Yet there has been a quiet but firm tonal shift towards a more transparent, relatable style of reign.

That has been exemplified in his approach to his medical issues. No one ever imagined the day when a Palace bulletin would contain the words ‘”enlarged prostate”.

And when that led on to a cancer diagnosis, there was no attempt to obfuscate. The King was going to change the way he performed his duties rather than the duties themselves. Not a single core constitutional role has been affected.

Members of the public can still see the King drive between residences or medical appointments.

He likes to go slowly and there are no tinted windows.

Wave and he will wave back.

We have not been given precise details about his cancer for reasons of privacy and precedence (what is done cannot be undone). However, we can look at the direction of travel and draw some conclusions.

Immediately after his diagnosis, he retreated to Sandringham.

He now moves between residences — including Highgrove and Windsor Castle.

He is holding more audiences in person, not just with the Prime Minister but ambassadors, too. Plans are afoot for what Palace staff call “a gentle ramping-up” as we approach the busiest period in the royal calendar.

Even garden parties or Royal Ascot, unthinkable prospects just weeks ago, are being reconfigured with sensible medical precautions worked in. No final decisions will be made until much closer to the time but the aspiration is there.

The two main goals are in early June: the 80th anniversary of D-Day and the King’s Birthday Parade.

In the meantime, the core back-up team of the Queen, the Prince of Wales (Princess permitting), the Princess Royal and the Edinburghs, plus the Duke of Kent and Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, will soldier on.

People sometimes ask why the King does not draft in new recruits — like the Duke of York’s daughters. The reason is simple.

Having laid down what some call “The Sandringham Protocol” after the departure of the Sussexes, there can be no rowing back on a clear principle: you cannot be a half-in/half-out member of the working family.

Within wider royal circles, the Princess’ broadcast triggered a certain sense of déjà vu, not least due to the daffodils.

Four years ago next week, the previous holder of the dubious honour of the “most famous woman in the world” title sat down at Windsor to deliver a landmark address to an open-jawed nation. That broadcast also ended with daffodils.

Of course the circumstances and the content were entirely different but the underlying sentiment was very similar: we are going to get through this.

That was back in the nadir of the COVID pandemic in 2020. The late Queen, incidentally, had taken some flak for her lack of visibility in the days prior to her broadcast. “If ever there were a moment for the Queen to reassure her subjects, this is it,” thundered an editorial in the Times.

For the Princess of Wales, this was all horribly personal and painful, not constitutional. Both women, though, had the quiet satisfaction of observing a seismic response and universal approval. Both messages had the same core elements: simplicity, scarcity and authenticity.

The Princess’s words needed no deciphering. The fact that they were so unexpected gave them a profound resonance. And even the most sulphurous online troglodyte could not quarrel with the veracity of this footage. It was filmed by BBC studios events, an entirely separate unit from the current affairs operations, with a global reputation for its state occasions.

As it happens, the very same team was invited to film the Queen’s COVID address, too (albeit with one cameraman in a ‘hazmat’ suit).

This Thursday, Easter begins with the traditional Royal Maundy service. Though the King cannot be at Worcester Cathedral, he has recorded a lesson and Queen Camilla will dispense Maundy coins to deserving locals. The show goes on because it always does.

At the end, the Queen will be presented with daffodils.

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