As the world comes to terms with the death of Queen Elizabeth II, all eyes are on King Charles III. The reigning heir's first order of business is providing mourning masses with words of comfort and assurance. Similarly, the rest of his job will be a continuing PR challenge.
He lives under a klieg light and heads a large, scandal-plagued family.
What’s more, he follows a predecessor whose longevity helped her reputation. The late Queen's reign of 70 years established her as a constant presence in most Brits’ lives. Her beatific smile and colorful suits endeared her to the throngs.
Following a Popular Leader
In addition, she was a doting grandmother and great grandmother who adored her children’s children and their offspring. This further enhanced her image as accessible, authentic and relatable.
The British public will never embrace a remote figurehead. As such, the King must project warmth. A projected winter of discontent, with record energy prices, may test him.
Yet, he also must carefully sidestep PR landmines that litter the family’s history. The most recent conflict involves his sons: (Prince of Wales) William and (Duke of Sussex) Harry, and their wives (Princess of Wales) Kate Middleton and (Duchess of Sussex) Meghan Markle.
What’s more, the family remains suspicious of Harry and Meghan, who rocked the world in March 2021 with a lengthy interview. Their conversation with Oprah provided a sometimes ugly glimpse into the realities of royal life.
King Charles’ PR Challenges
1. Just days into the King’s reign, trouble is brewing. Although the King went out of his way to extend an olive branch to Harry and Meghan during his inaugural speech to the British public Sept. 9, the veneer is cracking already.
Rumors are flying about flying. It was reported that Harry was not invited to fly on the same plane to Balmoral as other family members and arrived alone. Reportedly Harry was in the air when the Queen’s death was announced. Another media report has the King forbidding Meghan from accompanying Harry to Balmoral.
The King should seize the narrative and set the record straight. Tell the ever-watchful public and media what really happened ad explain the protocol.
2. Unsurprisingly, there also are issues with the King's brother. A heckler called Prince Andrew a “sick old man” yesterday (Sept. 12) as he walked behind the hearse carrying his mother’s body down the royal Mile in Edinburgh.
The new King should expect more of the same. There is little tolerance for anyone linked to sex crimes. Charles must manage the public fallout from his brother’s relationship with accused human trafficker and pedophile billionaire, the late Jeffrey Epstein.
3. In his first public speech, Charles renewed his promise of lifelong service to the Commonwealth and the world. Moreover, he acknowledged the world’s profound sense of loss in the wake of his mother’s death. This positioned him as a capable, empathetic leader, throwing off past criticisms that he was cold and unfeeling.
As mentioned above, Charles can ill afford to look cold. His reputation took a big hit during his high-profile separation (1992) and eventual divorce (1996) from Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales.
Similarly, her tell-all book about their unhappy marriage and troubled relations with the royals hurt the Windsors' reputation. Ditto a popular television series and a recent film.
The late Queen and her eldest son struggled for years remaking their public images. As such, King Charles should maintain and build a personable public persona.
An Adaptable Monarchy?
4. During his speech, the King spoke frankly and gently about his late mother. He mentioned her ability to change with the times, despite her advanced age. Charles linked his values to hers, acknowledging changes in society, culture, faith, diversity and other institutions.
In addition, he assured the public that the monarchy's role and duties and responsibility to the Church of England remain unchanged. Charles successfully painted an image of a competent, elder statesman who possesses the skill to steer the ship.
Indeed, nearly lost in the coverage was the King's short address today (Sept. 13) in Northern Ireland. Addressing the Northern Ireland assembly, the King signaled he'd continue his mother's quest for peace in "this place," deftly avoiding mention of Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland. It was another sign of the King's grace and talent.
A pair of historic handshakes and a bit of Gaelic, in 2011, established the Queen and her eldest son as forces for peace in Northern Ireland. With Ireland's extant problems, including over Brexit, the issue is one of many, including anti-royalist sentiment, this 'apolitical' King must finesse.
5. Charles scored big points within Britain when he returned to Buckingham Palace. He took time to shake hands with several subjects as he strolled past huge piles of flowers. Allowing a mourner to kiss him on the cheek, breaking royal protocol, he portrayed himself as spontaneous and personable.
King Charles has the experience and knowledge of an extraordinary monarch. Yet it remains to be seen if his people skills and emotional intelligence equal his technical ability to rule.
His mother’s common touch and well-established authority weren’t enough to keep the family’s shenanigans under wraps. How King Charles handles future royal scandals and other issues will determine his legacy.
Evan Nierman is founder and CEO of Red Banyan and author "Crisis Averted"