King Charles III’s openness about cancer has helped him connect with people a year after his coronation.

London, United Kingdom –

King Charles III’s decision to be open about his cancer diagnosis has helped the new monarch connect with the people of Britain and strengthened the monarchy in the year since his glittering coronation at Westminster Abbey.

Charles has used his illness to highlight the need for early diagnosis and treatment, showing leadership at a time of personal difficulty. And in the process, people have begun to see him as another flesh-and-blood character facing the same challenges they do, not just an archetype of wealth and privilege.

“Ultimately, the great equalizer is health,” said Anna Whitelock, professor of the history of monarchy at City University of London. “And the fact is that the royal family, like so many other families, is dealing with a cancer diagnosis. And I think that… has taken energy away from the king’s big challenges.”

Questions still remain. Can a 1,000-year-old inherited monarchy represent the people of modern Britain? How will the institution address concerns about its ties to empire and slavery? Should the monarchy be replaced by an elected head of state?

But at least for now, those issues have largely been put aside as the 75-year-old king undergoes treatment for an undisclosed form of cancer.

Of all the things experts expected the royal family to face in the year following Charles’s coronation, the events of the past five months took Britain by surprise.

First, Charles was treated for an enlarged prostate, then revealed his cancer diagnosis. This was quickly followed by the announcement that the Princess of Wales, Prince William’s wife Kate, also had cancer.

Both stepped back from public duties to focus on their health. William did the same so he could support his wife and the couple’s three young children.

It was not only the septuagenarian monarch who was ill, but also the much younger future queen. Her spouse needed to help. Suddenly, the royal family seemed much more vulnerable, more human.

With three royals out of action, the Windsors were on edge as they tried to keep up with the perpetual whirlwind of ceremonial appearances, award presentations and ribbon cuttings that make up the life of a modern royal.

Into the gap stepped, among all of them, Queen Camilla.

Once considered the scourge of the House of Windsor due to her role in the breakdown of Charles’s marriage to the late Princess Diana, Camilla emerged as one of the monarchy’s most prominent emissaries. By increasing her appearance schedule, the queen played a crucial role in keeping the royal family in the public eye.

Everywhere she went, royal fans offered get well cards and words of encouragement to Charles and Kate.

In many ways, the story of Charles’s first year since the coronation is about the rise of Camilla and how effective she has been in representing the king, Whitelock said.

“The amount of people who have reached out to her has been really remarkable,” he said. “So I think this first year has very much been Charles and Camilla’s reign in a way that we would never have imagined.”

Together they helped create a year of stability for the monarchy, despite predictions by some critics that the death of Queen Elizabeth II would usher in an era of change.

That’s not to say Charles is free of problems, many of them in his own family.

The king’s relationship with his youngest son was strained even before Prince Harry and his wife Meghan abandoned royal duties and moved to California in 2020. But the publication early last year of Harry’s explosive memoir, “Spare ”, deepened the rift with accusations about the involuntary racism of the royal family and affectionate dealings with the tabloid press.

And then there’s Charles’s brother, Prince Andrew, whose ties to the late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein continue to cause the king headaches. Last month, Netflix released a feature-length film about the disastrous 2019 interview in which Andrew attempted to justify his relationship with Epstein.

But over the past year, Charles has worked to increase openness about the workings of the monarchy, continued to speak out on environmental issues and promoted interfaith dialogue, said George Gross, a royal historian at King’s College London.

Then came the king’s decision to go public with his health problems to demonstrate the benefits of early intervention in a country where cancer survival rates lag behind those of many other wealthy nations.

“Out of adversity, he managed to turn it around. It is wrong to say that she took advantage of it, because it is a disastrous situation and anyone with a cancer diagnosis will be very worried, very worried,” Gross said. “But this is how, as head of state, he has been able to do good with a very simple message, and I think that is something extraordinary.”

Charles underscored his message last week as he began his return to public duties with a visit to a cancer care center.

While touring the Macmillan Cancer Center at University College Hospital in central London, the king sat with Lesley Woodbridge, a 63-year-old cancer patient, and held her hand as chemotherapy drugs slowly dripped into her arm.

“It’s always a bit of a shock, isn’t it, when they tell you?” she said, adding, “I have to get my treatment this afternoon too.”

It’s the kind of personal connection Brits don’t often expect from the royals, who are known more for their reserve than their emotion.

After the king announced his diagnosis, Cancer Research UK saw a 33 per cent increase in visits to its website as people searched for information about the signs of cancer, said Michelle Mitchell, the charity’s chief executive.

That may have saved lives. And he connected the people with the king.

Mitchell said he was surprised by how personal the king’s visit to the cancer center was.

Patients voluntarily told their cancer stories to Charles and Camilla, and the royal couple responded with intimate details of their own journey, she said.

“I saw not only empathy, but true compassion,” Mitchell said. “And overall, the atmosphere of the day was one of hope, but I think hope framed in the importance of research generating greater advances.”

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