King Charles: Leaving a legacy

From climate change to transforming young lives through the Prince’s Trust, Charles was ahead of the game in caring

It was a telling assessment of a small child destined for big things. In the mid-1950s, Miss Catherine Peebles, appointed as governess to a young Prince Charles, revealed that the best way to get through to her pupil was not by raising her voice, but by showing patience and understanding.

“He’s very responsive to kindness,” she explained.

Kindness is a value that has continued to be important for the now King. “While he is quite a complex character, one observation of His Majesty that is not in doubt is that he is a caring person,” says a senior royal aide. “A lot of things he has been driven to do in his life – and will continue to do as Monarch – are because he cares about others.”

The young prince and sister Anne meet naturalist David and a feathered friend in 1958.

In fact, in his first Christmas message as King, Charles III spoke about how everyone can make a difference in this world by the way they treat others. He said he shared with his late mother, the Queen, “a belief in the extraordinary ability of each person to touch, with goodness and compassion, the lives of others, and to shine a light in the world around us. This is the essence of our community and the very foundation of our society”.

His job as a royal has involved supporting hundreds of charities and organisations that touch the lives of others, but those who know him well say it’s not just work for Charles, it’s a passion, and caring about what they do extends beyond visiting their premises and shaking hands.

One of his patronages, Marie Curie, a charity that assists people with terminal illnesses, shared an insight into how having Charles as patron has helped the organisation.

“He has very kindly supported the charity in an abundance of ways, including visiting staff and patients at our hospices, and hosting a special reception at Clarence House to celebrate 30 years of our flagship fundraising campaign, the Great Daffodil Appeal,” a spokesperson says.

“On the first anniversary of the lockdown, he recorded a video message to reflect on our collective loss during the pandemic. We are immensely grateful to him for helping us ignite this moment to support each other through grief.”

Prince of Penguins! On Sea Lion Island in the Falklands.

And even on a personal level, he’s known to reach out to those going through tough times. Actor Richard E. Grant, who is an ambassador for Charles’ Prince’s Trust, revealed that Charles and his wife Queen Camilla showed great thoughtfulness while the star’s wife, Joan Washington, was dying of lung cancer. The pair sent letters to Joan, who died in 2021, and arranged

for her to visit their country home, Highgrove. “They were both extraordinarily kind, given how busy he is,” says Richard.

Setting up the Prince’s Trust was one of the most important and thoughtful things the King has ever done. When he left the Royal Navy in 1976, he used his severance pay of £7400 (around $15,000) to fund a number of community initiatives designed to help young people who were struggling due to record levels of unemployment. This became the Prince’s Trust, and his money went towards schemes like training young people to be lifeguards and funding a bicycle repair business.

Easy rider! Charles tries out a special bike as part of a Prince’s Trust project.

In the years since, the trust has supplied a huge amount of practical help, from providing mentors for teens leaving care and motivating 15 and 16-years-olds to stay at school, to assisting disadvantaged under 30-year-olds with education, training and finding work. In 2020, it was announced the trust had supported one million young people.

One of them, Ben Gutteridge, received support after growing up in foster care and spending over a year in prison for assault.

A course he completed through the trust led to a successful career in logistics. If he could say anything to the King, he says, it would be “thank you”.

Planting a tree in Indonesia’s endangered Harapan Rainforest in 2008.

Jewellery designer Alex Angle-Benscher is also grateful for help he received to set up his jewellery company. The trust provided a mentor, business coaching and start-up funds. “King Charles has opened so many doors for much of my generation and he didn’t have to,” says Alex. “He has changed the lives of so many.”

One area where the King’s caring nature has really come to the fore is the environment. For over 50 years, Charles has spoken out about issues such as pollution and campaigned for sustainable practices to try to save the planet, even though it has often led to him becoming the butt of jokes and being viewed as an “oddball”.

Charles developed a love of nature due to the time he spent roaming the Balmoral estate in Scotland as a child and as a teenager in the 1960s, he began to feel alarmed by “the destruction of everything… to the exclusion of nature”.

Udder boy! William and Camilla see eye to eye with the prince on organic farming.

In 1971, the then 21-year-old Prince of Wales gave a speech about the dangers of pollution, making an impassioned plea for society to urgently clean it up and prevent it from occurring again. Charles highlighted oil pollution at sea, along with chemical contamination discharged from factories into waterways and air pollution from smoke. At the time, he was widely derided and called “dotty”.

But he has continued to speak out about environmental problems and solutions, including climate change and organic farming, and is now seen as way ahead of his time.

Veteran UK environmental campaigner Tony Juniper describes Charles as “possibly the most significant environmental figure of all time, considering the breadth of the issues he has sought to make progress on and the consistency with which he has done that. For more than 50 years, he has shown commitment, energy and passion. He has incredible depth of knowledge and his impact has been absolutely enormous”.

The King practises what he preaches. Electric vehicles are used on his estates, he’s had solar panels installed on the roofs of all his residences and he heats one of his homes with biomass from fallen timber. His Scottish home, Birkhall, has power generated by a hydroelectric turbine in the river that runs alongside it. Organic produce is grown at Highgrove, and he has cut down on his consumption of meat and dairy products. His favourite car, an old Aston Martin, has been modified to run on 85 percent bioethanol derived from surplus English white wine and fermented whey from cheese making.

As Monarch, Charles is not supposed to get involved in political issues, so he will have to keep many of his opinions about climate change and unsustainable practices to himself. He has already been in trouble numerous times as Prince of Wales for criticising the government – such as when he asked in the 1980s why the UK was dumping sewage in the North Sea. He was also known for writing “black spider” (a description of his handwriting) letters to ministers raising his concerns about ecological issues.

That has stopped, says former head of the Green Party Jonathon Porritt, but Charles still very much cares. He’s likely to make his feelings known at private weekly meetings with the British Prime Minister.

“They’d better get ready!” says Jonathon.

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