The life of Charles: The trials that may be the making of a King

ITV News Correspondent John Ray looks back at King Charles' early life and upbringing and investigates how it will shape his reign

He is the product of great privilege; of a life unimaginable to most of us.

But Charles has also faced adversity in a long apprenticeship for the job to which he was born.

They are trials that may be the making of a King.

A young Charles and his sister, Princess Anne, wave to a crowd with their mother, the Queen, and aunt, Princess Margaret. Credit: PA

In Scotland; amid the glorious landscape in which he learnt to love the great outdoors, his boyhood was not always happy.

Gordonstoun, his boarding school, he once called ‘’absolute hell.’’

But here too began lessons in resilience.

‘’We have a royal family which lives a life of great service, which is all about hard work,’’ says the school’s principal, Lisa Kerr.

‘’I am quite sure that sense of challenge and overcoming challenge will have been really important in preparing for that.’’

Both wearing a kilt, 10-year-old Princess Anne and 11-year-old Charles, with their baby brother Prince Andrew in the grounds at Balmoral. Credit: PA

School photographs show Charles in the role of Macbeth in a student production – an interesting casting of the king-to-be.

Situated on a remote stretch of coastline, Gordonstoun also offered him the space to grow in privacy.

So it was hardly a surprise, that aged just 20, in his unveiling as Prince of Wales in front of a televised global audience of 500 million, he looked nervous. Even awkward.

His investiture by the Queen at Caernarfon Castle in July 1969 was seen by critics as something of a PR stunt.

And it coincided with a resurgence of Welsh nationalism. Extremists had even planned a bombing campaign to disrupt the ceremony.

The Queen crowns her son, Charles, as Prince of Wales during the investiture ceremony at Caernarfon Castle in 1969. Credit: PA

Yet over the following decades, he embraced his place in the principality; and in turn, has been embraced by some who might not be his natural supporters.

Deep in the rolling countryside of Carmarthenshire, we visited Llandovery Rugby Club, whose patron just happens to be the King, and whose President is Handel Davies; a Plaid Cymru councillor.

He is dedicated both to the cause of Welsh nationalism and to the good of Welsh rugby.

‘’I like the sense of humour he’s got,’’ he says of his several meetings with Charles over the years.

‘’He’s put us on the map. I don’t want to sound hypocritical but anyone who promotes and supports the cause of Llandovery, I am a supporter of.’’

He’s not just the King; he’s a neighbour too. He bought a home close by.

On private visits, he attends services at a local village church.

‘’People sometimes bump into him when he’s out for a walk,’’ says Carole Dyer, chairperson of Myddfai Community Council.

‘’He’s a genuine man who has an interest in people and also the area, its traditions and history. The respect works both ways.’’

Charles tries a glass of 'Cwrw Calon Cymru' (Heart of Wales beer), during his St David's day visit to the town of Llandovery in south Wales. Credit: PA

Charles’s challenge may be greatest in that corner of his kingdom where there are those who do not recognise him as their sovereign.

And others who see themselves as his most loyal subjects.

‘’There are hundreds of events being planned. We’re really pushing the boat out,’’ says Iain Carlisle, chief executive of the Grand Orange Lodge, of Ulster’s unionists’ plans to mark the coronation this weekend.

We meet at the Museum of Orange Heritage in Belfast. Union flags and Coronation mugs adorn the souvenir shop.

‘’I think there’s a realisation on his part that there’s one community here that hold him, and the Crown, in much higher regard than the other.’’

Ireland’s violent history touched Charles personally. In 1979, an IRA bomb killed his beloved great-uncle, Lord Mountbatten.

‘’He was the grandfather I never had,’’ Charles mourned.

Yet in subsequent years he has turned that grief into a force for reconciliation.

In 2015, as part of a tour of Ireland, north and south, Charles shook the hand of the former IRA leader Martin McGuinness.

The encounter took place at St Patrick’s Catholic Church in Belfast, where he also met victims of the Troubles from both sides of the community.

In 2015, as part of a tour of Ireland, north and south, Charles shook the hand of the former IRA leader Martin McGuinness. Credit: PA

‘’He came here very much as a reconciler and a peace-maker, ‘’ recalls Father Dominic McGrattan of that momentous and moving day.

‘’For the future monarch to come to a place that would have a strongly Irish nationalist and republican tradition and also a legacy of suffering, it meant a great deal for those who witnessed it.’’

It is not just in Northern Ireland that Charles will struggle to be a symbol of unity.

Yet across his diverse and sometimes divided kingdom, life-long lessons have taught him how he might be a force for good.

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