While Charles III mingled with the masses as he arrived at Buckingham Palace amidst shouts of “God save the King,” about three miles away, in the streets of Portobello market, tourists and young Britons walked, pushed strollers and had coffee with friends. There was no visible indication that the other side of Hyde Park was the epicenter of the tremor that shook the very foundations of the United Kingdom.
Those around the palace and those that stay away and abstain from bringing flowers inhabit two of the realities that coexist in a country that loved its queen, but which, after her death, can see the cracks around the succession begin to appear, especially among the younger people.
The proclamation of Charles III, who has already succeeded Elizabeth II, will predictably arouse a wave of sympathy from a population that is willing to give him a vote of confidence. But the testimonies of some of the young people who walk through Portobello Road are evidence of the magnitude of the challenge that the new king is facing. At 73, the popularity of Charles III simply does not measure up to his mother’s. 42% support him, versus the queen’s 75% or his son William’s 66%, according to YouGov. But among Millennials, his popularity only amounts to 34%, according to the same source.
Many young – and not so young – people believe that King Charles III needs to change if he wants to win the population over. They think that the world has transformed very quickly, and continuing on the same path that they are now is not an option. Fear that the new king will not be able to unify the country as Elizabeth II did feeds a sadness that is palpable in the streets, a sadness that also has something to do with a feeling of orphanhood that many British people harbor.
Portobello is full of tourists over the weekend, but during the week it is somewhat quieter, and the inhabitants of the neighborhood coexist with those who come from outside. At the flea market they sell spiral chips and Indian dresses. There are also organic vegetables and all kinds of souvenirs decorated with the Union Jack (the flag of the UK). There, some young people talk about once and for all leaving behind the colonial past in which Elizabeth II lived. Others say that the Black Lives Matters movement that demands justice and equality for the black population did not take off in the United Kingdom in vain. Some directly question the role of the crown in society. It is as if the death of Elizabeth II opened Pandora’s box. For many, Charles III is a figure of the past. In addition, his relationship with Queen Consort Camilla and the death of Princess Diana in tragic circumstances still weigh on many Britons, including the youngest.
People like Cassie O’Reilly believe that if they still want to have a place in society they have to be less passive; in the 21st century, the public will only accept that they continue to cost so much money if they participate more, she says. The queen never gave her opinion. She was a discreet monarch, who in reality very few knew. The world around her might have changed, but she remained immutable. However, that prudence is not enough for those who ask for a different presence. O’Reilly, a 9-month pregnant high school teacher, talks about the future that she wants for her son and claims that there has to be a change. For her partner, a chef who works as a private cook in a mansion in Chelsea, the best choice would have been Prince William, whom he sees as the only hope of having a progressive monarchy – besides being Diana’s son.
Old values and influencers
The name of Henry – the rebel son who last year ceased to be an active member of British royalty after moving to the United States with his wife, Meghan Markle – is also mentioned frequently.
Joseph Kelly is a 20-year-old butcher who does not feel represented by the monarchy. To him, Charles symbolizes the old values and has nothing to do with what the young people think. They have to adapt and represent black people, young people, or the working class. The young generation also does not forget the royal family’s checkered past, including an affair and a member accused of pedophilia. If it was their choice – says Kelly – Henry would certainly be the king. For him, it is important that he is married to a half-black woman.
Next to him, his friend Kelly Said puts into words the abysmal distance that separates them: for her, and for many of her friends, YouTube influencers are a much greater reference than any member of the British royal family, whom they see as obsolete.
Lousie, Sophie and Elisha, three college students, share an opinion: no one they know is happy that Charles will be the king. They would prefer someone else, and point out that people do not see him as a good person because of what he went through with Diana.
Back in Buckingham, the streams of people and flowers continue to arrive. Among the crowd there are also many young people who came to say goodbye to Elizabeth II. Some of them would also prefer William or even Henry, because they believe that the king will not find it easy to connect with the young. But there are also many who believe that Charles III has been preparing for this moment for decades, and this will allow him to lead a good reign.
Stephanie Smith, a health worker who left a bouquet of yellow roses at the palace, points out that ten years ago the rejection of Charles III was much greater, but little by little he has been gaining the respect of the people, who have ended up accepting him and Camilla. Others refer to his concern for the environment as a sign of his ability to connect with the new generations.
The opinions are many, but something seems clear: the population was devoted to their queen, and her successor will have to make an effort to win the favor of the British people.