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Column: Crown weighs heavy on beleaguered royals

Reflecting on the recent scrutiny over King Charles III and Princess of Wales' health struggles.
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King Charles III was coronated in London, England, on May 6, 2023.

We are living through history, every day.

Take the royal family for example. The King, who waited 73 years to take the throne, has cancer. His daughter-in-law, a future queen, also has cancer, at just 42. One prince is ousted due to scandal, another has broken ranks with the royal family.

The King, who is taking time off from royal duties to recover, is surrounded by supporters who can take his place – his wife, the Queen, his sister, the Princess Royal, his youngest brother and his wife, the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh. But they are all aging.

The future King, Prince William, might be very lonely on the throne, something that may come sooner than expected given the King’s health. The future king’s wife is unwell. His only brother estranged and living in North America. His children are still many, many years away from taking on a life of royal duties.

But who would want the job of King, anyway? Certainly not I. The royals may be rich but is a life of wealth worth the constant public scrutiny? I don’t think so.

Consider the Princess of Wales’ recent health struggles. First, it was announced she had planned abdominal surgery for a non-cancerous condition and will need several months to recover. The public goes wild for more information.

At the same time, the King goes into hospital for a medical procedure, during which doctors discover he also has cancer. He gives up public duties during his treatment but continues his work behind the scenes and in small groups.

The Princess was not seen, at all, for two months. Rumours fly – there’s going to be a royal divorce, she’s in a coma, she’s had plastic surgery that went awry, she’s been replaced by a lookalike. Social media is relentless, but she remains silent.

On Mother’s Day in the United Kingdom, she releases a photo of herself and her children, perhaps to try to calm the hysteria. But the photo is soon discovered to have been digitally edited, and press agencies around the world “kill” the photo, declaring it untrustworthy. The Princess releases a written message, also on social media, apologizing for editing the photo.

Less than two weeks later, she releases a video statement, explaining that she has cancer. The surgery she had in January was believed to be for a non-cancerous condition, but cancer was later found, in eerily similar circumstances to what the King went through. The Princess is undergoing chemotherapy to prevent the cancer’s spread.

Imagine the photo fiasco from her perspective. She fixed up the photo a bit to make sure everyone looked good – who can blame her for that? Then the world blows up and she’s forced to take the blame, all the while undergoing chemotherapy for a cancer the world knows nothing about, but that she must explain to her three kids, the youngest of whom is only five years old.

There’s absolutely nothing about that entire situation that I would want to live through, no matter what kind of castle I got to live in while doing so. No Range Rover would make that worthwhile.

Meanwhile, there’s the future King. His father and wife are unwell. His mother, Princess Diana, died in a terrible car crash, pursued by the paparazzi, when he was just 15 years old. His brother was only 12. The trauma of that is echoing through the decades and I imagine he’s thinking of this in terms of his own children and their mother’s illness.

He has not spent 64 years as the Prince of Wales, waiting and in training to take the crown. He’s been in the position a mere 18 months and I’m sure is not eager to be promoted any time soon. If I were him, I would be horrified to think of my son having to take on that role one day. And on and on, forever, into future generations. Talk about a gilded cage.

I wish nothing but good health and happiness for the King and the Prince and Princess of Wales. They’ve got the weight – and the expectations – of the world on their shoulders. Whatever happens, their names will live on in the history books. You couldn’t pay me enough to take that on.

Tracy Sherlock is a freelance journalist who writes about education and social issues. Read her blog or email her tracy.sherlock@gmail.com.