Prince Charles wanted to have a daughter.
According to Princess Diana, when she was pregnant with their second child her husband was not-so-secretly hoping that it would be a girl. When instead Prince Harry was born at St. Mary’s Hospital in September 1984, he was “so disappointed,” she claimed, and even expressed mock dismay over the baby’s thatch of red hair.
Such may have been the gloomy recollections of a wife and mother on the tail end of a marriage that wasn’t meant to be, however, because in an interview given a couple months after Harry’s birth, Charles called Harry “absolutely adorable” and said the baby was “extraordinarily good, sleeps marvelously and eats very well.” He said that he already felt a little more relaxed the second time around than when their eldest, Prince William, was born two years prior.
Even better, “we almost have a full polo team,” the Prince of Wales quipped.
More than 34 years after Harry popped into his life, there’s been no sign of regret from Charles that he turned out to be a father of two sons.
Besides, now he has two daughters-in-law, and he has welcomed them into the Firm with open arms.
Charles even walked Meghan Markle down the aisle when she married Harry last May 19, touched to be asked to fill in when it became clear that Meghan’s father, Thomas Markle, wouldn’t be able to make it due to health concerns.
“I asked him to and I think he knew it was coming and he immediately said, ‘Yes, of course, I’ll do whatever Meghan needs and I’m here to support you,'” Harry recounted the moment to the BBC in November. “For him that’s a fantastic opportunity to step up and be that support, and he’s our father so of course he’s going to be there for us.”
As for William’s wife, Kate Middleton…well, she’s been a member of the royal family for almost eight years now—and had ingratiated herself to her future father-in-law years before that. When she and William were just seriously dating, even, Kate was regularly included at family events, including birthday parties and their annual ski trip. She visited Clarence House, Charles and Duchess Camilla‘s residence, on numerous occasions.
“Charles and Kate have always got on very well,” a source told Britain’s Telegraph recently. “As the mother of his grandchildren, of course the prince dotes on her.”
The Prince of Wales cared enough for Kate’s welfare, in fact, that he advised William back in April 2007 to break up with her if he wasn’t ready to move forward, rather than string his girlfriend along.
“William went to his father and said, ‘Look, I’m 25, I’m too young to get married. I just don’t want to commit at this point,'” royals biographer Christopher Andersen told the Daily Star. “Charles, who was by then very fond of Kate, said, ‘It would be unfair to the young lady. You cannot string her along anymore, so you should just break it off.'”
Charles’ own father, Prince Philip, had offered him similar advice when he was courting Diana. Much to Philip’s surprise, Charles opted to propose.
William infamously broke it off with Kate (Clarence House had no comment), but their split was short-lived.
“I think if you do go out with someone for quite a long time, you do get to know each other very, very well,” Kate observed in their engagement interview in November 2010. “You go through the good times, you go through the bad times. Both personally and within a relationship as well. I think if you can come out of the stronger and learn things about yourself, it certainly helps.”
By then, William’s family was duly impressed by how Kate had handled herself throughout their courtship, including the brief breakup and “Waity Katie” headlines that persisted. The Prince of Wales was, of course, “delighted” by the engagement. And when Will and Kate drove down the Mall after their Buckingham Palace wedding luncheon as newlyweds on April 29, 2011, they did so in Charles’ blue Aston Martin DB6 Mk II.
Nowadays, Kate and Charles greet each other with a familiar kiss on both cheeks, as do Meghan and Charles—though the Duchess of Sussex is still prone to offer a perfectly fine but unnecessary curtsy, as she did Monday at Westminster Abbey, where the family gathered to celebrate Commonwealth Day. (Before she was married, Meghan had a much longer list of people she was required to curtsy for, Kate included.)
The sisters-in-law, meanwhile, also punctuated their hellos to each other with kisses on the cheek, a sign of affection that should help put the rumors that they’re feuding to rest… but then again, it just might not.
In December, Kensington Palace took the uncharacteristic step of issuing a denial that Kate and Meghan had an “explosive row” before Meghan and Harry’s wedding that involved Kate telling her future sister-in-law not to make demands of her staff. “This never happened,” the palace stated.
Aside from that rare tug on the reins, though, the unofficial family motto, passed down through the generations, remains “never complain, never explain.” If the public face of the ship needs shoring up, efforts take place behind the scenes.
Or through legal channels, on occasion. Or, more rarely, by directly limiting access to certain members of the media as a warning not to take too many liberties with their coverage, as Charles’ communications secretary did in banning The Sun‘s longtime royals photographer Arthur Edwards from future photo calls with William and Harry when the tabloid published photos of William and Kate kissing on a ski vacation in 2005.
And while it’s the queen whose opinion counts beyond all others when it comes to the choices this family makes and how they reflect upon the crown, Charles isn’t exactly a bystander.
As the heir apparent to the throne, and now 70 years old, the prince has no use for disruption and scandal in his midst. But at the same time, having certainly spent his time at the center of the media vortex, sometimes deservedly but often times not, he understands that it’s not always a person’s fault should they end up there. Sometimes, there’s just a perfect storm of story lines and…whoosh.
Meghan Markle has been the latest person who married into the storied House of Windsor made to run the gauntlet and, unlike Princess Diana or Sarah Ferguson or even Charles’ second wife, Camilla, she’s had to do so with the hounds of social media also in hot pursuit. Since marrying Harry (heck, since it was confirmed she was dating Harry), Meghan’s life has been under the microscope, and since becoming the Duchess of Sussex there has been a slew of negativity to deal with, including the out-loud insults of scorned family members; an exodus of staff members; and a rumored prickly relationship with Kate. Buckingham Palace, Clarence House and Kensington Palace were recently compelled to jointly issue behavior guidelines for Twitter and Instagram users if they want to leave comments on the royals’ various accounts.
Inevitably, when a person reaches the mountaintop, there has to be a horde waiting to knock her off the peak. Meghan’s emergence on the royal scene was greeted with such excitement, with so many rapturous comparisons to Princess Diana when it came to her palpable charm and humanitarian interests, the skeptics had no choice but to take out the big drills in efforts to destabilize that foundation.
But also unlike the previous generation’s brides, Meghan has the advantage of being married to Harry—and, for that matter, having Charles (21st-century, happily married Charles, at least) as a father-in-law. Because if there’s one thing neither father nor son will not stand idly by to witness, it’s a repeat of the monarchy’s darkest days as so much grist for the tabloid mill.
Whether there’s truth to that grist or not.
Royal biographer Robert Jobson said on the Australian morning show Sunrise in January that, faced with increasingly unavoidable stories about Kate and Meghan’s supposedly tetchy relationship, Charles was surely “knocking heads together” at Christmastime when they were at Sandringham, “and you can see that by those photographs of them all walking together in a line.”
As William, Kate, Meghan and Harry walked to church together, Charles slightly ahead of them in the foreground, “they looked like they had been pushed together in a line, to be honest,” Jobson added.
Did we mention that Charles’ daughters-in-law have become like actual daughters to him?
Just like a dad, the Prince of Wales is suspected of putting his foot down to stop the kids from bickering, or otherwise making a spectacle of themselves. (“Spectacle” being a subjective word when no one has actually seen them do anything other than act friendly toward one another.)
But for the most part, Charles prefers to spend his time being, if not exactly a cool dad, then an empathetic, kinda fun guy to hang around. He and his sons are “closer than ever” these days, sources told the Telegraph this month, and he’s reportedly been spending more time with his older grandchildren, 5-year-old Prince George and 3-year-old Princess Charlotte, than ever—and that bodes well for not yet 1-year-old Prince Louisand not-yet born Baby Sussex.
The cerebral Charles is also said to have taken it upon himself to mentor Meghan in the royal family’s rich cultural heritage, their interests in art, music, architecture and history having helped break the ice when Harry first introduced them. (Early on, Meghan said that Harry’s family was “amazing” and had made her feel “not just a part of the institution, but a part of the family.”)
“The Duchess has shown a genuine interest in learning more about the history of the family she has married into and her father-in-law has been delighted to impart some of his knowledge,” a family insider said.
Moreover, Meghan helped bring Charles and Harry closer after what was said to be a very difficult August 2017 for them and William, as an endless series of tributes to Princess Diana pegged to the 20th anniversary of her death on Aug. 31, 1997, poured forth, and the princes spent a heap of emotional capital discussing their mother and what it was like to lose her at the respective ages of 15 and 12.
Charles, though his reputation has long since been rehabilitated in many eyes (largely due to how well William and Harry turned out), never comes off particularly well when the events leading to the end of his and Diana’s marriage and the days immediately following her death are rehashed. Even though, as the rest of the story makes apparent, he was a doting father before and an attentive single dad afterward, and as present as possible as one can be for kids for whom boarding school beckons. After their mother died, as soon as Charles could he whisked Harry and William away to Highgrove, his country estate.
Meghan—plagued by issues with her own father, who since missing her wedding seems intent on cementing their estrangement—advised Harry to “look after the loving parent you’ve got left,” a source told the Telegraph.
Perhaps Meghan also had something to do with Harry mentioning his father in the 2017 BBC documentary Diana, 7 Days, recalling, “He was there for us, he was the one out of two left and he tried to do his best and to make sure we were protected and looked after.” (That was the only time either Harry or William said anything about him during their various interviews about their mum that year, though their vigilance with regard to maintaining their privacy tens to to keep them militantly on-topic. They’re not ones to let the conversation bounce around.)
That December, a month after Harry and Meghan’s engagement was announced, the queen bent her royals-only rules and allowed her grandson to bring his fiancée to their various Christmas festivities, starting with her annual staff party at Windsor Castle. Then on Dec. 20 it was off to lunch at Buckingham Palace, where Meghan met most of the royals for the first time. Meghan was seated between Prince Charles and Harry’s first cousin Peter Phillips, Princess Anne‘s son. (That was the lunch where Princess Michael of Kent wore a racist brooch, but otherwise… all went accordingly.)
Then, amid Christmas festivities at Sandringham, Harry and Meghan accepted an invitation to stay with William and Kate at their nearby country home, Anmer Hall. (The queen only allows couples to spend the night under her roof if they’re married, and she was only going to bend her rules so far.) Going with the flow of the royals only getting each other quirky, inexpensive gifts for Christmas, Meghan brought the queen a toy hamster that sang, but Her Majesty’s corgis quickly mistook that present for their own.
A couple days later, on Dec. 27, Harry guest-edited the BBC Radio 4 program Today, and his line-up of guests to talk about the pressing issues of the day, included his father, who called Harry a “darling boy.” After Charles joked that it was “amazing” to have his son finally listening to what he had to say, Harry replied, “I do end up picking your brains now more than I ever have done.”
Prince Charles, suffice it to say, was thrilled when his younger son found the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with, and he couldn’t help but be extra-pleased that he had interests in common with Meghan as well.
But “overjoyed” and “thrilled,” how he described himself and Camilla when Kate first got pregnant, only begins to describe Charles’ feelings about being a grandfather, a role he has thoroughly embraced, remembering the special relationship he shared with the Queen Mother.
According to Penny Junor’s Prince William: The Man Who Will Be King, Charles asked a ladies’ circle in Wales if they had any grandparenting tips. He acknowledged, “The great thing is to encourage them. Show them things to take their interest. My grandmother did that; she was wonderful.”
“Marvelous, absolutely marvelous,” he described Prince George after meeting his first grandchild. While his schedule wasn’t as conducive to frequent babysitting, as Kate’s parents were able to provide, sources told Vanity Fair last year that Charles had been making a “big effort” to spend more time with his growing family.
A source said, “Charles is so happy with life at the moment. He adores babies and delights in tickling their toes. He can’t wait for another one to come along.”
Well, he doesn’t have long to wait now. And just as Kate has become even more dear to the Prince of Wales since she and William became parents, so will Meghan as she and Harry have a family of their own. Building those bonds only makes the royal family stronger, after all.