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After decades in Queen Elizabeth's shadow, her son Charles is now Britain's king


The last time a new monarch ascended its throne, the U.K. was a worldwide empire. Today, it still has worldwide influence, though it also faces a world of problems.

King Charles III addressed Parliament today.


KING CHARLES III: As I stand before you today, I cannot help but feel the weight of history which surrounds us.

INSKEEP: It will not be Charles's job directly to address the sagging economy or the aftermath of Brexit. It is his concern that police have investigated his foundation, that Prince Harry plans a tell-all book and that he's less popular than his mum.

Tina Brown has written extensively about the royal family. She's on the line. Tina, welcome back to the program.

TINA BROWN, BYLINE: Thank you so much, Steve.

INSKEEP: In what way do you see Charles shoring up the monarchy?

BROWN: Well, I mean, Charles has had to begin some of the things that, you know, the queen in the sense never would or could do. For instance, last year in Barbados, he spoke about the appalling atrocity of slavery. And, you know, that is something the queen would never have done. Amazingly, she would have actually considered that a political statement, to address that issue in her country's history.

But what she of course did extremely well was sort of express the apolitical expressions of, you know, regret at times when it was enormously important to do so - for instance, her historic visit to the Republic of Ireland in 2011, when she spoke about being able to bow to the past but not be bound by it.

INSKEEP: Oh, this is so interesting. And it goes in a couple of different directions, one of them being the monarchy's connection to the empire and the former empire, the nations of what are now called the Commonwealth.

Does Charles then have a little bit more latitude to reach out to those countries where there is, to say the least, an ambiguous legacy and people have an ambiguous idea of this monarchy that some of their countries still recognize?

BROWN: Well, absolutely. And he's going to - he has been trying, you know, to do some of those things, which is a very careful and difficult thing, frankly, for them to pull off. I mean, we saw that, you know, when Prince William and Kate went on tour - their Commonwealth tour last year - early this year. It really wasn't a success because somehow it still had the kind of retrogressive images of empire with them standing up in that car, you know, rather as the queen and Philip had done on their royal tours. And you saw islanders, you know, pressed behind fences.

You know, it was a very, very bad image, which they understood could not happen again. So you're going to see a kind of rethink of that kind of imagery and of the kind of speeches he made.

And frankly, you know, we don't even know that for the remaining countries of which, you know, the monarchy is still, you know, the head of country - whether that will last for very long. I mean, I see - it's impossible to imagine that, you know, Australia, for instance - the monarchy being the head of the Commonwealth, just doesn't seem to be - the constitutional heads of these countries - seems that it can last beyond a very short time.

INSKEEP: Tina, you touched on another thing when you talked about the difference between apolitical and political statements. Of course, the British monarch tries to rise above political statements now and leave that all to the elected leaders of Parliament and the British government.

But there's a question about what is political and what is not. Charles in the past has been very outspoken about climate change. Can you imagine a future in which the king of England remains outspoken on that issue?

BROWN: Well, he's going to have to completely recalibrate what he says. I mean, of course, we know exactly what he does think about everything, unlike the queen, who - we knew nothing about what she thought about anything and right now was almost a kind of nostalgia for not knowing what she thought because we're living in such a narcissistic world where people express their opinions about everything. We literally knew nothing about what the queen thought about everything.

We know, of course, far too much about what Charles thinks about everything. However, as he said in an interview that he gave before she died, like, I'm not that stupid. He understands very much that his role has now shifted.

But what he can be is a great convening monarch. One of the few powers left, in a sense, to the sovereign is being able to convene. The queen didn't do a great deal of that. She was brilliant at the symbolism as she was in Ireland, but she never really used her position to sort of convene around issues. And there's no doubt - I mean, you know, just last week before - just the day of the queen's death, Charles was actually about to host a major climate change conference at Dumfries House, his Scottish charitable headquarters. And that was going to be a major climate convening in which John Kerry was going to be taking part.

He cancelled that, of course, because the queen died. So he can still do those things. He just can't pronounce. He cannot sort of intervene when it comes to anything to do with the issues - the political issues - around it because, you know, it has begun to be quite controversial because, of course, the big energy crisis.

INSKEEP: Journalist Tina Brown is author of "The Palace Papers."

Tina, it's always a pleasure to hear from you.

BROWN: Thank you so much, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.