Forget The Crown’s lies – this glorious book reveals the real Charles III

When one reads something by a person termed a “royal expert” or “royal insider”, one normally expects to be served 80 per cent speculation by someone the Princess Royal once told to “naff off”. This is not so with Robert Hardman. For a quarter of a century, he has earned the respect of the Royal family and their household by telling the truth, exercising discretion, avoiding sensationalism and acquiring a deep understanding of the institution and its history. His books and television programmes on the functioning of our monarchy are therefore highly authoritative and laden with insight, and this latest, Charles III, is no exception.

Hardman never over-sells himself or his work. Beginning this book on our King, the author says that “I have not sought to write a full-life biography. This is a contemporary portrait of our new monarch, and his new court.” And he proceeds to do exactly that, in Rolls-Royce fashion. He has on-the-record interviews with, among others, the Princess Royal and Annabel Elliott, our new Queen’s sister; other friends and staff of the King and Queen have spoken to him extensively, but privately.

The trust these people put in Hardman did not just secure him access to superb interviewees, but also allowed him to go behind the scenes in royal palaces and houses, to get close to “Operation London Bridge” – seeing the late Queen’s funeral in detail hitherto denied to the rest of us – and to be at some rehearsals for the Coronation. Hardman’s encyclopaedic knowledge of events and personalities at Buckingham Palace and Clarence House, and of the key moments in the transition in his subject’s life from Prince of Wales to King, means he can spot the difference between a rumour and a cast-iron fact at about 5,000 yards. He is never a sycophant, and is always scrupulously fair. As a situation report on the monarchy today, this book will attain the status of a historical document.

Our King does not make himself accessible to the point where to use Bagehot’s phrase, he “lets daylight in upon the magic”, but he takes a generationally different attitude to the operation of what his late father called “the Firm”. Some time-honoured necessities of Royal life, such as the stony silence when asked repeatedly by tabloids to comment on sensationalist matters, are sensibly maintained: but deep engagement with people such as the beneficiaries of the Prince’s Trust, or those who share the King’s interests in architecture, trees or classical music, contrasts with Queen Elizabeth II’s more remote style.

Hardman emphasises that the King knows the constitutional boundaries, yet this book makes no pretence that personal interests have been consigned to the past. Our Sovereign remains deeply invested in Poundbury, his humane housing development in Dorset, while his decision to appoint himself Ranger of Windsor Great Park has redoubled his interest in the natural landscape.

Hardman writes pithily of 'the Sussexes' capacity for taking offence'

Hardman writes pithily of ‘the Sussexes’ capacity for taking offence’ – Getty

It is precisely because Hardman is so restrained in expressing his own feelings that when he lets something slip – such as about the relentless search for grievances by the Duke of Sussex and his wife – that it carries extraordinary weight. On the day of the late Queen’s death, Hardman writes, the Duke took umbrage that he and the Duchess were not invited to share the Duke of Cambridge’s plane to Scotland: “Had the Sussexes been keen to share a flight, they could have asked their staff to contact Prince William’s staff. ‘They had all the numbers,’ says a senior Kensington Palace aide, who is adamant there was no call from the Sussexes’ camp that morning.” Hardman adds that “the Sussexes’ capacity for taking offence was well known.”

Hardman also sets out the practical problems that the King faces with managing his brother, the Duke of York. “There will be no eviction order from the King,” writes Hardman about the Duke’s tenure of Royal Lodge. “It will depend on whether the Duke can pay the separate security bill, estimated to be around £1m a year. With no public duties to justify this from public expenditure… the Duke may find it makes more sense to move to much cheaper accommodation inside the Windsor security cordon.” Recent revelations from the Epstein case may, since the book went to press, have complicated matters further. Hardman does not seek to pretend that many in the Royal household did not find the Duke utterly disagreeable, or that many tears have been shed after his downfall.

The star of Charles III is the Queen. Hardman quotes the Princess Royal as saying that “her understanding of her role and how much difference it makes to the King has been absolutely outstanding.” Hardman himself is clearly a fan, and justifiably so: he illustrates repeatedly how the Queen has made the King a happier, more serene and better monarch than he might otherwise have been. The overall message of this first-class book, in fact, is that the long-held expectations for this new reign have, almost always, been wildly exceeded – to the point where even the garbage that is The Crown can do no damage.

Charles III is published by Macmillan at £22. To order your copy, call 0844 871 1514 or visit Telegraph Books

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