Queen Elizabeth II liked to say that she needed to be seen to be believed. Now it falls to her son King Charles III to test that principle, after a cancer diagnosis that will force him out of the public eye for the foreseeable future.
For a family that has cultivated its public image through thousands of appearances a year — ribbon-cuttings, ship launchings, gala benefits, investiture ceremonies, and so on — the sidelining of Charles may finally force the royals to rethink how they project themselves in a social-media age.
The king’s illness is the latest blow to the British royal family, which has seen its ranks depleted by death (Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip), scandal (Prince Andrew), self-exile (Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan), and other health woes (Catherine, the wife of Prince William).
Charles, who is 75, took part in 425 royal engagements in 2023, his first full year on the throne, according to a count by The Daily Telegraph. That made him the second hardest-working royal after his younger sister, Princess Anne, who did 457. Both were busier than in the previous year, when Elizabeth, though in the twilight of her life, still appeared in public sporadically.
While Anne, 73, shows little sign of slowing down and William plans to return to public duties while his wife convalesces at home from abdominal surgery, even a temporary absence of the king from the public stage would put heavy pressure on the family’s skeleton crew of working royals.