King Charles cancer diagnosis provokes reactions across Britain

LONDON — A day after King Charles III’s surprise cancer announcement, Prince Harry was back in Britain to see his father, with the estranged son’s return from California raising questions about the seriousness of the monarch’s condition.

But after meeting with Harry at Clarence House, Charles left London and all its health-care resources behind, flying by helicopter with Queen Camilla to the royal Sandringham Estate.

With no further news about the king’s health, people here watched these movements of the royal family for possible clues.

Less than a year and a half after it buried one monarch, Britain is grappling with the revelation that her son and successor has been diagnosed with cancer. Palace officials have given few details, other than to say that it is not prostate cancer but rather a separate concern that was spotted when Charles, 75, went underwent a procedure last month to treat an enlarged prostate.

The Post spoke to people in London outside Buckingham Palace on Feb. 6, a day after King Charles III’s surprise cancer diagnosis. (Video: Naomi Schanen/The Washington Post)

“Thankfully, this has been caught early,” Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told the BBC on Tuesday, seeming to offer a kernel more than Buckingham Palace has about the state of the cancer. Sunak said he was “shocked and sad” when he was told about the diagnosis. He said he remains in “regular contact” with the king and hopes Charles “gets the treatment that he needs and makes a full recovery.”

King Charles III diagnosed with cancer, postpones public duties

Buckingham Palace was broadly optimistic in its messaging on Monday, saying the king “remains wholly positive about his treatment and looks forward to returning to full public duty as soon as possible.” Charles continues to attend to state business, the palace said, but would not be making public appearances.

The king’s diagnosis was splashed across the front pages of British newspapers on Tuesday. The news prompted an outpouring of well-wishes and concern — along with speculation about whether it might finally repair a royal rift between the king and his second son. Harry arrived Tuesday afternoon, having taken an 11-hour flight from Los Angeles.

Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, who crowned Charles at his coronation, posted on X that he was “praying for the King and his family — for God’s comfort and strength in the weeks and months to come.” The king is the supreme governor of the Church of England.

Walking on London’s Oxford Street, Bruce Orum, 62, of Reading said he was “devastated” by the news. His partner has been battling cancer for four years, and it was “marvelous” that the palace had been so transparent about the king’s diagnosis, he said.

“The issue is, there are lots of people in this country and around the world that suffer from this nasty disease,” he said. “All it’s going to do is help highlight it more.”

While Charles has been more forthcoming about his health issues than his mother, Queen Elizabeth II — whose death certificate said simply she died of “old age” — there is still much that has been left unsaid. The palace’s announcement has raised speculation about how serious his condition is and whether other royals might step in to pick up duties that he is no longer able to perform.

Charles told both of his sons, Prince William and Harry, about his diagnosis before Buckingham Palace went public on Monday evening. It’s unclear where the younger son will stay. He handed back the keys to Frogmore Cottage in January 2023, shortly after his memoir, “Spare,” was published. In the book, Harry describes Charles — his “Pa” — as someone with both strengths and flaws. But the book was widely seen as attacking an institution that he seeks to change.

In one section of the book, Harry describes a tense meeting in which Charles stood between his two sons’ flushed faces and said, “Please, boys — don’t make my final years a misery.”

Harry did attend Charles’s coronation last year, although he stayed on the sidelines of the ceremony and didn’t appear with other royals for the finale on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. He is reported to have called his father on his 75th birthday in November.

What we know so far about King Charles’s cancer diagnosis

Royal watchers were speculating that William, heir to the throne, may have to step up his royal duties if Charles is unable to resume them fully for some time.

Although Charles is the head of state, the role is largely ceremonial. But he nonetheless plays an important part in British life. The nation was convulsed in grief by his mother’s death, and the monarchy has become a deeply symbolic, almost comforting institution of unity for many in the country.

In the event that the monarch’s health is unstable and he cannot appear in public, royal experts say the monarchy will do what it always does: It will go on. On Tuesday, Princess Anne, the king’s hard-working sister, was handing out orders and medals at a ceremony at Windsor Castle. William will be doing the same on Wednesday before attending a fundraising gala for the London Air Ambulance.

Charles is expected to continue to receive his “red boxes,” containing documents from the government that the monarch must review, and to meet with the prime minister for his weekly audience.

Charles and Camilla have upcoming trips planned for Canada, in May, and Australia, New Zealand and Samoa, in October. Some have wondered whether William might step in for those trips if needed, depending on the king’s health.

Locals and tourists gathered near Clarence House, the king’s white stucco mansion, on Tuesday.

Angela Goodman, 62, said she was “absolutely heartbroken.”

“We knew he was elderly, but this is tragic,” said Goodman, who was wearing a lavender-colored bobble hat. She said she thought William would do his “very best” to step up, but that he had his own family to care for. Asked about Harry coming to London, she said, “He will go home and sell his story.”

Goodman added that she has a message for Charles: “God save the king. You will get better.”

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