Buckingham Palace aides are drawing up contingency plans for several forthcoming engagements which could see Prince William standing in for King Charles as he recovers from cancer treatment.
Following Monday’s shocking announcement that King Charles is undergoing treatment for cancer following a procedure for a benign prostate, the monarch has been forced to step back from public duties for the foreseeable future. While Charles is able to continue with state duties – the palace has confirmed he will attend Privy Council meetings, read his state correspondence and continue with his desk work – it is not known when his public duties will resume. Meanwhile, a major tour to Canada reportedly in the pipeline has been shelved for the time being.
Sources close to King Charles say he is “frustrated” by the setback and naturally concerned about the diagnosis. While he will follow his doctor’s orders to rest between treatments, he is eager to return to work. “The king is both pragmatic and optimistic. The cancer diagnosis was a shock but the prognosis is positive and he is determined to get back to full health as soon as he can,” one confidante told Vanity Fair.
Nonetheless, palace aides are looking to the weeks ahead and considering the possibility of deploying a Counsellor of State if King Charles is unable to attend the annual Commonwealth Day service in March.
Buckingham Palace has told VF that “all plans are being looked at” while insiders have revealed that Prince William could be required to stand in should his father not be able to attend the service at Westminster Abbey.
King Charles stood in for Queen Elizabeth in 2022 when she was unable to attend the service, so there is precedence for such an arrangement, says King Charles’s former communications secretary, Dickie Arbiter. “There are a number of engagements that will be under review and key will be the Commonwealth Day service on March 11th,” he said. “It’s likely the king could still be undergoing treatment in which case it would be William as heir to the throne standing in for his father and in so doing, being called upon as a Counsellor of State. This has happened in the past. The king did the same for his mother when she was unable to attend the service.”
The other engagement being considered is Royal Maundy, which takes place at the end of March and is when the monarch hands out Maundy money to local pensioners. Last year, King Charles and Queen Camilla attended the Maundy service in York.
“If this fell to William, then it would be an elevated role but there are other Counsellors of State who can also stand in for the King should he be unable to carry out engagements,” said Arbiter. “These include the queen, the Princess Royal and Duke of Edinburgh. The palace will be looking ahead, not to next week but beyond. We have the 6 June Anniversary of D Day, the king will want to be there. Then it’s Trooping the Colour, again very important. Charles has done it on behalf of the late Queen so again there’s a precedent and an opportunity for him to use his Counsellors of State.”
Prince William, who returned to work earlier this week, carrying out an investiture and attending an event for the Air Ambulance, has told his father he is ready to step up as and when he is needed but the heir is in a difficult position. His wife, Kate Middleton is recovering from abdominal surgery and William has made it clear his priority is with his young family.
“He’s a young man with a growing family but he also knows his duty and he will rise to it,” Arbiter said. “His father has been diagnosed with cancer and his wife is out of hospital so there is concern. William will be worried for the welfare of both. But the show must go on. The king is mobile and not incapacitated and he is fulfilling his constitutional role.”
On Thursday, Queen Camilla traveled six hours by car to a charity concert in Salisbury where she told well-wishers that Charles is doing “extremely well under the circumstances” while palace aides have said the King is “optimistic” and in good spirits.
King Charles, who is recuperating at Sandringham will return to London next week for further treatment and plans to base himself at Sandringham to recover between outpatient sessions.