How King Charles III Has Kept Calm and Carried on Since His Cancer Diagnosis

King Charles III sitting apart from his family at their Easter service is not what the royals had in mind for this new modern era, but the monarch has put duty first while battling cancer.

By Natalie Finn Mar 30, 2024 10:00 AMTags
Watch: King Charles III to Sit Apart From Royal Family at Easter Service

As Easter rolls around this year, the royal family is looking to resurrect confidence in the centuries-old institution.

Even before the shocking one-two punch of King Charles III and Kate Middleton's health crises, things had simply not been the same since Queen Elizabeth II's death in September 2022, which couldn't help but change the entire royal vibe in the U.K.

Still, taking a cue from their late matriarch, the remaining senior royals chugged along, never officially responding to the slings and arrows flying their way (many of them coming from inside the family).

But then business as usual ground to a halt in January: Kensington Palace announced that Kate Middleton was going to be out of the public eye while recovering from abdominal surgery until at least after Easter on March 31. Hours later, Buckingham Palace shared that Charles was being treated for an enlarged prostate.

On Feb. 5, six days after he was discharged from the hospital, the palace stated that Charles had been diagnosed with cancer and would be stepping back from public-facing duties while undergoing treatment.

If there was not one more shred of royal news for the rest of the year, that would have been enough of a what-does-this-mean-for-the-monarchy moment. Of course, that is not what happened.

A Timeline of the Kate Middleton Conspiracy Saga

Seven speculation-packed weeks later—during which the palace had to politely shut down a rumor originating in Russia that Charles had died—Kate revealed in an unprecedented March 22 video message that she was in the "early stages" of preventative chemotherapy after post-op tests "found cancer had been present."

And the first person to applaud her candor—aside from countless civilians on social media—was her father-in-law.

JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images

The king was "so proud of Catherine for her courage in speaking as she did," a palace spokesperson told NBC News. Charles had "remained in the closest contact with his beloved daughter-in-law throughout the past weeks" and he and Queen Camilla "will continue to offer their love and support to the whole family through this difficult time."

Let alone his own difficult time, which has sidelined the 75-year-old when it's more important than ever for him to be out and about, demonstrating that the centuries-old institution he oversees is in steady hands.

As Charles' mother, who reigned for 70 years, famously put it, "I have to be seen to be believed."

Karwai Tang/WireImage

So while the king was in "good spirits," nephew Peter Phillips also guessed that his uncle had to be "hugely frustrated."

"He's frustrated that he can't get on and do everything that he wants to be able to do," the 46-year-old son of Charles' sister Princess Anne told Sky News Australia in an interview published March 24 (but given before Kate spoke out). "But he's very pragmatic. He understands that there's a period of time that he really needs to focus on himself."

Which apparently doesn't come any more naturally to him than it did to the late Queen Elizabeth II, whose commitment to her role remains the stuff of legend and a certain Emmy-winning Netflix drama.

"He is always pushing his staff and everybody, and his doctors and nurses, to be able to say, 'Actually come on, you know, can I do this? Can I do that?'" Peter said. "So the overriding message would be that he's obviously very keen to get back to a form of normality. And he's probably frustrated that, recovery is taking a little longer than probably he would want it to."

King Charles III's Road to the Throne

When the palace first shared his diagnosis, no timeline was offered as to how long Charles might be away from the public eye, though from day one it was understood that he still planned to tend to state business behind closed doors. (Incidentally, though the public still doesn't know what type of cancer he has or what his treatment has entailed, sharing at all was a relatively transparent move on the monarch's part.)

As expected, William, Camilla, Anne and youngest brother Prince Edward all pressed onward as the co-faces of the Firm in Charles' absence.

"I'd like to take this opportunity to say thank you also for the kind messages of support for Catherine and for my father, especially in recent days," William told an audience at an Air Ambulance Charity Gala Dinner in London on Feb. 7. "It means a great deal to us."

Jonathan Brady - WPA Pool/Getty Images

But it was only a couple of weeks before Charles resumed meeting in person with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who—as seen in a video shared afterward of the usually private appointment—complimented the king on how well he looked as he walked into the Buckingham Palace office on Feb. 21.

"All done by mirrors," Charles quipped.

More comfortable showing emotion than his impossibly stoic predecessor, the king told the PM, "I've had so many wonderful messages and cards. It's reduced me to tears most of the time." 

Jonathan Brady - Pool/Getty Images

While he's primarily been staying at his Sandringham residence in Norfolk, photographers have been on hand to capture snippets of Charles at work in Buckingham Palace: Meeting with Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt March 5; on a video call the next day with Canadian PM Justin Trudeau while sitting at the desk that belonged to his late father, Prince Philip; greeting ambassadors from Algeria and Mauritania in the 1844 Room; meeting alums of the Windsor Leadership Trust on March 26.

Charles is also still hoping to make it to Australia with Camilla for their first state visit to the Commonwealth nation since becoming king and queen, according to nephew Peter, who said the couple "would obviously love to see as many people as possible."

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said in early March, per local media, that they were "preparing for a possible visit from His Majesty The King to Australia later this year."

Members of the Royal Family Attend Easter Church Service 2023

On March 21, during a two-day trip to Northern Ireland, Camilla told a well-wisher at the Arcadia deli in Belfast that her husband of almost 19 years was "doing very well."

She added, per Hello!, "He was very disappointed he couldn't come." And in response to a joke about men not being "the best patients," Camilla assured, "I try to keep him in order."

She also became the first-ever monarch's consort to appear in their spouse's stead at the Royal Maundy Service on March 28, with Charles expressing his regrets that he couldn't be there in a prerecorded video message. 

Jonathan Brady - WPA Pool/Getty Images

"In this country, we are blessed by all the different services that exist for our welfare," the king said, per a recording shared by NBC News. "But over and above these organizations and their selfless staff, we need and benefit greatly from those that extend the hand of friendship to us, especially in a time of need."

But while Charles has been seen to an extent over the past two months in videos and photographs, and he's been snapped from a distance on Sunday walks to church in Sandringham (be it rain or just clouds), the traditional March 31 Easter service at St. George's Chapel in Windsor will mark his first public event since before his hospitalization in January.

He and Camilla will be seated apart from the main congregation, including other members of the family, according to the Telegraph, out of precaution for Charles' health. But his attendance is unequivocally an important step on the road back to normalcy—for the king and the people who've got to see the royals to believe.

Keep reading for a rundown of what already feels like a year's worth of royal news:

Returning to Public Duties

On April 26, nearly three months after sharing his cancer diagnosis, Buckingham Palace announced that Charles will return to public-facing duties

Queen Camilla Attends Royal Maundy Service

The queen consort attended the Royal Maundy Service on March 28 in place of King Charles III, making her the first spouse of the Monarch to continue the ancient tradition.

Kate Middleton Shares Cancer Diagnosis

In a March 22 video message, the Princess of Wales shared that she'd been diagnosed with cancer after undergoing abdominal surgery in January.

"It was thought that my condition was non-cancerous. The surgery was successful," she said before noting that tests after the operation found cancer had been present. "My medical team therefore advised that I should undergo a course of preventative chemotherapy and I am now in the early stages of that treatment."

Kate Middleton Apologizes for Edited Family Photo Controversy

After photo agencies pulled the picture Kensington Palace shared of Kate since having her abdominal surgery on March 10, the Princess of Wales addressed claims the photo was doctored. 

"Like many amateur photographers, I do occasionally experiment with editing," she tweeted on March 11. "I wanted to express my apologies for any confusion the family photograph we shared yesterday caused. I hope everyone celebrating had a very happy Mother's Day. C."

Lady Kitty Spencer Privately Welcomes Baby

Princess Diana's niece celebrated Mother's Day in the U.K. by sharing she and her husband Michael Lewis privately welcomed their first baby.

“It’s the joy of my life to be your mummy, little one. I love you unconditionally," she captioned her March 10 Instagram post. "Happy Mother’s Day to those who celebrate today."

Queen Camilla Takes a Break

After keeping up her full slate of engagements in the wake of her husband's cancer diagnosis, the palace cleared Camilla's schedule.

The Times pointed out March 2 that the 76-year-old didn't have any engagements on her calendar until March 11, when she'd be due at Westminster Abbey to observe Commonwealth Day.

Thomas Kensington Dies at 45

The husband of Lady Gabriella Windsor and ex-boyfriend of Pippa Middleton, was found dead Feb. 25. Days later, a coroner's inquest found that he died by suicide.

King Charles Diagnosed With Cancer

While King Charles III was in the hospital for his benign prostate enlargement procedure, the royal family member was diagnosed with cancer.

"His Majesty has today commenced a schedule of regular treatments, during which time he has been advised by doctors to postpone public-facing duties," Buckingham Palace said Feb. 5. "Throughout this period, His Majesty will continue to undertake State business and official paperwork as usual.The King is grateful to his medical team for their swift intervention, which was made possible thanks to his recent hospital procedure. He remains wholly positive about his treatment and looks forward to returning to full public duty as soon as possible."

Sarah Ferguson Is Diagnosed With a Second Type of Cancer

The Duchess of York's rep said in a statement on Jan. 21 that Sarah was recently diagnosed with malignant melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer. Several months prior, she underwent a single mastectomy to treat breast cancer.

Queen Margrethe II of Denmark Abdicates the Throne

On Jan. 14, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark made history as she officially abdicated the throne, handing the crown over to her son, now known as King Frederik the 10th

Kate Middleton Is Hospitalized

Kensington Palace announced on Jan. 17 that Kate Middleton underwent planned abdominal surgery and was set to remain in the hospital for 10 to 14 days.

"Based on the current medical advice," the Palace said, "she is unlikely to return to public duties until after Easter."

Prince William Adjusting His Schedule

Amid Kate's recovery, Prince William postponed a number of engagements as he supported his family, including the couple's three children, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis.

King Charles III Undergoing Treatment

Shortly after Kate's hospitalization was made public, Buckingham Palace shared that Charles "has sought treatment for an enlarged prostate."

"His Majesty's condition is benign and he will attend hospital next week for a corrective procedure," the statement added. "The King’s public engagements will be postponed for a short period of recuperation."

Luxembourg Welcomes a New Baby

Princess Claire and Prince Felix of Luxembourg welcomed son Balthazar Felix Karl on Jan. 7, the first royal baby of the New Year!