Princess Anne says there should be no surprises as her brother, King Charles, prepares to formalize his position as monarch with his coronation on May 6 — a role he’s been working toward for a good part of his life as the longest-serving heir apparent in British history.
“Well, you know what you’re getting because he’s been practising for a bit, and I don’t think he’ll change,” Princess Anne told Adrienne Arsenault, chief correspondent of CBC News, during an interview at St. James’s Palace in London. “You know, he is committed to his own level of service, and that will remain true.”
The only daughter of the late Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip sat down for the interview, a Canadian exclusive with The National, to talk about her 74-year-old brother’s coronation, the future of the monarchy in light of recent dwindling support and upcoming visits to Canada.
The coronation marks the formal investiture of King Charles with regal power. For the rest of the Royal Family, the shift will be determining how to best support the King, said Anne, 72.
“My mother was the Queen for a very long time. And although you kind of know that this might happen, you don’t really think about it very much — not least of all because the monarchy is about continuity.”
There was an order to the years during the Queen’s reign, from 1952 until her death in September 2022, because she “didn’t change very much” over the years and a predictable rhythm to the activities emerged, the Princess Royal said.
Recent headlines in the U.K. have been dominated by speculation about what changes the new King will introduce. There is talk that he will reduce the number of working royals, cut back royal staffing and continue to champion causes, even as the monarch.
The family will continue in the role as supporters, Princess Anne said.
“For the rest of us, it’s more a question of, OK, we have to shift the way we support. And that’s what we need to do.”
On coronation day, Princess Anne will travel on horseback behind the newly crowned King and his wife, Queen Camilla, as the Gold-Stick-in-Waiting, a role that has been described in the international media as prestigious.
“So I said yes, not least of all it solves my dress problem.”
The role is now largely a ceremonial one, but in bygone eras, the Gold-Stick-in-Waiting was a bodyguard, tasked with protecting the sovereign — the original “close protection officer,” Anne said.
Polls say support has dropped
Polls suggest interest in watching the coronation ceremony is low. An April 13 poll suggested 48 per cent of Britons are not very likely or not likely at all to watch. In Canada, one in five polled by the Angus Reid Institute said they might tune in for part of the ceremony.
Beyond the coronation, questions remain about what the future of the monarchy looks like. Support for the institution has generally dropped in both Canada and the U.K. since the Queen’s death, according to recent polls.
Princess Anne acknowledged conversations about relevance are being had everywhere.
“It’s not a conversation that I would necessarily have. I think it’s perfectly true that it is a moment when you need to have that discussion,” she said, adding the monarchy gives a degree of stability that is “quite hard to come by any other way.”
Anne said the family of the monarch see themselves as supporting the King and showcasing the good in communities in which they work.
“I rather hope that sometimes what we can do is just to underline the goodness and the fact that there are an awful lot of people out there who really do understand about the way they behave towards each other is important and that the monarchy provides an element of a focus to that level of service and encourages that in the long term,” she said.
“It’s not a short-term thing. You’re there for the long term.”
Research into slavery
Some of the questions about relevance have been spurred on by conversations about the history of the monarchy, colonization and the connection with slavery. After the issue made headlines in the United Kingdom, King Charles signalled he would support research into the Crown’s ties to slavery.
Buckingham Palace released a statement on April 6, saying the Royal Household would support research through access to the Royal Collection and Royal Archives.
It came months after then-Prince Charles gave a speech in Rwanda at the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in June 2022.
“I cannot describe the depths of my personal sorrow at the suffering of so many, as I continue to deepen my own understanding of slavery’s enduring impact.”
When asked about this decision, Anne was reluctant to discuss what her brother would have meant by this support.
“It’s not really a subject of conversation that I would even go down. I have a historical perspective which is slightly different, maybe more realistic,” she said.
“The historical perspective [is] it just goes back a lot further. And the modern contexts are very different. Slavery hasn’t gone away.”
Recent years have been tumultuous for the Royal Family — with Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, stepping back as senior members, and Prince Andrew, the Queen’s son, losing his patronages and military affiliations after allegations he sexually abused a teenage girl. A lawsuit was settled out of court.
Along with the deaths of the Queen and Prince Philip, this has meant there are fewer working royals.
Rumours have swirled for months about how King Charles would change the institution, including a smaller number of working royals, a move referred to as a “slimmed-down” monarchy.
Princess Anne is often called the “hardest-working royal” because of the number of engagements she attends in a year. In 2022, she topped the list with 214, compared with King Charles’s 181. She doesn’t seem supportive of the idea.
“Well, I think the ‘slimmed down’ was said in a day when there were a few more people around,” she said.
“It doesn’t sound like a good idea from where I’m standing, I would say. I’m not quite sure what else we can do.”
Upcoming trip to Canada
Princess Anne has visited Canada more than 20 times for official visits, private working visits and stopovers. She will return in May for her first post-pandemic trip to Canada to mark the 175th anniversary of the 8th Canadian Hussars, a primary reserve unit based in New Brunswick.
It’s a patronage she began in 1972 with the title of colonel-in-chief.
She said it’s important to be there for the landmark anniversary because of the regiments’ rich history. But there will be no time on this trip for leisure.
“I have grandchildren who go to New Brunswick on holidays. They know the beaches because they’re really good beaches,” she said.
“It would be really nice. But no, this time of year is too difficult, really.”
The full interview with Princess Anne will air on The National on Monday at 10 p.m. Eastern on CBC TV, 9 p.m. Eastern on News Network and CBC Gem.