For some monarchists, shadow of Diana ‘will hang over the Coronation’

Riots, tear gas, water cannon — in some countries these are customary ways to mark a change at the top. All we get is whether coronation quiche is a worthy successor to coronation chicken and which Abbey seat will be warmed by the posterior of the fifth-in-line.

We may be British but that doesn’t mean we’re boring. Our strange constitution has once again delivered a new head of state, unhampered by political baggage and unbeholden to any electoral faction. Anointed by God, no less, to reign over us for as long as the Almighty ordains.

The latest Windsor to wear the Imperial State Crown still reigns over mighty dominions and the sun still (almost) never sets on his realms and territories beyond the seas.

For now, theoretically at least, Charles III’s subjects across the globe hail him as their King: from Baffin Bay in the Canadian Arctic to the Great Australian Bight, from Montserrat to Pitcairn.

Millions of their neighbours in less blessed countries will also tune in next Saturday to share a unique moment in history — or just to be entertained. And when the show is over, they will change channels, order a takeaway and go back to their kingless lives.

Prince Charles and Princess Diana visit Gilbraltar as part of their honeymoon cruising the Mediterranean Sea in August 1981

Yet for we happy few, our steps will be a little lighter, our hearts a little stouter and our loyalty seamlessly transferred to Elizabeth’s heir and then to his heir and so on till Kingdom come.

We’ve all had a chance to form an opinion of the new King during his record-breaking 70-year stint as heir.

As befits a man of his destiny and accomplishments, he offers the world many different faces: the Goons fan, always up for a joke; the scholarly renaissance man equally at home among Duchy tenantry or Bradford Imams; the father of his people, patron of innumerable good causes, guardian of the environment, philanthropic entrepreneur; aesthete, artist, activist, ambassador — his life is an encyclopaedia of opportunities well taken and the Kingdom is the richer for it.

Of course, past performance is no guarantee of future results, as the financial services adverts warn us. Same for the King: past performance is really all we have, not just to predict future results but also to tell us what sort of man he is.

I first met Charles III in 1980 when I was a junior officer in one of the smallest (and happiest) ships in the Royal Navy.

It was a ship in which he had briefly served and, since we were visiting the Pool of London, we thought we would ask if he’d like to pop in for a quick glass and a yarn about the old days.

Such a short-notice invitation would normally be politely rejected by the palace programming machine which likes to set royal diaries far in advance.

But it told us something about the future King that he immediately sent word he’d be delighted to renew acquaintance with a ship in which we knew he’d had some rare carefree times.

Princess Diana and Patrick Jephson, her former private secretary who's written this personal essay

Princess Diana and Patrick Jephson, her former private secretary who’s written this personal essay

As darkness fell, he slipped aboard, accompanied only by his protection officer. Soon the drinks and stories were flowing. Then, with the party in full swing, he quietly took his leave and disappeared into the London night.

That unique royal aura lingered while his former shipmates refreshed their glasses and all agreed he was ‘a bloody good bloke’. In some unsentimental masculine circles, there’s no higher accolade than that.

Several years later, we met again. His first wife Princess Diana had selected me as her equerry (military aide) and before the appointment could be confirmed he wanted to give me the once over.

I was touched that he cared so much about the young future Queen to check for himself that I would probably do an OK job. This was a different prince — friendly enough but all business and visibly preoccupied with something doubtless far more important than me.

In the years that followed, I occasionally worked as his equerry, too, usually on overseas tours which the Prince and Princess’s equerries shared in turn.

Here was a different prince again: master of his brief, effortlessly professional and prone to alternate charm, concern and truly royal displeasure seemingly at the flick of a switch.

Still world class, I thought: he really puts in the hours and carries mental burdens I couldn’t even begin to imagine. He’s entitled to the odd mood.

Soon after, as the Wales’s marriage began its final, terminal disintegration, the Princess promoted me to be her private secretary, tasked first with carving out her own organisation from what had been a unified office and then taking the Diana show on the road. It was heady stuff: ‘We’ve got work to do, Patrick,’ and she set about it, with style, grace and guts.

Charles steadily advanced on the objective that's clearly his life's great work: the transformation of Camilla Parker Bowles from guilty secret into the anointed Queen of the United Kingdom, writes Patrick Jephson

Charles steadily advanced on the objective that’s clearly his life’s great work: the transformation of Camilla Parker Bowles from guilty secret into the anointed Queen of the United Kingdom, writes Patrick Jephson 

Sadly, the Prince found it difficult to take pleasure from public admiration, even affection, for his then wife. It should have been a source of satisfaction that her efforts added a new relevance and new supporters to the Royal Family, but instead an extraordinary resentment took control.

Scraping the barrel, some of his advisers briefed media allies against her, even whispering that she was mentally ill.

Did Charles countenance such callous tactics against the mother of his children? Even having to ask the question made me realise that here was yet another version of the Prince, one I found much less easy to admire.

Distracted by the cold-blooded deception of Martin Bashir, Diana handed an easy victory to her critics with her disastrous Panorama gambit.

Fatally estranged from the royal support system, she now took a path that led only to a mirage of freedom and ultimate tragedy.

Meanwhile, the Prince steadily advanced on the objective that’s clearly his life’s great work: the transformation of Camilla Parker Bowles from guilty secret into the anointed Queen of the United Kingdom. Today that work will be complete. That news may fill you with joy.

This may indeed be the happy ending that justifies years of marital strife and decades of collateral damage. Perhaps, in the famous words of the King’s daughter-in-law Meghan Markle, ‘Love wins’.

Yet for many loyal monarchists, all this rejoicing — with its tinge of triumphalism — may still feel slightly unsettling. A romance that conquers everything in its path is bound to stir some misgivings.

Charles has always seen himself as a moderniser, widely interpreted as meaning he wants to slash the payroll in pursuit of an unknowable definition of royal 'value'

Charles has always seen himself as a moderniser, widely interpreted as meaning he wants to slash the payroll in pursuit of an unknowable definition of royal ‘value’

My own doubts have an obvious explanation. I served the King’s first wife for eight years. Though we parted on unhappy terms (thanks to Martin Bashir’s lies), she earned my loyalty many times over. She has it still.

Others may regret, as I do, that our dutiful respect for the highest office in the land is now tainted by the lingering effects of so many half-truths, planted to obscure the King’s real intentions towards Mrs Parker Bowles.

An honest account of her extraordinary ascent would acknowledge that Camilla’s actual status in the King’s past and in the country’s future was cloaked behind a long succession of creative palace statements.

These were intended to benefit from benign public loyalty and reliably patchy public memory.

For good measure, journalists are still being fed a well-worn palace sales pitch about Camilla the wholesome dog-walking countrywoman. The contrast with mercurial Diana is implicit but clear.

Granted, the Diana tragedy — like a lot of royal stuff — was a long time ago. And if you’re worried about Charles and Camilla’s choices en route to the throne, compared to some of the rogues who preceded them they’re positively angelic.

The British monarchy has survived a thousand years, not because it’s a model of virtue but because it knows how to play the flawed human hand fate has dealt it. The monarchy — perhaps like our new Queen — long ago learned the art of the long game.

We are where we are, and lucky to be here, as Charles and Camilla fans will doubtless claim. A week today, they will celebrate in style as their favourites process around the winners’ enclosure.

Second chances have been kind to Charles and Camilla. Yet even as the champagne corks pop, clear-headed courtiers should have a nagging concern: pomp and spin reliably make palace inhabitants feel secure and loved, but how far that warm glow extends beyond the red carpet nobody can be quite sure. There may be lean years ahead when this reign needs every drop of goodwill it can get.

There have been lean years in the past and it was then that the Windsor men depended most on their women to stay afloat — Edward VII with Queen Alexandra, George V with Queen Mary and George VI with Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother.

Camilla probably already belongs on that list and here is her reward. Big hats and the best jewellery in the palace vault, a twinkle and a matey quip for the tabloid hacks – all concealing a watchful eye on people and events within and far beyond palace walls.

As was just authoritatively disclosed, she’s also the icy nemesis to those she deems unworthy of her husband’s court.

Her greatest value may yet be to demonstrate to other members of the Royal Family that it isn’t necessary to do anything very much in order to get by. Attend regularly to a small but carefully curated portfolio of good causes and don’t forget to smile and wave.

That highlights the Royal Family’s fundamental challenge for the new reign: can they content themselves with a reputation for low-key reliability, or will past preoccupations with relevance and popularity keep their media offices busy with well-meaning initiatives, fashionable opinions and earnest claims to policy leadership?

PERHAPS it is safer, and more effective, to remember royalty’s traditional role of drawing attention to other people’s good works. Leave to the politicians those invitations to the World Economic Forum in Davos and other global talking shops.

The late Queen knew that monarchy doesn’t need a plan to save the world — it just needs to be a steadfast comfort to British people.

The adjectives ‘steadfast’ and ‘British’ are worth emphasising — of course it’s nice when the world loves our Royal Family but their single-minded service to the people of these islands and the Commonwealth is their destiny and privilege. If that isn’t enough for them, they’re in the wrong job.

Charles has always seen himself as a moderniser, widely interpreted as meaning he wants to slash the payroll in pursuit of an unknowable definition of royal ‘value’.

However, the price of a public display of streamlining could be an unwelcome focus on who and what escapes the cull.

Ultimately, there can be no cuts big enough for critics who will begrudge every penny spent on an institution they despise. So, let’s not reject out of hand the other option: a large and confident working Royal Family, happily bringing individual moments of magic to as many smiling subjects as possible.

Watch the Princess Royal to see how it’s done.

Next Saturday, all the King’s horses and all the King’s men and women will deliver another faultless reminder of how much fun it is to have a Royal Family.

The Coronation’s magical blend of low festival and high religious solemnity will surely turn the toughest sceptic into a monarchist for the day.

Even so, the palace has been sent a respectful reminder of the reservations felt by many of the King’s subjects. Recently, The Mail’s comprehensive poll of attitudes to royalty revealed that Diana scored ahead of Charles as the royal figure making the more positive contribution to the country.

It seems the new reign — like Diana’s marriage — will still be a bit crowded. More worrying to Coronation strategists was the finding that naming Camilla ‘Queen’ is approved by only 14 per cent.

It may not be a riot or even a water cannon. But when will the missing 86 per cent catch up with the Gold State Coach on its journey into the glorious future?

Something for thoughtful monarchists to ponder, as they nibble quiche and raise their glasses to celebrate the happy King and his smiling Queen.