The Sept. 8 death of the amazing and remarkable Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain led instantly to Prince Charles becoming King Charles III. That reminded me of Charles’ visit to Berlin in 1994 for the close-out of the British military presence. His was one of the many trips to Germany’s capital I dealt with as editor of the Berlin Observer.
With heads of state, ambassadors, allied generals and more. I wanted to give each of my reporters a major story to add to their resumes. When Prince Charles’ visit was posted, that became harder. Reporter No. 1 said: “I would cover Prince of Purple Rain fame but not this unfaithful idiot!” Reporter No. 2 said: “Why did they send lowlife Charles?” Reporter No. 3 said: “I don’t really want to see him, or the ceremony.”
All eyes were on King Charles III on Sept. 19, at his mother’s funeral. The forthcoming pressure will be intense as he balances the sadness of the Queen’s death while asserting his own authority. It is estimated that 2,000 people attended the funeral, with Charles engaging with world leaders as well as the Royal Family. Millions of people tuned in on TV, watching his every step.
State funerals are rare. That is good because they are extremely costly in direct costs, lost labor and production. The most recent U.S. state funeral (for former President George H.W. Bush in 2018) cost at least $500 million in direct costs and $40 million in other costs. In the United Kingdom, the last state funeral (for Sir Winston Churchill in 1965) cost over 2.5 million pounds.
Prince Charles and Diana moved apart because the couple was incompatible in many ways, partly caused by a 12-plus-year age difference. After the separation in December 1992, Charles admitted an affair with Camilla Parker Bowles, his mistress. In spring 1994, he traveled to Berlin to case the colors of British forces. That’s why the reaction among my three Army journalists was visceral to the idea of writing a story about him.
Charles and Diana were divorced on Aug. 28, 1996, after being formally advised by Elizabeth in December 1995 to end the marriage. Diana, 36, was killed in a car crash in Paris on Aug. 17 the next year. With the Queen fading fast, there was not much coverage of the 25 years since her crash. I recall a daily paper’s error in its 1997 coverage of the much-admired princess.
In 1997, I was assistant news editor at the daily paper in Opelika. The paper had only a lead-in photo of Diana and a brief note that she died. The main story was on page 8 or 9. There were good and bad reasons for major international stories, such as this regarding the Princess, to be relegated to way inside. The good aspect was that the daily almost always had ALL local stories, or at least Alabama stories, on the front page. So I think that is why Diana’s tragedy was well inside the paper.
The bad thing was that the paper should have adjusted for the major global event. As reporters, we would each write two or three local stories per day targeted for Page One. After the mixup with Diana’s demise, we were allowed one or two state, national or international stories on each day’s front page. The AP provided enough Diana stories that week to have an eight-page Special Section the following Sunday that was very popular with our readers.
Diana famously said: “There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.” She referred to Bowles, whom Charles married in 2005. In 2022, I hope the new King can say: “There are three of us in this marriage, so it is a bit crowded. That includes me, Camilla and the spirit of my mother, which can make me a king as good as she was a queen.”
Who knows? Perhaps someday soon, Charles will visit the U.S. Maybe one of my former Army journalists will attend an event for the king. With 50 years of learning about his new influential role, comes his perch with a great resume. Godspeed to him. God Save the King.
Greg Markley moved to Lee County in 1996. He has master’s degrees in education and history. He taught politics as an adjunct in Georgia and Alabama. An award-winning writer in the Army and civilian life, he has contributed to the Observer since 2011. He is a member of the national Education Writers Association (focus-Higher Education). firstname.lastname@example.org.