In the 1980s, when greed was good and yuppies checked their stocks on massive mobile phones, the then Prince Charles was something of an anomaly.

Married to one of the most famous women in the world, Diana, Princess of Wales, he seemed most comfortable pottering among his plants and contemplating the spiritual works of Jungian mystic Laurens van der Post.

Fast forward 40 years, and it’s evident King Charles III was the one with his finger on the pulse all along. It was the rest of the world that needed time to catch up.

Royal expert Katie Nicholl calls our new monarch “a man ahead of his time”, and says: “When you look at what he’s done in terms of his work… trying to preserve the green belt, trying to preserve architecture, agricultural methods and techniques, trying to protect the soil and not over-farming, the warnings that he issued over GM crops, the benefits of organic farming, I mean the list goes on.

“These are all the things he was championing years ago. It’s like the rest of the world has just woken up and realised he was right all along.”

Royal commentator Duncan Larcombe agrees. “Charles is an intellectual; a deep-thinking, spiritual man, albeit one with a hot temper who can be stubborn,” he says.

“At LiveAid in 1985, there he was, in his suit, chatting to Freddie Mercury, looking rather awkward and out of place in the popular culture of the 1980s, as he was for many decades of his life.”

However, Duncan points out that now, as our king and head of state: “He’s right at the heart of popular culture and a pioneer for the environment. Now [that passion] is his jewel in the crown. He’s relevant to young people.”

In 2020, Charles reflected on how people thought of him as “completely potty” – in fact, he was a visionary.

Back in 1970, he gave a speech to the Countryside Steering Committee for Wales about the environment, addressing concerns such as population growth, diminishing resources and oil pollution at sea and chemical pollution in rivers.

He said: “There are 55 million of us on this island using non-returnable bottles and indestructible plastic containers. It is not difficult to imagine the mountains of refuse that we shall have to deal with somehow.”

But how and why did Charles develop this determination to save the world from itself? Despite experiencing a complicated relationship with his father, Prince Philip, who Katie says was also a “moderniser” in his time, Charles followed in his footsteps. His upbringing instilled in him a deep love for the countryside.

However, the fact that Charles and his dad did not always see eye to eye meant that the young prince was also left searching for other mentors who did understand and appreciate his more sensitive side.

One of these was Lord Louis Mountbatten, but during the 1970s, young Charles began to spread his wings even further. Behind the scenes, he was developing quite radical views for the times, thanks first to his association with South African humanitarian van der Post, his wife Ingaret, a Buddhist actress called Zoe Sallis, and Islamic art expert Keith Critchlow.

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He realised early on that he might not be king for many years, and sought instead to “influence” people, as Sally Bedell Smith relates in her biography Charles. He was driven by a desire, he said, “to get things done”.

His associations with the various free-thinkers in the 1970s caused him to think more deeply about religion, philosophy and our relationship with nature.

Bedell Smith writes: “He began his lifelong quest to build connections – connections with nature and between disciplines, religions and cultures.”

Now, as our new head of the Church of England, one of his first acts as monarch will perhaps be to become more inclusive of all religions practised in the UK.

He tried out complementary medicine, long before such ideas became mainstream in the UK. In the years prior to succeeding his beloved mother as monarch, he explored a variety of alternative therapies, ranging from homeopathy to herbalism, becoming patron of the Faculty of Homeopathy in 2019.

In 1990, he set up Duchy Organic, which sells products ranging from organic milk to cheese and biscuits, with a proportion of the profits donated to his Charitable Fund. And the land on his Gloucestershire estate, Home Farm, is 100% organic.

In more recent years, with his views far more fashionable, our king has had the confidence to express himself without fear of being dismissed as “potty”.

In 2019, his personal website revealed that he shakes hands with every tree he has planted in order “to wish it well”. That doesn’t seem so bonkers in an era when Marie Kondo is encouraging us to thank our belongings for their service.

King Charles has also spoken out about his ancestor, King George III, saying he respected him as a king who was simply misunderstood.

Aged 73, as Charles looks ahead to his coronation, he’ll be hoping that he can continue to inspire and lead the way. Finally, King Charles III has found his audience as our forward-thinking new monarch.


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