‘The Making of a Monarch’: 5 Weird and Wonderful Tidbits About Charles’ Early Life From New Documentary

A new BBC documentary titled 'Charles R: The Making of a Monarch' features rare and unseen home video footage of the King, as well as interesting insights into his life. Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

“This is the story of how a prince became a king, as recorded by film and TV cameras over seven decades,” begins a new BBC documentary, Charles R: The Making of a Monarch, which makes its Canadian network première on VisionTV (a ZoomerMedia property) on Wednesday night. It’s only 60 minutes but, nonetheless, makes some palace-sized promises of rare and homemade childhood video footage of King Charles III, showcasing a new side of the monarch. With just T-minus three days until the coronation, this shameless royal watcher scoured the film for weird and wonderful tidbits about the life of our new King.

Below is a clip from the documentary, and five things I discovered while watching it.


Royal parents were as annoying with the camcorder as yours were: “My parents both enjoyed filming,” says Charles at the documentary’s beginning. Cut to the Queen with the biggest, boxiest (full-colour!) video camera of the era. “I do have very happy memories of childhood,” he recalls, albeit rather unconvincingly, at least until he became heir apparent at the tender age of four. Mom travelled for work a lot, naturally, so little Charles largely stayed home with his grandmother, the Queen Mother, at Royal Lodge and chatted with his mother on the phone — while granny fiddled with the camera.


The Making of a Monarch
HRH Prince Charles at Clarence House, as a child, 1950. Photo: Copyright The Royal Household, 2023


Charles wasn’t great at school and failed math — thrice: While the Royal Family excels at hunting, fishing and day-drinking, they’re not necessarily stellar academics (even Elizabeth, at least according to The Crown). King Charles remembers his schooling at Geelong Grammar School in Australia as so “spartan and physically challenging” that “I would have the scars on my back to prove it.” I suspect a dash of selective dad-memory at work here, though there’s no forgetting that Charles finally passed his math exam on the — yup, count ’em — lucky fourth try.

Our new King is the ultimate dilettante: If you think our fellow mostly shakes hands and greets dignitaries all day, well, you’re not all wrong. But The Making of a Monarch showcases Charles’ so many, many hobbies (and, sometimes, skills) that I began a running list. Here’s just a few: playing cello, flying helicopters, long walks, painting watercolours, looking through binoculars, longer walks, talking to squirrels, hiking in the spitting Scottish rain, homeopathic medicine, organic gardening, another walk, dancing the hokey pokey, feeling choir music deep in his soul, restoring antiques and talking to his plants.


The Making of a Monarch
Charles, when he was Prince of Wales, leans on his walking stick at the foothills of the Himalayas, Nepal, December 1980. Photo: Tim Graham/Getty Images


The BBC’s 1969 Royal Family documentary featured a very unfortunate cameo: Royal voyeurs of course know that on the eve of Charles’ crowning as Prince of Wales, the otherwise-private family gave unprecedented access to BBC cameras in hopes of normalizing the family. Not all of the 350 million viewers who tuned into The Royal Family show were convinced, and even the Queen loathed the show so much that she eventually had it banned. Turns out it could have been much worse: Charles R reveals some wisely cut unseen footage of the family awkwardly welcoming none other than Richard Nixon into their home. (“I’ve seen you on television,” Nixon said to Charles.)


The Making of a Monarch
HRH The Prince of Wales decorates a Christmas tree at Sandringham in a (previously unseen) still from the ‘The Royal Family’ documentary shot in 1968 and aired in 1969. Photo: Copyright The Royal Household, 2023


If Charles wasn’t busy being King he might be a Hollywood actor: In a parallel universe somewhere, Charles Mountbatten-Windsor could be accepting his Oscar — or maybe performing his own stunts as action superstar Chuck Mount (Charlie Wins? Chip Winsmount? I could go all day here). Something to think about, for sure, and now we know King Charles may think about the Hollywood road-not-travelled a lot.

“In a strange way, so much of what one does requires acting ability in one way or another,” he says in the documentary, followed by, “I start when the green light goes on, do I?”

You sure do, Your Majesty!

Charles R: The Making of a Monarch airs on Wednesday, May 3 at 8p.m. EDT / 5p.m. PDT on VisionTV (a ZoomerMedia property).


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