A version of this story appeared in the Nov. 25 edition of CNN’s Royal News, a weekly installment that brings you an inside look at Britain’s royal family. Register here.
Another week, another set of firsts for the new king. This time, Charles III hosted the first state visit of his reign, welcoming South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to the UK.
It was a short two-day visit, but that did not stop the monarch from halting a diplomatic campaign designed to strengthen the relationship between the two nations.
The trip had been in the works before Queen Elizabeth II died, and while state visits generally stick to an old-fashioned schedule of events, King Charles still managed to put his own stamp on the occasion.
He kicked things off with a grand reception that was abuzz with British pomp and pageantry. Charles was not alone as he welcomed Ramaphosa to the Royal Pavilion at Horse Guards Parade in central London. Also in attendance were the Queen’s marriage and the Prince and Princess of Wales – the couple had been sent to Ramaphosa’s hotel to greet the head of state earlier in the day.
More than 1,000 soldiers and 200 horses took part in the ceremonial military display. The South African president looked delighted as he inspected a guard of honor and received a royal salute in the cool winter sunshine from No. 7 Company Coldstream Guards.
Colonel James Shaw, who oversees major festive events in his role as head of the Home Department, said preparations for Tuesday’s reception had taken “a lot of work” before revealing those involved were “very proud to support such an important national occasion .”
“The state visit is a historic first: our first state visit for His Majesty the King and the President of South Africa, the first state visit in London since 2019, the first state visit to the Horse Guards since 2018 and the first for almost anyone on parade,” the army organizer said, according to British PA Media news agency.
After an official reception, the party traveled by carriage back to Buckingham Palace where Ramaphosa was greeted by another guard of honour. A tour of the Royal Museum’s South African-themed items was followed by a private lunch hosted by the King, before an elaborate white-tie banquet that evening.
Usually held on the first night of a state visit, Buckingham Palace parties are held in the ballroom, with around 160 invitations to individuals with “cultural, diplomatic or economic ties to the host country.”
Before everyone tucks into the sumptuous feast (a starter of grilled bream with wild mushrooms and truffles with sour sauce, followed by Windsor pheasant stuffed with artichoke hearts, quince compote and port sauce for the main course, in case you were wondering), the king usually says a few words and raises a glass to the guest of honor.
Charles impressed Ramaphosa by opening his speech with the word “welcome” in several different languages used in South Africa. After a few jokes, the king praised the economic, scientific and cultural ties between the two countries. All the standard notes for a party speech, but Charles didn’t shy away from challenging subjects either, ripping apart Britain’s troubled colonial legacy.
“While there are elements of that history that are deeply saddening, it is imperative that we seek to understand them,” he said. “We must acknowledge the wrongs that have shaped our past if we are to unlock the power of our collective future.”
Many saw Charles’ comments as part of an ongoing effort to unify the Commonwealth of Nations, some of which have in recent years expressed plans to cut ties with London.
The King also chose the opportunity to call for future cooperation to find “practical solutions to the twin existential threats of climate change and biodiversity loss”.
With this first visit by a foreign leader coming just two months into his reign, the king was also keen to reflect on his mother’s ties to South Africa, recalling her visits to the country, the times she hosted Ramaphosa’s predecessor in London and the friendship . she shared with renowned politician Nelson Mandela.
Other royals were also keen to please Elizabeth II, with Camilla wearing the Queen’s stunning sapphire and diamond tiara with a matching necklace and bracelet, and Kate sporting a bracelet belonging to the family matriarch.
The state visit to South Africa was Charles’ first major diplomatic test. He revealed that while he will be following a template created by his mother, he also wants to shake things up and tackle issues that matter to him and his subjects.
Apparently, he also plans to do so with Camilla, William and Kate firmly by his side and with other members of Windsor House supporting his plays. It became common to see Charles supporting and sometimes standing in for his mother in the twilight of her reign. But this week, the Prince and Princess of Wales’ high-profile state visit suggested the couple had been thrust into important starring roles. All four will work together, front and center, sharing their responsibilities as they strive to secure the future of the clan.
Here are some of our favorite photos from King Charles’ first state visit as monarch.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa sets off in a Horse Guards Parade with King Charles III and Queen Camilla in the Irish State Coach en route to Buckingham Palace at the start of the President’s two-day state visit.
After sharing a private lunch, the King and the President headed to the Buckingham Palace Gallery where they viewed items from the Royal Collection relating to South Africa. Here, Ramaphosa holds a photograph of anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, who served as South Africa’s president in the 1990s, with Queen Elizabeth II.
Ramaphosa was also invited to visit Westminster Abbey, where he was shown a memorial stone to Mandela. He was accompanied by the dean of Westminster Abbey, The Very Reverend Dr. David Hoyle.
Laughter around the dinner table as King Charles speaks at Tuesday night’s banquet.
The following day the Earl of Wessex accompanied Ramaphosa to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Later, the couple visited the Francis Crick Institute, a research center in partnership with the University of KwaZulu-Natal. During the stop, they learned about techniques used across the African continent to detect infections and met South African researchers and students.
The state visit also gave UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak the opportunity to welcome Ramaphosa to 10 Downing Street for a bilateral meeting.
Charles’ engagement day in the capital.
The king was a man in town on Wednesday, when he visited three institutions that are home to many of the country’s top lawyers, doctors and jewellers. First, the King visited Gray’s Inn, one of four inns in London where lawyers have cut their teeth for more than six centuries. Charles met many of the students hoping to be called to the bar soon before taking a tour of its pristine grounds In the heart of London. From there the king made the short trip to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital – the oldest hospital in the UK – where a restoration project is due to start in 2023, the building’s 900th anniversary. Specialist craftsmen are rejuvenating the facility’s historic north wing – a Grade I listed architecture adorned with a grand medieval staircase and paintings by William Hogarth. The King met those who worked on the restoration of the building, as well as the frontline hospital staff. To round off the day, the King visited the Goldsmith’s Centre, the UK’s leading educational institution for the training of jewelers and silversmiths. Recognizing the King’s long-standing commitment to the environment, the Goldsmiths’ Company presented him with a cross made from recycled silver. The day showed how Britain’s historic institutions continue to be filled with new talent.
Camilla is helping the Paddington Bears find new homes this Christmas.
Who knew that when the Queen sat down with Paddington Bear for lunch, she would become intrinsically connected to the adorable children’s literary character? The unlikely duo so touched the country that after the king’s death, mourners had to ask the palace if they would please stop leaving his marmalade sandwiches in the floral tributes. Mourners left more than 1,000 Paddington Bear toys outside the royal residence. Not wanting them to go to waste, the toys were collected, cleaned and this week donated to Barnardos Children’s Charity by the Queen Consort. A fleet of taxis delivered the bears in style, along with Camilla herself, to Barnardo’s Nursery in Bow, east London, on Thursday. After a very special teddy bear picnic, some of the teddy bears were given to children there; others will be distributed to children around the country sponsored by the charity.
David Hockney adds color to Palace proceedings.
British artist David Hockney has made a career out of his extravagant use of color – and his recent appearance at Buckingham Palace showed it’s clearly not limited to canvas. It’s not every day that the British are invited to lunch at Buckingham Palace. Even fewer receive invitations because they are members of the Order of Merit. This prestigious award is reserved for only the most talented individuals in the Commonwealth – there can only be 24 living members at a time. For those invited to Buckingham Palace to celebrate the feat, they are expected to come dressed better than their best on Sunday. But David Hockney has always been one to defy expectations. The 85-year-old arrived at the palace wearing not brogues or oxfords – but yellow Crocs. The elegant fashion choices added extra to the occasion.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex joined a group of famous faces sending their best wishes to Elton John as he played his final North American tour at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles last weekend. The pair appeared in a video message broadcast before the concert, in which Harry thanked the musician for being a friend to the family and entertaining the world for several decades. “Thank you for being our friend and thank you for being (a friend of) our kids and thank you for entertaining people around the world,” the Duke added.
Tip for Royal News readers: Just a quick note to let you know we’ll be covering the Prince and Princess of Wales’ trip to the US next week. That means next week’s edition may go out a little later than usual depending on how events unfold.
– Max and Lauren