Music

Back when Charles was the king of rock'n'roll

As a prince, Charles got to hang out with rock and pop royalty. Here's a look at some of the new king's memorable moments

charles dancing with the three degrees

Charles celebrating his 30th on the dancefloor with The Three Degrees. Image: Doug McKenzie/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On June 2, 1953, the day of Elizabeth II’s coronation as queen of the United Kingdom, buttoned-up Italian-American singer Frankie Laine was number one in the singles chart with polite, easy-listening ballad I Believe, and pre-Beatles Britain was still a long way from starting swinging. Fast forward 70 years, and Charles succeeds his mum on the throne at the same time as songs including Calvin Harris feat. Ellie Goulding’s donking trance rave anthem Miracle, giant Y-fronts-bedecked Scots soul-boy and social media over-sharer Lewis Capaldi’s Forget You, and Miley Cyrus’s Flowers – an allegorical ode to, nudge-wink, “self-love” – all compete to be crowned top of the pops. 

The country, its mores and its music have changed massively in the last seven decades, more than in any other monarch’s reign. Mostly for the better (Capaldi’s big pants perhaps notwithstanding). The royals haven’t had much to do with this sociocultural revolution, being symbolic heads of state with zero political or executive power (not that I’m a republican or anything). But with a tiny, white-gloved royal wave, they have greeted the pop age with good grace and cheer, even once letting Brian May from Queen do a massive guitar solo on the roof of Buckingham Palace. 

Determining the particular musical tastes of our new sovereign is a slippery proposition. A pan-generational official coronation playlist featuring everything from Kate Bush to Harry Styles feels carefully focus-grouped. But wherever his passions may lie, undoubtedly Charles has been around to bear close witness to pop’s gilded age, with the sort of access-all-areas ubiquity that only the world’s most famous heir apparent can enjoy. Seriously, try googling him together with about any pop star you like and there’s probably a photo. Charles with Beyoncé? You bet! Charles and ABBA? Mamma mia! Charles with Prince (Rogers Nelson)? Purple reign! Charles with Cheryl from Girls Aloud? Not clear why, but they seem to hang out all the time! 

Bow down, then, as we recall seven decades of music in the starry life of the artist formerly known as Prince Charles. 

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1960s: the mop-haired heir

Story goes that as a teenager, young Charles wrote off to request The Beatles’ autographs just like any other kid swept up in the earth-shaking youthquake of the moment. He got them – course he did. But it was one of the thousands of sets “forged” by the Fab Four’s road manager, Neil Aspinall, to help keep up with insatiable demand. Aristocratic privilege be damned, the times they were a changin’. 

1970s: Three degrees of Charles III

During the disco era, Charles was the world’s most eligible bachelor, renowned for partying it up in his own extremely posh way. He celebrated his 30th birthday in 1978 with a lavish bash at Buckingham Palace featuring music from one of his favourite bands, Philadelphia soul trio The Three Degrees – forever after nicknamed “Charlie’s Angels”. He even got up on stage in his tux to bust some moves with them.

1980s: Breakin’ with convention

Charles’s history of bad dancing doesn’t end there. By the ’80s the future king was married to Princess Diana, whose love of pop, especially Duran Duran, is well documented. Less well known was her husband’s support for the burgeoning breakdancing trend, through the Prince’s Trust. Attending an event in Middleton-on-Sea in 1985, the royal B-Boy gamely dropped to his knees with the kids and gave hip-hop dancing a go – a scene later recreated by Dominic West in The Crown

1990s: Spicing up his life

Royal protocol got thoroughly stomped under an oversized platform shoe at the 1997 Prince’s Trust gala, when a red-faced Charles was infamously set upon by the flirty Spice Girls. Both Geri Halliwell and Mel B ran the gauntlet with royal protection officers by giving him pecks on the cheek. Geri later notoriously went one step further by pinching the heir’s backside.

2000s: Tie your mummy down

It’s June 2002, the grand finale of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee concert in Buckingham Palace gardens, and the stage is dripping with rock royalty – Paul McCartney, Brian May, Rod Stewart, Ozzy Osbourne, future crackpot conspiracy theorist Jim Corr. Prince Charles joins them, flanked by his sons William and Harry, to make a speech in honour of the lady of the hour. But it doesn’t begin the way anyone expects. “Your Majesty… Mummy.” It’s a moment so stunningly un-rock’n’roll it may actually be quite rock’n’roll. 

Charles and Cheryl
Image: Shutterstock

2010s: Girl’s allowed

Seriously, why are there so many photos of Charles with Cheryl from Girls Aloud? I’ve found images of nearly a dozen different encounters between the pair over the last decade, more than any other pop star. Yes she’s an ambassador for the Prince’s Trust, but this still seems like exceptional work on Cheryl’s part in the publicity stakes. Or is there something the two aren’t telling us?   

2020s: The king is dead?

Beset by scandals in a world where they look increasingly out of touch, has the British royal family’s star power finally expired? Perhaps, because rumour has it that everyone from Harry Styles to Adele, Robbie Williams, Elton John and even the once-so-eager Spice Girls have turned down invitations to sing at the coronation. Instead, it’ll be a programme of mostly classical and traditional music. Can King Charles get his cool back? Only time will tell. 

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