Activism

Charles and charity: How the ‘activist Prince’ might become the charity King

Since becoming king, Charles has donated to charities which have been critical of government policy and lobbied for changes

King Charles, charity

King Charles visits the Milton Keynes food bank, February 2023. Image: Molly Darlington/WPA Pool/Shutterstock

As heir, Charles became known as the “activist Prince”. But since taking the throne, a string of charitable donations show hints of how he might become the charity King.

Charles spent his apprenticeship making his opinion known. Before you come to the throne, this is more or less fine – the heir can even sell The Big Issue if he wants, as Prince William did. But this vocal way of doing things is not compatible with the top job.

From the outset, Charles confirmed he’d cut down on his charitable activities. In his first address to the nation, he acknowledged this, saying: “It will no longer be possible for me to give so much of my time and energies to the charities and issues for which I care so deeply.”

What shape might this slimmed-down charity engagement take? Since becoming king, Charles has donated to charities which have been critical of government policy and lobbied for changes.

In December, Charles donated to the Fuel Bank Foundation with money from his charitable fund, along with cash sent in condolence cards after the Queen’s death.

The charity, which provides support for those experiencing fuel poverty, has been calling for changes in government policy, including with a “wish list” before Jeremy Hunt’s spring budget in March. It asked for a government-funded energy-efficient homes programme, and an increase in the warm home discount scheme.

The same month, the King also donated £1million – dubbed a “substantial personal donation” – to food banks across the country. He did this through four charities: the Trussell Trust, FareShare, the Felix Project, and the British Asian Trust.

Along with the Fuel Bank Foundation, the Trussell Trust and FareShare joined calls for the chancellor to postpone April’s increase in energy bills.

In January, Charles made a £1.95 million donation to seven charities. One of these was The Wildlife Trusts. This donation was announced days after The Wildlife Trusts was a signatory of an open letter to peers, urging them to amend the Public Order Bill to reduce its impact on the right to protest.

Another beneficiary of this January donation was Age Scotland. In April, the charity asked the Scottish government to reinstate the post of a specific Minister for Older People.

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There is nothing constitutionally untoward going on here – the monarch is able to donate to charity, and charities are in turn able to engage in the democratic process, advocating for those they were set up to help. 

Much was made of the late Queen’s show of remaining politically neutral. This perception was seen as a key pillar of her stewardship of the monarchy through turbulent decades. But during her reign the Queen balanced the poker face with her patronage of over 600 charities.

Described as having a “lifetime of private activism” by the time he ascended the throne, Charles’s support for climate change, traditional architecture, and his opening speech at COP26 mean his opinions have for decades been well known.

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His ‘black spider memos’ – handwritten notes to government officials and ministers – showed an heir willing to push for policy changes on troop equipment, badger culls and alternative medicines.

As king, Charles must plot a different course. But in a recent paper, Robert Hazell, professor of government and the constitution at University College London, argued Charles can still find a way.

“Without being outspoken about it, he can continue to be patron of charities and causes close to his heart; he can include them in his programme of royal visits; he can invite them to receptions at Buckingham Palace,” wrote Hazell.

“Charles has long been aware of his convening power, as was evidenced in the reception for religious leaders (also held in the hectic first week) to hear Charles proclaim his support for other faiths and communities, not just the Church of England.”

Taken together, the donations paint a picture of how King Charles will support causes close to his heart. Of note, too, is the fact the donations were made public – a sign these are causes the crown wishes to be publicly aligned with.

And with a crisis seemingly everywhere you look, the lines between support for positive social change and a push for systemic change may become blurred. Charity is not apolitical, after all.

But even before his big day at the Abbey, we’ve had a taste of what Charles the charity King might look like.

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

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