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King Charles III’s Cancer Diagnosis and an Uncertain Path Forward


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When Buckingham Palace announced last month that King Charles III had been admitted to a London hospital for a prostate procedure, Mark Landler, the London bureau chief of The New York Times, was surprised by the palace’s transparency.

Mr. Landler has been covering the British royal family since 2019. The family is typically reticent about revealing private information to the public, he explained in a recent conversation.

“It was interesting that the palace made a deliberate decision, at King Charles’s behest, to share a little more information about his medical condition and treatment than it had with Queen Elizabeth throughout her life,” Mr. Landler said. “It’s a milestone in royal family communication that they said so much publicly.”

Mr. Landler’s surprise only intensified after the palace announced this month that the king had been diagnosed with cancer, though it did not disclose the kind of cancer.

Although several journalists at The Times write about aspects of the royals, Mr. Landler keeps the closest eye on them. In an interview, he discussed his experience covering the British monarchy and what questions he hoped to answer going forward. This interview has been edited and condensed.

Why do you think Buckingham Palace has been transparent about Charles’s health?

Charles has a lot to do with it. In the various announcements that were made about his prostate treatment and cancer diagnosis, the palace said that the king wanted to encourage men his age to have a prostate checkup. He also wanted to stem wild speculation about his condition. There’s no question that when a prominent figure like Charles talks openly about his health condition and medical treatment, it can have a positive impact.

What are the immediate implications of his diagnosis?

Although the king and the palace were more open than they have been historically, they weren’t completely open. They wouldn’t say what kind of cancer he has or how advanced it was. There was no discussion of prognosis. They warned that there isn’t going to be a running update on his condition. What they’ve done is left us in a kind of middle ground: We know the king is facing a potentially life-threatening illness, but we don’t know how life-threatening it is. It has created a fair amount of anxiety.

What questions do you want to answer in your reporting going forward?

One big question is how serious this cancer is. If at some point the king is incapacitated, certain things will be set in motion. There is an institution called the Counselors of State, which is composed of other senior members of the royal family who can undertake some duties on behalf of the king if he’s unable to. But there are certain things that only a sitting monarch can do constitutionally, so it doesn’t plug every gap.

For example, only a sitting monarch can agree to a request by the prime minister to dissolve Parliament or invite the leader of the political party who has just won a majority in an election to form a new government. A general election will take place in the U.K. sometime in the next year, which means the king will be called upon to do this, regardless of the state of his health.

The general signals from the palace are that Charles’s cancer is manageable, that he’s getting the right treatment and he’ll be able to do these duties. But none of this can be taken for granted. If he’s truly incapacitated, it will raise some substantial constitutional questions.

What has been the reaction in the United Kingdom?

The country is very much in a wait-and-see mode. When Elizabeth died, she’d been queen for 70 years. Most people in Britain had never known another monarch. So it was an enormous historic and emotional event, particularly for older people. It felt almost like a death in the British family.

Charles has been king for less than 18 months. People have watched him grow up; they’ve watched his unsuccessful first marriage to Princess Diana. They’ve watched him age into a more dignified figure. While he’s not as beloved as his mom was, it’s fair to say people are “getting used to him” on the throne.

Still, we don’t know how this story is going to end. Plenty of 75-year-old men who undergo cancer treatment do just fine and live for many more years.

What’s the greatest challenge in your role as the London bureau chief?

Well, one challenge, which was especially evident in recent weeks, is how to strike a balance between serious penetrating coverage of British politics and society, and coverage of the royal family, which is of endless interest to many of our readers but can often seem little more than a soap opera.

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