The arrival of HMS Iron Duke in Bordeaux tomorrow (September 20) will set the scene for King Charles III and President Macron to begin the very public dance of diplomatic relations
The Chaban Delmas bridge will be lifted to allow the frigate HMS Iron Duke - named after Wellington - into Bordeaux, just hours before the arrival of King Charles and Queen Camilla at Paris Orly airport.
Its crew are likely to meet the King on Friday as part of a presentation on France and Britain’s ongoing military cooperation.
The massive 133m frigate, which was refitted in May, is reportedly preparing for humanitarian missions in the Caribbean during the hurricane season.
However, it is only a small part of this week’s carefully choreographed diplomatic dance between King Charles and President Macron.
While every nuance of a state visit is calculated in advance down to the words and gestures, it is still not beyond a spanner in the works.
President Macron had to cancel the King’s scheduled visit in March due to the street protests after his pension reform bill.
This time, with the Rugby World Cup going on and the Pope coming on Saturday, Mr Macron will be keen for a smooth visit, a message that Minister of the Interior Gérard Darmanin impressed on police.
“We are coming to a week that will be particularly intensive in terms of public order, that will mobilise all of our available resources in terms of mobile units,” wrote Mr Darmanin in a message to prefects.
8,000 extra police will be called upon for the arrival of the King, which will rise to 30,000 by Saturday when the pope visits Marseille.
However, Laurent Stefanini, head of protocol for the French Republic at the time of the last royal visit in 2014, says that British heads of state are not particularly demanding in terms of security apparatus.
“It may have changed a little since, but the security around the British sovereign is quite light, much more so than around many other heads of state and governments,” he told BFMTV.
King Charles, who the Elysée says is “touched by the notion of walking in the steps of his mother”, is likely to want to meet the crowds in Paris, as she was fond of doing.
"State visits are a negotiation,” Mr Stefanini told French news channel BFMTV.
“For such events, the Paris police will have to secure the site several hours in advance. They will do what we call ‘demining’, checking for explosive devices. Then there will be plain clothes police in the crowds to ensure that the meet-and-greet goes smoothly.”
However, he does not expect the King’s visit to pose any particular problems in terms of protocol.
"He is a very easy guest to please, very courteous, very open, highly attentive to the people around him and not at all formal or stiff,” said Mr Stefanini.
Public perception is another issue. While the British royal family has many admirers in France, Mr Macron may have some apprehensions about fraternising too much with royalty.
He is well aware that, during the current cost-of-living crisis, the French public may not look kindly on the King’s sumptuous dinner with the French elite at the palace of Versailles on Wednesday.
Chef Anne-Sophie Pic revealed the King’s menu to Le Point: Tourteau de casier and blue lobster with a voile of fresh almonds.
“It is a deliberately succinct dish. I proposed the recipe myself, which was approved after a back and forth between Buckingham palace and the Elysée,” said Ms Pic.
It is very unlikely, though, that foie gras wil be served at Versailles as the King banned it from his own royal residences in 2023.
However, points of contention are seemingly inevitable due to the levels of scrutiny. Ecologists on both sides of the channel have already voiced their disapproval that the normally ecologically conscious King is flying to France rather than taking the train.
The King and Queen will stay in the UK’s Paris embassy, which is next to the US embassy and the Elysee.
“It’s a tradition that goes back a little more than a century, back to King Edward VII,” said Mr Stefanini. “It’s particularly vast, a little palace in its own right that was enlarged in the 19th and 20th centuries.”
On Friday, the royal couple will travel to Bordeaux, again by plane. They will return to the UK later that day.
The frigate will remain in the centre of Bordeaux until Sunday September 24, when the bridge will lift again at 13:00 to allow its return to the open sea.