Charles III coronation: What do the French think of the UK’s new king?

The strong memory of Lady Diana plus Charles III’s recently postponed visit to France have not helped his popularity

This Saturday (May 6) will see the coronation of Charles III and will be marked by celebrations across the UK. Picture for illustration purposes only
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It does not seem like it when you listen to them, but French retirees Françoise Villotte, 65, and Marie-Line Giorgi, 64, have been friends for four decades.

As with many other French people, they are fascinated, curious and divided when it comes to the British monarchy.

On top of this, an enduring desire to talk about Lady Diana, who died in a Paris car accident more than 25 years ago.

“If he had not been with Camilla, they would have never divorced,” said Ms Giorgi, talking from a cafe terrace in Menton, southern France.

”Oh c’mon, it was an arranged marriage,” shoots back Ms Villotte.

”It was a fairytale,” insists her friend. “Otherwise, he should have married Camilla from the beginning. Traditionally, you do not file for divorce.”

”Live with the love of his life, it is a beautiful story,” continued Ms Villotte.

“It should have been Diana,” concluded Ms Giorgi, referring to the presence of Camilla, Queen Consort of the United Kingdom, at Charles III’s coronation in London on Saturday (May 6).

Her sentiments reflect a major problem for Charles III’s image in France.

This is despite him being a Francophile, speaking the language and expressing his love for French cheese and wine.

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Diana still casts a shadow

“Many French people have still in mind the quarrels with Diana and think he is a real bastard,” said Philippe Chassaigne, a history teacher at the Université Bordeaux-Montaigne and an expert on Great Britain.

“The image is tainted and will be hard to wash,” he added, taking the recent example of a popular French television show.

Scènes de Ménages, broadcasted on M6 since 2009, features short clips from four different French families, often poking fun over domestic quarrels. One of the families shows Liliane and José, a stereotypical, middle-aged French couple.

In one episode, Liliane talks to José about her willingness to set up a musical with her coworkers centred on the life of Diana. One of the musical’s songs is particularly abusive towards Charles.

“Of course it is meant to provoke laughs,” added Mr Chassaigne. “But it echoes a sentiment of what some French people still think,” he said.

Kévin Guillot, creator of the website Monarchie Britannique, said it is also mirrored in comments he gets on social media.

French people - in particular, middle-aged women - have a low opinion of Charles and that Camilla should not be by his side, he added.

Such opinions may feel anachronistic to some given so much time has passed since Lady Diana’s death.

“She became an icon after her death,” explained Mr Guillot.

Read also: Helpful vocabulary to talk about the coronation in French

Unloved… and misunderstood?

“We are rather sympathetic and attached to a woman that showed sensitivity on social issues,” continued Mr Guillot, referring to Diana.

It is not that Charles III has failed to show a social conscience. He is, after all, the patron of hundreds of charities and founded the Prince’s Trust, whose aim is to support young people from disadvantaged communities. It is just that he has not got the credit for it among French people.

Mr Chassaigne believes that the postponement, due to the pension reform protests, of Charles III’s visit to France in late March, his first overseas trip as king, has not helped his popularity levels.

“I am convinced if he had visited, it would have been an opportunity to learn from him by other means than through sepia-toned memories,” said Mr Chassaigne.

“It would have helped French people reconcile with an unloved king,” said Mr Guillot.

Back in Menton, Ms Giorgi and Ms Villotte begin packing their suitcases for a Mediterranean cruise this weekend.

Given their feelings for Diana, perhaps it is fitting they will miss the coronation on French television.

Instead, they recall a visit to London more than a decade ago, which included a visit to Cafe Diana, which is plastered with photos and memorabilia.

“She was everywhere. It was magical,” said Ms Giorgi.

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