Robert Hardman spent a year shadowing His Majesty for a documentary

My year with the King: Robert Hardman spent a year shadowing His Majesty for a new BBC documentary. He reveals what made Charles pretend he could fly, who fluffed their lines at the Abbey – and how the King rewrote the rulebook for coronations

  • Historic film follows the King and Queen during their first year in their new roles
  • READ MORE: With the King set to arrive for his state visit, ROBERT HARDMAN delves into the wild life of the Royals in Kenya… From William’s proposal to Charles facing down a charging elephant

Charles III is working his way through another red box. This is the daily bundle of state papers, correspondence and documents in need of approval, all delivered in a scarlet briefcase. 

This may be the holidays (it is actually a weekend when we drop in on him at Balmoral), but we are told that the King is only spared this daily royal routine twice a year – on Christmas Day and Easter Monday.

Not that he seems to mind at all. In fact, his eyes light up as he starts scanning the latest list of promotions from the Ministry of Defence. 

‘It’s always quite fun looking through to see if I can find names that remind me of people I served with in the Navy,’ he murmurs to his private secretary as he goes through it all. 

‘I did find one last year. I thought, “That’s interesting, that name.” He’d been a commanding officer of a minehunter at the same time as I had… It was true. His son had become an admiral! So I wrote to my old friend.’

King Charles III is pictured in full regalia in the Throne Room at Buckingham Palace. The King is wearing the Robe of Estate, the Imperial State Crown and is holding the Sovereign’s Orb and Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross 

More than a year into his reign, the King might be of an age at which most contemporaries have retired. Yet he is certainly not seeking a quieter life. 

As his private secretary, Sir Clive Alderton, points out, it is entirely normal to find his boss reading and writing late into the evening – ‘often well beyond midnight’. There is no sign of him slowing down any time soon.

This is just as well. For as the Princess Royal explains when we talk to her later, ‘Monarchy is a 365-days-a-year occupation. And it doesn’t stop because you change monarchs for whatever reason.’

Here is a fascinating glimpse of today’s monarchy, and of a sovereign keen to get on with the job. 

On Boxing Day evening, BBC1 viewers will have a unique chance to go behind the scenes and follow the King and other members of the Royal Family as they adjust to life after Elizabeth II and stage the first coronation in 70 years.

Spectacular, surprising and, at times, very funny, this historic film follows the new King and Queen throughout their first year in their new roles – before, during and after their great crowning moment. 

No TV show has ever had this sort of access to a coronation. Quite apart from witnessing the intense build-up to this grandest of royal rituals, we also see the way in which this was to be the most inclusive and all-embracing coronation in royal history.

Not that BBC viewers will have a shortage of jaw-dropping moments involving some of the oldest and most famous treasures in the world. Wait until you see some of the Crown Jewels up close – as indeed you will. 

Or the scenes inside Buckingham Palace immediately before the great occasion. Or the sense of relief back inside the palace once it is all over and the family can unwind. 

Have you ever wondered what happens on the big occasions behind those French windows leading out on to the most famous balcony in the world? Wait and see.

Charles III: The Coronation Year goes behind the scenes on 6 May. The King is pictured rehearsing for the Coronation at Westminster Abbey

All this and so many other memorable scenes are included in one of the stand-out TV treats of this Christmas – Charles III: The Coronation Year. Little wonder that the BBC has placed it at the top of its Boxing Day schedule. 

‘At the heart of this story is a man who is taking on the job that has always awaited him,’ says Simon Young, the BBC’s head of history. ‘This film captures a behind-the-scenes view of the King and his coronation, the like of which has never been seen before.’

Back on Coronation Day, 6 May, the whole world enjoyed a properly majestic show of pageantry, ancient and modern, featuring stupendous music from beginning to end. 

What we can now reveal is the backstage drama as the King and Queen, the Prince of Wales, the rest of the family plus clergy, musicians and supporting staff do their best to get it right on the day.

The most intriguing scenes in this 90-minute film include the complex rehearsals involving all three royal generations (including the Prince of Wales and Prince George). 

There is the occasional hilarious result (quite apart from the blue plastic shoe-covers on some very illustrious feet in order to protect Westminster Abbey’s pristine coronation carpet).

At one point, the Archbishop of Canterbury is taking the King through the motions just before the enthronement. 

Justin Welby is rattling through the usual blessing: ‘…and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be amongst you and remain with you now and…’ At which point he grinds to a halt. He has forgotten his lines.

The Archbishop of York offers a prompt: ‘…and always!’ He then adds cheekily, ‘You must have said this before?’

Whereupon everybody, including the monarch, is in stitches. ‘You knew that was coming!’ chuckles the King.

Robert Hardman (pictured), along with TV producer Nick Kent, put the case to the palace for an observational film

As the archbishop explains later, ‘I have a memory that is probably about as good as our spaniel’s. In other words, zero.’ The King, he adds, was forgiving. ‘He gave me a nice smile and nodded his head.’ 

The monarch is not infallible either. Having endured a few well-documented altercations with his own pen, Charles III reveals his top tip for not smudging important documents: ‘Not to put your great finger on to it – which has happened!’

It is these reassuringly human moments that make this an unmissable film. I admit to being rather biased, since I have been closely involved in this project from the very start. 

Back in those sad days following the funeral of Elizabeth II – the greatest farewell ever seen in this country – the public wanted stability. Let us not forget that there was a sense of uncertainty at both ends of The Mall, since there was a new prime minister in Downing Street (and not for long).

This was, in so many ways, a turning point in modern British history (I am about to publish a book about it). However, many key moments surely needed to be filmed for posterity – from the inside. 

Along with TV producer Nick Kent, I put the case to the palace for an observational film. 

There would be no celebrity presenter. The same small team from Oxford Films, with whom I had worked as writer and co-producer on previous landmark documentaries, was reunited and we were commissioned by the BBC to start filming.

So many fine documentaries had been broadcast at the time of the late Queen’s death. There had been many, too, chronicling the life of the former Prince of Wales as the longest-serving heir to the throne – and asking the same question: what sort of a king would he be? 

There had also been no shortage of parallel offerings, not least those about – and even by – the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. 

There were also fresh instalments of the Netflix saga The Crown. No one, therefore, could complain about a dearth of royal broadcasting.

Our film, however, would be none of the above. It would be rooted in the here and now, with a clear focus on the coronation and the events either side. 

Since succeeding to the throne, the King has stuck to the example of his late mother and avoided interviews. No matter. Given his long and well-known advocacy of issues from climate change to youth opportunity, he was hardly an enigma on that score. 

We would follow him in action as monarch – and also talk at length to close family and friends, such as the Princess Royal and Queen Camilla’s sister, Annabel Elliot.

As well as that, we would witness the King and Queen sitting for their first official photo portraits post-accession. We would see the King continue to engage with lifelong causes like The Prince’s Trust (now The King’s Trust). 

We would see Queen Camilla taking on new roles. They include the delightful moment when she is welcomed as Colonel-in-Chief of the regiment in which her beloved father, the gallant Major Bruce Shand, won the Military Cross – twice.

Through it all, however, we see how emblematic the Coronation is in terms of defining the sort of monarchy and the sort of country Charles III wants to serve. 

Yes, this is a ceremony governed by centuries-old traditions and laws. But the King wants the country to feel like participants as well as spectators.

So it was his personal request, for example, to include gospel music in the service and we follow the Ascension Choir through their final rehearsals (none of this lot forget their lines). The singers are all thrilled to be involved. 

Senab Adekunle-Blease recalls the moment she received the call-up. ‘I was in the middle of making dinner… and I just made a noise,’ she says, emulating her cry of delight. 

‘My husband came running in and he was just like, “Are you alright?”’ Senab signed up instantly, adding that all the family share her excitement. ‘My mother-in-law loves me!’

This was the first coronation in history to include all the main faiths and communities across modern Britain. Yet it also managed to rewind the clock – by two millennia. 

Our small crew, led by director Ashley Gething and producer Faye Hamilton, travelled to Jerusalem to follow the amazing story of the anointing oil.

All previous monarchs over many centuries had been anointed with oil made to an ancient formula involving potentially troublesome ingredients, including animal and whale parts. 

The King and the Archbishop of Canterbury had the idea of sourcing new (animal-free) holy oil from the oldest and holiest spot in Christendom.

‘Some of these trees on the Mount of Olives, they go back to the time of Jesus,’ explains Dr Hosam Naoum, the Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem, who helped consecrate the oil before it left for London. ‘These trees have witnessed a lot.’ 

As it happens, they also witnessed the burial of the King’s grandmother, Princess Alice, mother of the late Duke of Edinburgh, whose tomb is on the Mount of Olives, too.

On Coronation Day, our cameras are inside the palace to capture history. The King and Queen seem astonishingly calm as they prepare to take their oaths in front of billions. 

As the Queen’s Companion and lifelong friend, the Marchioness of Lansdowne, explains, it was the first time they had all glimpsed the Queen’s coronation gown. ‘That was when it was quite like a wedding. It was like the bridesmaids going to see the bride.’

Carrying Queen Camilla’s Robe of State are her three grandsons and great-nephew – ‘the lads’ as she calls them. ‘Don’t tread on my dress or that’s going to be a problem,’ she reminds them firmly. 

The King appears, clearly in good heart as he spreads his robes out wide. ‘I can fly!’ he jokes to his equerry, Lt-Col Johnny Thompson, as he flaps his ermine, helping to defuse the nervousness around him.

It is profoundly moving for Annabel Elliot as she stands on the steps of the palace waving her sister off to the Abbey. 

‘I thought back,’ she recalls later, ‘to watching the Queen’s coronation on a tiny black-and-white television. And there goes this golden coach with my sister in it. I can’t explain the feeling because it’s so surreal and this cannot be happening. It was quite a moment.’

It’s certainly been quite a year. Don’t miss it.

Charles III: The Coronation Year, Boxing Day, 6.50pm, BBC1. 



Sunday 17 December, 6.30pm, ITV1

The perfect southern Italian Christmas meal is topped off by a zuccotto ice-cream cake (pictured)

Chef Gino D’Acampo will make mouths water when he makes the Italian equivalent of the mince pie – fried cartellate (a pastry drenched in either honey or a wine-based syrup). 

He also rustles up a three-course savoury menu after a visit to a fish market in the city of Bari. 

The perfect southern Italian Christmas meal is topped off by a zuccotto ice-cream cake, made from leftover panettone and served semi-frozen. Delicious!


Monday 18-Friday 22 December, 5pm, Channel 4

In Chateau DIY At Christmas, Nick and Nicole (pictured) are planning a Christmas party but have a huge obstacle to overcome

Enjoy exquisite properties in some of the most stunning parts of France. At Château des Vieilles Vignes there’s a race against the clock. 

Nick and Nicole are planning a huge Christmas party but have a major obstacle to overcome – with just 24 hours to go until their guests arrive.


Monday 18 December, 10.40pm, BBC1

Imagine – Russell T. Davies: The Doctor And Me features a profile of Doctor Who writer Davies (right), pictured with presenter Alan Yentob

A behind-the-scenes look at Doctor Who, plus a profile of Russell T Davies, who revived the show. There’s also a tour of the enormous sound stages in Cardiff where many of the Doctor’s intergalactic adventures are filmed.


Thursday 21 December, 8pm, Channel 5

In this crossover between the two hit Channel 5 shows, Peter Wright, an apprentice of Alf Wight who wrote the All Creatures Great And Small books, plays an extra in the show, while Sam West, who appears as vet Siegfried Farnon, and Anna Madeley (housekeeper Mrs Hall) meet real-life equivalents of their much-loved characters – with surprising results.


Christmas Eve, 7.45pm, ITV1

The Princess of Wales takes centre stage in Royal Carols: Together At Christmas, filmed in Westminster Abbey

The Princess of Wales – who displayed her talent as a pianist in the 2021 edition of this show – takes centre stage again tonight at Westminster Abbey, introducing performances from the likes of Ellie Goulding and Leona Lewis. 

The event pays tribute to those who supported their communities through Covid.

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