Hugo Vickers Has One Piece of Advice for King Charles
Thirteen months after King Charles began his reign, writer Hugo Vickers has one small complaint: his majesty’s oft-reported plan to see a more slimmed-down monarchy might be unrealistic. “I don’t know who’s going to do all the work!” Vickers said in a recent interview. “People either want celebrities or they want the royal family, and they’d have a much better deal out of the royal family. I can assure you celebrities are very demanding and not very reliable.”
For nearly half a century, the biographer and broadcaster has been a premier observer of Britain’s aristocracy as it adjusted its traditions and worldviews for the modern age. In the 1970s, he tracked down the reclusive Duchess of Marlborough in a psychiatric hospital and turned what he learned over two years of conversations into a biography, reissued in 2021 as The Sphinx: The Life of Gladys Deacon – Duchess of Marlborough. Ever since, he has documented the royals and their orbit in their highs and lows, even seeking Prince Philip’s personal recollections for a biography about his mother, Alice, Princess Andrew of Greece. His relationships with courtiers and understanding of the royal family’s day-to-day life have given him a unique point of view on the challenges that King Charles has faced as he ascended to the throne.
Along with his books, Vickers has become a lecturer who interprets the history and symbolism of the monarchy for Americans, and it’s turned him into one of the institution’s most committed and visible defenders. This weekend, he will be a marquee speaker at the debut edition of the Empire State Rare Book and Print Fair. Founded by Eve and Edward Lemon of Fine Book Fairs, the event will fill midtown Manhattan’s St. Bartholomew’s Church with over 50 exhibitors and a slate of events aimed at getting a generation of young people excited about collecting. In conversation with writer and auctioneer Nicholas Nicholson, Vickers will discuss his views on the future of the monarchy and the legacy of the late queen.
In an interview before he traveled to New York, Vickers said he knows that promoting a hereditary monarchy might seem outdated, but he’s seen its benefits up close. “I know it’s unfashionable to promote anything being hereditary as opposed to on merit, but it does have its great advantages, because there’s a humility that goes with that. The queen was tremendously aware that she wasn’t there except by accident of birth,” he said, adding that he thinks King Charles has taken a similar approach. “I think it works very well. You wouldn’t invent it, necessarily, but it’s there.”
So far, he is giving Charles positive marks for his performance as king, emphasizing his energy and the success of his trip to Germany in March and France in September. “I think he’s doing a good job—and his two state visits abroad so far have been immensely successful,” Vickers said. “He is a real workaholic. He doesn’t really eat lunch. He has a big dinner in the evening, but he’s at his desk most of the time.”
Vickers notes that the job of monarch is time-consuming. “It’s a bit like being the CEO of a company. The trouble is, as you know, when you get to the top, you spend your time administering rather than doing what you necessarily want to do. You have to deal with so many problems,” he said. “He’s taken on a lot at this age. Suddenly the boxes are coming and he’s got to get through them, and he does it.”
But along with the busywork comes a lot of responsibility. Vickers cited one event as an example of the power a monarch must possess in order to do their job. Days after a tragic fire in Grenfell Tower killed 72 people in June 2017, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince William traveled to visit the survivors. “When she went to [visit the victims], in a sense what she did was to bring with her all the other places that she’d been to where there’d been great tragedies, like Aberfan and Dunblane,” he said. “She wasn’t doing it for political purposes, she was comforting her people, her nation, if you like.”