LONDON – For years he has been teased for being a royal “tree hugger” who communes with plants. But with a new official portrait released to mark his 74th birthday on Monday, Britain’s King Charles III seems content to embrace his nature-loving reputation.
The image shows the new monarch leaning against an ancient oak, in a creamy autumn light, on the grounds of Windsor Castle.
With the release of the birthday snap, Buckingham Palace announced that he has added to his long list of royal titles and become Ranger of Windsor Great Park, guiding the day-to-day stewardship of one of the country’s oldest landed estates.
But official photos released by the palace are PR with a point. And that’s not all this one seems to be saying.
Charles is an ardent, lifelong conservationist who has been warning about the looming threat of climate change and species extinction for decades. As a young prince, his first public address was about the dangers of pollution.
His 2010 book “Harmony” is a 336-page manifesto on how humanity’s greatest problems are rooted in our disconnection from nature. He has established foundations “to promote holistic solutions facing the world today.”
He is an extoller of the benefits of bees, homeopathic medicine, sustainable agriculture, elephant conservation and hedgerows.
And he has admitted to holding conversations with trees.
“I happily talk to the plants and the trees, and listen to them. I think it’s absolutely crucial,” he told a BBC interviewer in 2010. His courtiers have confirmed he often gives a leafy branch “a friendly shake to wish it well.”
Perhaps the photo released Monday is his sly response: “So what?”
Years ago, some British commentators thought Charles too New Age, too mystical, too crunchy. But now some say he was ahead of his time. David Attenborough documentaries have shown how plants communicate. Britain, meanwhile, has become a composting, bee-protecting, green-energy-promoting nation that has pledged to be “net zero” on emissions by 2050.
It is not yet known whether Charles will, like his predecessors on the throne, claim a separate official birthday date in a more temperature month.
The last birthday photograph of Queen Elizabeth II, when she turned 96, showed her dressed in a dark cape, holding the reins of two of her own stunningly white fell ponies.
Twitter said – for the most part approvingly – that she looked like Gandalf from “The Lord of the Rings.” The image conveyed power, wealth, control – and good breeding. She was not an old woman bent over her cane, as seen just a few months later. She was the boss.
It is too early to know what kind of monarch Charles will be. An eco-king? Or a more muffled activist, now that he sits on the throne?
Charles was a rock star at last year’s U.N. climate conference in Glasgow, known as COP26. But after a discussion with Britain’s short-serving Prime Minister Liz Truss, he agreed not to attend this year’s meeting in Egypt.
Some of his biographers have wondered how much the new king will be able to dial back his public advocacy.
Maybe this photo is Charles saying he intends to stay in the game.