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King Charles's long history with France, from the abdication to collecting Diana's body

NewsKing Charles's long history with France, from the abdication to collecting Diana's body

Prince Charles ‘taken aback’ by Frances ‘outburst’ says expert

King Charles and Queen Camilla will be visiting France on September 20 after postponing it in March due to protests against pension reforms.

The original three-day trip would have been the King’s first overseas state visit since succeeding his late mother, Elizabeth II, as sovereign.

The royal pair will visit both Paris and Bordeaux from 20 September to 22 September, according to Buckingham Palace.

The monarch has previously visited France 36 times, with his last official state visit in June 2019 when he, as Prince of Wales alongside his wife Camilla, attended services in Bayeux Cathedral and at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery in Bayeux to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Normandy landings on D-Day.

But while the Royal Family may have had a long-standing love affair with France for centuries now, it’s King Charles who has experienced some of the most tragic moments of his life in the country and who, undoubtedly, may hold strong feelings towards visiting its capital.

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Prince Charles attend a Mass for the late General de Gaulle at Notre Dame in 1970

Prince Charles attend a Mass for the late General de Gaulle at Notre Dame in 1970 (Image: Getty)

Charles’s first official visit to the country was in Strasbourg in February 1970, when he as Chairman of the Countryside Committee for Wales, accompanied his father Prince Phillip to attend the Council of Europe’s Conservation Conference.

The same year, and just before his 22nd birthday, on behalf of his mother, the late Queen, he attended a memorial service for Charles de Gaulle leader of the Free French forces during the years of the German occupation and later president of the Fifth Republic.

According to royal author Catherine Pepinster, Charles’s presence confirmed his importance as his mother’s representative.

In May 1972 the then Prince of Wales visited France again, this time accompanied by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip during which time they made a personal visit to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

Whilst the visit wasn’t officially planned, the Queen’s biographer, Ben Pimlott, described it as “diplomatic, rather than personal – a well thought-out gesture of forgiveness, much publicised.”

The Duke was terminally ill with cancer and it is not clear that anyone aside from the Queen, his niece, went to his bedside on this occasion.

Prince Charles visits France in 1972

Prince Charles visits France in 1972 (Image: Getty)

But it was Charles’s previous private visit in Paris, in the autumn of 1971 when he finally met the duke.

At the time, Charles noted that his great-uncle David kept a government red box, monogrammed with The King, on prominent display.

His official biographer, Jonathan Dimbleby said he highlighted his great-uncle’s self-pity and resentment and talked about “how difficult my family had made it for him for the past 33 years.”

“I asked him frankly if he would like to return to England for the last years of his life, and he hesitated to ask Wallis if he should give me ‘the works’.

“It sounded as though he would have liked to have returned but no one would have recognised him. I assured him that that would not be the case.

Diana shortly before the crash

Diana shortly before the crash (Image: Getty)

“The whole thing seemed so tragic – the existence, the people and the atmosphere – I was relieved to escape it after 45 minutes and drive round Paris by night.”

In 1987 the then Prince of Wales visited France twice along with his wife Diana, Princess of Wales – once in May to attend the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival in support of the British film industry and once in September to mark the 900th anniversary of the death of William the Conqueror in Normandy.

But it was ten years later when Charles made one of his most tragic trips to the country.

On August 30 1997 late Mohammed Fayed had invited Diana, Princess of Wales – by then divorced from Prince Charles – to spend part of the holidays with his family in the south of France.

Photos of the Princess with Fayed’s son Dodi went around the world.

The first time Camila joins him in 2008

The first time Camila joins him in 2008 (Image: Getty)

On Saturday, August 30, Dodi got the chance to show her the Al Fayeds’ Parisian spoils – the Ritz Hotel and the Villa Windsor.

They visited Villa Windsor on their way into Paris from Le Bourget Airport.

After abandoning a later plan to eat out at a fashionable Paris restaurant, they dined at the Ritz.

But rather than stay the night in their suite at the hotel, they took the fatal decision to set off by car, driven by Henri Paul, to an apartment owned by Dodi on the other side of Paris.

Diana and bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones – the only passenger wearing a seatbelt – survived the notorious crash in the Pont de L’Alma tunnel, but by 4am, Diana was declared dead.

Charles was at Balmoral with the rest of the Royal Family, including William and Harry, when they received the dreadful news.

The Prince of Wales flew from Aberdeen to Paris, travelling with Diana’s sisters, Lady Jane Fellowes, wife of the Queen’s private secretary, Robert Fellowes and Lady Sarah McCorquodale, a former girlfriend of Charles before Diana.

Diana’s body was brought back to England and taken to the Hammersmith and Fulham mortuary for a post-mortem, while the Prince of Wales flew back to Balmoral to be with the couple’s sons.

Charles’s next significant visit to France would come in 2008, the first time that Camilla joined him, as they attended a dinner hosted by President Nicolas Sarkozy and attended the Armistice Day commemorations.

A much happier visit, was in 2015, when Charles, as Prince of Wales visited France to attend the 21st United Nations Conference of the Parties on Climate Change in Paris.

He mentioned at the time: “On an increasingly crowded planet, humanity faces many threats, but none is greater than climate change. It magnifies every hazard and tension of our existence.”

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