King reassures public ‘I’m well’ as he meets with fellow cancer sufferers in return to public duties

Charles also spoke candidly of ‘shock’ at diagnosis as he was joined by Camilla for first public engagement since he disclosed he had the disease in early February

Tara Cobham
Tuesday 30 April 2024 17:27 BST
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King Charles smiles and waves as he is greeted by cheers from public on return to royal duties

The King has reassured the public “I’m well” as he met with fellow cancer sufferers in his return to public-facing duties for the first time since he announced his diagnosis.

Charles also candidly described the shock of the moment he received his positive test when he and the Queen met patients and doctors at the University College Hospital Macmillan Cancer Centre on Tuesday.

In his first public engagement since he disclosed he had the disease three months ago, the monarch was raising awareness of the importance of early diagnosis and to highlight innovative research taking place at the London-based medical institution.

The King arrives for a visit to University College Hospital Macmillan Cancer Centre on Tuesday
The King arrives for a visit to University College Hospital Macmillan Cancer Centre on Tuesday (PA)

During the visit, which also marked his first day as the new patron of Cancer Research UK, the monarch spoke about the experience of being told he had cancer and reassured those who asked about the state of his health. He even went on impromptu walkabouts meeting staff who had stopped to catch a glimpse of the royal couple.

Outside, royal enthusiasts were excitedly awaiting the pair’s arrival on Tuesday morning. John Loughrey, 69, from London, said his wife Marion Crean, whose favourite royal had always been Charles, died of cancer aged just 48. Mr Loughrey, who gave Camilla a bouquet of flowers, told The Independent: “One thing Charles does know is he is not alone. It doesn’t matter who you are, cancer can strike anyone.”

The King, seemingly in good spirits, smiled and waved as he was greeted by the crowd.

Charles and Camilla meet with patient Jo Irons during a visit to the University College Hospital Macmillan Cancer Centre in London
Charles and Camilla meet with patient Jo Irons during a visit to the University College Hospital Macmillan Cancer Centre in London (Reuters)

Ellis Edwards, an 11-year-old cancer patient said it was “very exciting” meeting the royals after they gave him three books and a Buckingham Palace-labelled gold chocolate coin.

Charles sympathised with Lesley Woodbridge as she received her chemotherapy alongside many others in a day unit, telling the 63-year-old: “It’s always a bit of a shock isn’t [it], when they tell you,” adding: “I’ve got to have my treatment this afternoon as well.”

The monarch has been receiving treatment for an undisclosed form of cancer since early February, and on Friday it was announced he would be returning to public-facing duties, with a Buckingham Palace spokesperson saying: “His Majesty is greatly encouraged to be resuming some public-facing duties and very grateful to his medical team for their continued care and expertise.”

Royal fans John Loughrey (right), 69, and Sky London, 63, wait to greet the King and Queen
Royal fans John Loughrey (right), 69, and Sky London, 63, wait to greet the King and Queen (EPA)

The development indicated the positive progress the 75-year-old is making after almost three months of cancer care as an outpatient. However, sources have stressed that despite the welcome news, the King still has the disease and will continue to be treated.

When quizzed about his health by one patient during Tuesday’s visit, the monarch replied: “I’m all right thank you very much, not too bad.”

Asha Millen, 60, who is receiving chemotherapy for bone marrow cancer, also chatted to Charles as he met patients in the unit. She asked him about his own health, saying: “I said ‘how are you?’ and he said ‘I’m well’.”

The King meets Asha Millen during the visit
The King meets Asha Millen during the visit (Reuters)

Aside from attending an Easter Sunday church service, the King has until now stayed away from public events.

Charles’s diary of forthcoming events will not be a full summer programme, with his attendance announced nearer the time “subject to doctors’ advice”, according to the Palace.

Cancer and treatments such as chemotherapy weaken the immune system and so medics will be keen for the King to avoid falling ill with infections.

King Charles III and Queen Camilla hold flowers they were given as they leave after the visit on Tuesday
King Charles III and Queen Camilla hold flowers they were given as they leave after the visit on Tuesday (AP)

In January, Charles spent three nights in hospital for a procedure on an enlarged prostate, during which his undisclosed cancer was discovered.

Tuesday’s visit continued a long history of the King’s support for people with cancer. Charles has been patron of Macmillan Cancer Support for more than 20 years, while the Queen is president of cancer support charity Maggie’s. In his new patronage of Cancer Research UK, the monarch will meet the charity’s chief clinician Professor Charlie Swanton, who has led a project called TRACERx tackling lung and other cancers.

Gemma Peters, chief executive officer at Macmillan Cancer Support, who was greeted by the royals on Tuesday, said: “We are delighted His Majesty the King, patron of Macmillan, has returned to public duties following his cancer diagnosis and treatment. In choosing today’s engagement to highlight cancer innovation, treatment and support, Their Majesties continue to help raise awareness and encourage the millions of people who are facing cancer to seek the support they need.”

Ellis Edwards, 11, with his gifts from the royal pair
Ellis Edwards, 11, with his gifts from the royal pair (PA)

The King’s decision to share his cancer diagnosis with the public, prompted many more fellow sufferers to seek support, according to Macmillan. The day after his announcement, the charity said visits to its information and support pages hit a four-year high, with almost 50,000 hits in a single day – a 42 per cent increase on the same day last year.

Elsewhere, the Prince of Wales carried out engagements in the North East on Tuesday, visiting an Earthshot Prize finalist firm, which makes low-carbon construction materials in Seaham, and opening James’s Place – a centre offering free, life-saving treatment to suicidal men in Newcastle.

A previously unseen portrait of the Prince and Princess of Wales was released by Kensington Palace on Monday in celebration of the couple’s 13th wedding anniversary. The black and white photograph by Millie Pilkington – who took the most recent picture of the King and Queen to mark Charles’s return to public duties – shows the royal couple on their wedding day in 2011.

A previously unseen portrait of the Prince and Princess of Wales was released in celebration of the couple’s 13th wedding anniversary
A previously unseen portrait of the Prince and Princess of Wales was released in celebration of the couple’s 13th wedding anniversary (KensingtonRoyal/Twitter)

Kate is also currently undergoing treatment for cancer, disclosing her diagnosis just weeks after the King, during what has been one of the most tumultuous periods the royal family has faced.

The royal fans waiting outside the University College Hospital Macmillan Cancer Centre agreed that the period the royal family has endured in recent months has been the toughest they have seen in the decades they have spent royal watching.

Amanda, 51, from London, who did not want to share her surname, told The Independent: “All of these things would be difficult for any family, but they’ve got to do this under a magnifying glass and put on a brave face and say ‘the show must go on’.”

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