As thousands lined the famed Champs-Elysees to catch a glimpse of Charles III on Wednesday, many said they wondered how the king would follow in the footsteps of his mother, Queen Elizabeth, who was much loved in France.
Shortly after landing on their first state visit to France, Charles III and Queen Camilla joined French President Emmanuel Macron and first lady Brigitte Macron at the Arc de Triomphe where they laid wreaths to the countries’ war dead.
The president and the king greeted each other heartily, while Brigitte Macron welcomed Camilla, unusually, with a fond kiss on the cheek.
Under sunny skies but with some gusty winds, the Queen had to readjust her pale pink hat occasionally, as the royal couple began to travel down the Champs-Elysees in convertible cars, escorted by 136 horses of the Republican Guard.
Claudine, 57, who works as a secretary in a Paris hospital, got a perfect view of the royals, having staked her spot near the Arc de Triomphe by 9:30 am (0730 GMT), more than five hours before the royals’ arrival.
“I’ve been fascinated with the royal family ever since, as a young girl, I saw Queen Elizabeth emerge from Buckingham Palace in a Rolls-Royce,” she told AFP. “I actually wanted to go over to see the coronation, but my passport wasn’t ready.”
– ‘She had so much charisma’ –
Claudine said it was not easy to compare Charles to his French-speaking mother who she said had earned France’s deep affection during her long reign.
“She had so much charisma. With Charles, it’s not quite the same,” she said. “But it feels a little like she is here with him,” she smiled.
“He’s got big shoes to fill,” said Ellie, a nurse from Canberra, Australia, currently travelling in Europe. “Queen Elizabeth was more of a people person than he is.”
Carrying a tote bag with “London” printed on it, Charlotte, 20, a French medical student, said she thought the royal family was a “wonderful” symbol for Britain which she said she visits often.
“The entire population rallies around them on big occasions, but they also shine internationally,” she said.
Her friend, Capucine, also 20, said that while she did “not regret” that France no longer has a royal family, she wondered whether “maybe we would be less disunited if we did”.
Alexei, a 55-year-old caterer, said he had first seen Charles at the 1997 funeral in London of Princess Diana, Charles’s first wife who died in a car crash only a mile down the road from Wednesday’s ceremony.
“I liked his mother very much, but Charles, he doesn’t have the same charisma,” he said.
Charles and Camilla will have more opportunities to connect with people in Paris on Thursday, including with a visit to the Notre Dame cathedral and the nearby flower market, which his mother visited on her inaugural visit to France as queen in 1957.
“These visits are important for the connection between our two countries,” said Antoine, a 36-year old salesman, as he watched Charles and Camilla drive past.