What Does King Charles’ Diagnosis Mean for Prince William?

The heir to the throne returns to work tomorrow, no doubt overwhelmed with the events of 2024 thus far.

Prince William at Remembrance Sunday
(Image credit: Getty Images)

King Charles’ cancer diagnosis not only shocked the public but also Palace staff—and no doubt Charles’ eldest son Prince William, heir to the throne, who is not only undoubtedly emotionally impacted by his father’s health scare but also facing, if the worst occurs, a reign far sooner than he expected.

In addition to the troubling news about his father, William is also juggling returning to work this week after being a full-time caretaker for his wife, the Princess of Wales, since her abdominal surgery three weeks ago, and looking after their three children Prince George, Princess Charlotte, and Prince Louis. In short? William has a lot going on.

Prince William

Prince William returns to royal duties on Wednesday, no doubt with a lot on his mind

(Image credit: Getty)

Charles began outpatient treatment yesterday for cancer, and, while he won’t undertake any public duties for the foreseeable future, he is not expected to relinquish his constitutional duties as monarch as he undergoes treatment. He is not expected to employ the services of his Counsellors of State, who are members of the royal family who can carry out constitutional duties for the monarch if he or she is abroad or unwell.

What does all of this mean for William as heir to the throne (and also a Counsellor of State)? People reports that William may be asked to take on some duties for his father in addition to his own diary of public engagements, and GB News reporter Cameron Walker shared, per OK, “Prince William, I’m told, is possibly going to be taking on some of King Charles’ duties or representing the King on behalf of him, but certainly not all.” 

King Charles and Prince William at the Order of the Garter

King Charles and Prince William have grown increasingly closer since Queen Elizabeth's death in September 2022

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Charles will still have his weekly audience with U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Walker said, but on doctor’s advice, it’s advised that they shouldn’t meet in person. “Other arrangements, it’s understood, will be arranged, and similar with Privy Council meetings, the King is still expected to attend,” he said. “He’s also expected to work through those famous red boxes, his constitutional duties, signing government papers, reading cabinet minutes.”

Walker added that not employing Counsellors of State “suggests to me that the King is optimistic about his treatment,” he said.

If needed, William could become Prince Regent if Charles could no longer fulfill his duties, “but Charles would remain King in name,” royal expert Hugo Vickers said, per Page Six. William—who has more on his shoulders than perhaps he ever thought he could take on—never expected the possibility that he could be King anytime soon (and hopefully he will have many, many years before he is). “Queen Elizabeth reigned until 96, so I would imagine that William thought he had potentially 20 years to be the Prince of Wales,” a source told Page Six

Prince William at Remembrance Sunday

As King Charles' heir, Prince William will feel the strain of his absence from public duties in the weeks to come

(Image credit: Getty Images)

“It’s not William’s time yet,” said Princess Diana’s former butler Paul Burrell, per The Mirror. “He thought he’d have at least another 10 years to grow his family and to live a happy family private life with Kate at Adelaide Cottage, and then probably Royal Lodge in the future. It’s not his time and I think it’s a great burden for William to think about.”

When William promised to be his father’s “liege man of life and limb” at Charles’ Coronation just nine months ago, he likely never fathomed that would be put to the test so soon. It remains to be seen what duties of his father’s William will ultimately take on as Charles’ treatments continue, but William will officially return to work tomorrow, holding an investiture at Windsor Castle and, later that day, attending the London Air Ambulance fundraising gala at Raffles Hotel in London. The Times reports that William wants to “reassure the public” at the event and could give a heartfelt speech while there. 

Prince William

Prince William has been serving as primary caretaker for his wife, the Princess of Wales, as she recovers from abdominal surgery

(Image credit: Getty)

A Palace source told People that prior to his diagnosis, Charles “has not looked himself,” they said. “I put it down to grief—he’d had two deaths close together [his father, Prince Philip, died in April 2021, and his mother, Queen Elizabeth, died in September 2022]—but maybe he wasn’t well, without realizing so. It would take it out of him.”

As Charles looks to the future, a source told OK “He will want to get on with the job. But that will depend on what treatment he is having. It may be utterly draining on him. He will need a lot of support.” 

And William, as Charles’ heir, will be one of the first summoned in.

Rachel Burchfield
Senior Celebrity and Royals Editor

Rachel Burchfield is a writer, editor, and podcaster whose primary interests are fashion and beauty, society and culture, and, most especially, the British Royal Family and other royal families around the world. She serves as Marie Claire’s Senior Celebrity and Royals Editor and has also contributed to publications like Allure, Cosmopolitan, Elle, Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle, People, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and W, among others. Before taking on her current role with Marie Claire, Rachel served as its Weekend Editor and later Royals Editor. She is the cohost of Podcast Royal, a show that was named a top five royal podcast by The New York Times. A voracious reader and lover of books, Rachel also hosts I’d Rather Be Reading, which spotlights the best current nonfiction books hitting the market and interviews the authors of them. Rachel frequently appears as a media commentator, and she or her work has appeared on outlets like NBC’s Today Show, ABC’s Good Morning America, CNN, and more.