Britain’s King Charles and Queen Camilla arrived in Paris on Wednesday, marking the start of a three-day state visit intended to highlight the close ties between France and the United Kingdom.
French President Emmanuel Macron will honor the British sovereign and his wife with a lavish state banquet at Versailles on Wednesday evening.
But first the royal couple received a ceremonial welcome at the Arc de Triomphe – a poignant location as it was where Queen Elizabeth II was greeted when she made her final state visit to France in 2014.
After a rendition of both national anthems, the King and Macron reviewed an honor guard, before participating in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Officials and other esteemed guests – including veterans, students, scouts and girl guides – watched on as the two leaders symbolically relit the eternal flame, which burns continuously at the landmark in memory of those who lost their lives in World Wars I and II.
A fly-past of the Patrouille de France, the French Air Force elite aerobatic team, and the famous Red Arrows brought the pomp and symbolism to a close.
The visit comes six months later than initially planned, after Macron was forced to awkwardly postpone the original trip in March amid nationwide violent clashes over his pension reforms. Charles and Camilla instead traveled to Germany for their historic first foreign tour as king and queen.
The next engagement saw the royal couple join a procession down the Champs-Elysee to the Elysee presidential palace. There, Charles and Macron sat down for one-on-one talks which were expected touch upon a range of subjects, from biodiversity and climate change to the war in Ukraine and the situation in the Sahel, an Elysee palace source said ahead of the trip.
The Elysee source said the pair shared “a relationship of friendship and trust” and that “the King is always very interested in the president’s analysis of major international issues.”
The first day of the trip will be capped with a state banquet, where Charles and Camilla will join up to 180 people in the dazzling Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles, on the outskirts of Paris.
Celebrities and important figures in British and French culture are expected to attend, including actors Hugh Grant, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Emma Mackey, writer Ken Follett, environmentalist Yann Arthus-Bertrand and former professional tennis player Amelie Mauresmo.
While some have questioned the decision to hold the state dinner at Versailles, the Elysee source said it was a nod to the late Queen, who dined there during a state visit in 1972 “and the King was appreciative to the idea that he could follow in his mother’s footsteps.”
Putting on the banquet at the royal residence built by French King Louis XIV was also “an opportunity to promote France” through one of its most recognized landmarks, the source added.
The rest of the packed royal itinerary for the rescheduled visit to Paris and Bordeaux, ending Friday, is largely unchanged save for a few additions.
One new engagement will see Charles and Camilla rub shoulders with top athletes at an event highlighting the advantages of sports for young people. France is currently hosting the men’s Rugby World Cup and next year’s Olympics will be held in Paris.
Another fresh element will be the launch of a new Franco-British literary prize by Camilla and the president’s wife, Brigitte Macron, at the Bibliotheque Nationale de France, the national library.
More than 8,000 policemen and gendarmes were mobilized for the first day of the state visit, the French interior ministry told CNN. The number will rise to 30,000 through the week and across the weekend to also guarantee security for Pope Francis’ visit to Marseille.
Macron has been beset by domestic crises this year, with deep-rooted divisions in French society increasingly apparent in recent months. In August, the government sparked accusations of Islamophobia after it announced a ban on abayas when the academic year restarted. The country was rocked by a wave of protests over the summer after a 17-year-old boy was shot dead by a police officer, reigniting a debate on race, identity and over-policing in marginalized communities. Meanwhile, anger continues to simmer over Macron’s controversial pension reforms.
However, veteran French journalist Christine Ockrent told CNN that Charles’ trip was not about domestic politics but about “celebrating the ancient and very close ties between France and the UK.”
“All the burning issues are for the moment, if not out of the way, at least under cover,” she told CNN.
“The newspapers and magazines will be full of stories about Camilla and her dresses and Charles’ fairly good French, his mastering of the French language – that kind of stuff, and people love that.”
Camilla’s fashion didn’t disappoint, as she arrived in a dusky pink, wool crepe coat dress by Fiona Clare and a pink beret-shaped hat with a leaf design by Philip Treacy. Also sporting a pink jacket was French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, who greeted the couple at Paris’ Orly airport.
Ockrent added: “Of course, France being France you will have certainly some demonstrations, people saying ‘why waste all that money’ but on the whole people will be pleased.”
Charles and Camilla’s visit – which is taking place at the request of the British government and by invitation from the French – comes after UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was seen warmly chatting with Macron on the sidelines of the G20 Leaders’ Summit in New Delhi earlier this month.
In March, Sunak also traveled to Paris for a bilateral summit designed to reboot the Anglo-French relationship. There he acknowledged heightened tensions in the years since Britain voted to leave the European Union in 2016 but hailed the moment as “a new beginning.”
“We are looking to the future, a future that builds on all that we share – our history, our geography, our values. And a future that is far more ambitious about how we work together to improve the lives of the people that we serve,” Sunak said.
The royal trip will be seen by many as a continuation of the two neighbors’ efforts to reset relations in a post-Brexit world.
Ahead of the trip, the King’s deputy private secretary, Chris Fitzgerald, said: “The state visit will celebrate Britain’s relationship with France, marking our shared histories, culture and values.”
During the visit, the King will become the first member of the British royal family to address the French Senate from the floor of the chamber, where he is expected to speak at least partly in French. A similar move was well received in Germany, where Charles switched back and forth between German and English while addressing the Bundestag, or German national parliament, in Berlin.
Queen Elizabeth II spoke at the French Senate back in 2004, but made her speech from an adjoining chamber, the Salle des Conferences.
Elizabeth II reduced her foreign travel in the later years of her reign, instead sending other senior royals to represent her abroad. Now that the United Kingdom has the ability to deploy its monarch as part of its foreign policy objectives, experts say we should expect to see more frequent trips abroad.
British diplomat Scott Furssedonn-Wood told CNN there was “huge significance to these visits.”
“First of all, the choice of destinations – there’s real symbolism in that and the fact that these first state visits are to two of our oldest European partners, that’s very significant. They are a recognition at the highest level of the importance that we attach to a relationship,” he said.
“But they’re more than that as well. They create a space for real business to be done,” added Furssedonn-Wood, who is the British High Commissioner to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean.
Craig Prescott, a UK constitutional expert and author of the upcoming book “Modern Monarchy,” agrees that the choice of destinations is a clear gesture to some of the UK government’s immediate priorities.
“Going to Germany and going to France is a very big signal about the UK not leaving Europe, particularly at a time of Ukraine,” said Prescott, a lecturer in law at Royal Holloway, University of London.
“In a way, a lot of these state visits could be fairly vanilla, not wanting to offend your host, but actually (the King’s) speech at the Bundestag about reconciliation and moving forward actually had some genuine content.”
Furssedonn-Wood agreed that the public can expect “a bit of substance” from the royal visit in France.
“As Sovereign and as Queen, it’s not for them to be campaigning on an issue, and they’re certainly not doing that, but they will want to ensure that the visit showcases excellence in the issues that they care about.”
Furssedonn-Wood, who previously served as deputy private secretary to the royal couple, said the King “has an extraordinary work ethic” that he will lean on during his foreign trips.
Later in the week, Charles and Camilla will travel on to Bordeaux, southwestern France, where they will meet emergency workers and communities impacted by wildfires last year. They’ll also meet with UK and French military personnel to discuss how the countries are working together on defense.
This is Charles’ 35th official visit to France and Camilla’s ninth. The royal couple last visited the country in 2019, when they attended a service to mark 75 years since the Normandy Landings.
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CNN’s Chris Liakos, Claudia Colliva and Lauren Kent contributed to this report.