In his first public appearance after being released from the hospital, King Charles waved at photographers and supporters on the way to Sunday services at St. Mary Magdalene Church. The sighting seemed like a return to normalcy — the royal family, particularly Charles’ mother, Queen Elizabeth, liked to worship at the historic country church when visiting Sandringham Estate — but Charles, 75, was hiding a secret. Two days later, Buckingham Palace announced that the king had been diagnosed with cancer and would begin treatments immediately.

Told about his cancer while hospitalized for an enlarged prostate, the news came as a blow to Charles, who ascended the throne just a little more than one year ago. He’s canceled all his public duties, but has insisted on continuing weekly meetings with Britain’s prime minister and reviewing official documents while he is fighting the disease. “Charles was taken aback by the cancer diagnosis. It was a total shock,” admits a royals insider. “Thankfully, the prognosis is good because it was caught early.”

Charles turned immediately to Queen Camilla, 76, and his two sons, Prince William, 41, and Prince Harry, 39, who split from the royal family and moved to Los Angeles in 2020. “Charles and Harry had a great conversation,” says the insider. “Whatever differences they have, Harry promised to be by his father’s side.” To his credit, Harry meant it literally and was on the first plane to the U.K. that night, leaving his wife, Meghan Markle, 42, and their two children, Archie, 4, and Lilibet, 2, home in California.

William was also stunned by the news. He had been tending to his wife, Kate Middleton, 42, as she recovers from recent abdominal surgery, when his father’s cancer was discovered. But Charles’ health crisis has helped the warring princes see the larger picture. “The brothers’ relationship is mending,” says the insider. “William and Harry have put their differences aside for the sake of the family.”

King Charles seen out with Queen Camilla
Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images

A New Beginning

Charles does not have prostate cancer, and the exact form of the disease he is fighting was not disclosed, but there is hope for a complete recovery. “At the moment, no one is discussing abdication, but it’s clearly the elephant in the room,” admits the insider, who calls Charles’ diagnosis sadly “ironic” because he has waited his whole life to be king. “However, I know he wouldn’t stay in the position if he couldn’t do the job,” the insider says. If Charles does become incapacitated, experts say he is most likely to name counselors of state to help him with his duties, rather than pass the crown to William.

The best possible outcome would be for Charles’ illness to be brief, but also a catalyst for a lasting truce between William and Harry. “Any health crisis in the past has always brought the family closer,” says the insider. “They are far from perfect, but for all the attention the public puts on their obvious dysfunction as a family, they truly are tight-knit. When the chips are down, they come together.”