Advertisement

Polo injuries and coronavirus: The King’s health over the years

The King, who has been diagnosed with cancer, has generally enjoyed good health, although he has been injured during sporting pursuits.

It is hoped that Charles’s decision to share details of his diagnosis may help public understanding for all those around the world who are affected by cancer.

In a statement on Monday, Buckingham Palace said the King “is grateful to his medical team for their swift intervention, which was made possible thanks to his recent hospital procedure”.

He has begun a schedule of regular treatments, during which he has been advised by doctors to postpone public-facing duties, the Palace said.

Previous health issues have included contracting coronavirus at the beginning of the pandemic and being knocked unconscious after being thrown from his horse while playing polo, and he narrowly escaped an avalanche which killed a close friend.

Concern has been expressed over the years at his “sausage fingers” amid fears they might be due to fluid build-up or other conditions.

King Charles III coronation
The King waves to the crowd from the Diamond Jubilee State Coach on coronation day (Mosa’ab Elshamy/PA)

But Charles had been aware of his puffy fingers for decades.

“He really does look surprisingly appetising and has sausage fingers just like mine,” he wrote to a friend after the birth of his first son, William, in 1982.

In March 2020, Charles, then 71, caught Covid-19 before vaccinations were available, but only had mild symptoms.

He isolated at Birkhall, Aberdeenshire, away from the then-Duchess of Cornwall, who tested negative, and carried on working at his desk.

He lost his sense of taste and smell for a time, and later spoke of the “strange, frustrating and often distressing” experience of being without friends and relatives during lockdown.

He caught Covid for a second time in February 2022, but was triple-vaccinated.

Charles has kept active with hill-walking and gardening, but did suffer from back pain, attributed to numerous falls from horses over the years while playing polo.

Royal visit to Cornwall
Charles walking near Boscastle National Trust visitor centre in 2019 (Ben Birchall/PA)

A devotee of organic food, he launched his own food brand, Duchy Originals, in 1990, which is now run as Waitrose Duchy Organic.

In March 2019, as Charles and Camilla began an official tour to the Caribbean, they were photographed by the paparazzi relaxing on a beach in Barbados in their swimming costumes.

Charles won praise for his lithe figure and his on-trend 12-year-old floral trunks.

Charles
Charles with a small plaster on the side of his nose after a minor procedure in 2008 (Barry Batchelor/PA)

In 2008 he had a non-cancerous growth removed from the bridge of his nose in a minor, routine procedure and in 2003 had a hernia operation at the private King Edward VII’s Hospital in London, the hospital favoured by the royal family.

He joked “hernia today, gone tomorrow” to waiting media after being discharged the next day.

Charles never travelled on royal tours without a special cushion, usually a tartan one, which he used to ease back pain.

A red velvet one is always placed on the King’s chair during state banquets at Buckingham Palace.

Royal cushions
Charles’ seat cushions at Keio University in central Tokyo in 2008 (John Stillwell/PA)

In 2003, during an engagement at a Sikh temple in Southall, west London, he told the congregation that he would need a little of their expert care as he sat on the hard floor.

“I don’t think I have ever needed an osteopath so much as I have today,” he joked.

“My back is not altogether geared to sitting on the floor, so I may need some help on my way out.”

Southall temple
Charles joked he found it difficult to sit on the floor while visiting the Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara Sikh Temple, in Southall, in 2003 (PA)

Charles has been an advocate of alternative and complementary medicines, including homeopathy.

He was patron of the regulatory body the General Osteopathic Council.

He urged health ministers to adopt a more holistic approach to tackling health problems.

Charles retired after more than 40 years of playing polo in 2005, having notched up an impressive array of injuries.

Polo
Charles playing polo in 1984 (PA)

In 1980 he was thrown and kicked by his pony during a polo match at Windsor and needed six stitches.

A two-inch crescent scar on his left cheek bore witness to the incident.

On another occasion he was hit in the throat, causing him to lose his voice for 10 days.

Skiing
Charles, with Harry in 1999, is an accomplished skier (PA)

Charles resisted pressure to give up polo after he collapsed in 1980 at the end of a game in Florida and had to be put on a saline drip.

In 1988, skiing off piste at Klosters on one of Europe’s most dangerous runs, he narrowly escaped the avalanche which killed his good friend Major Hugh Lindsay, a former equerry to Queen Elizabeth II.

Charles managed to jump out of the way to reach a ledge and helped save the life of another friend, Patti Palmer-Tomkinson, by digging her out of the snow and talking to her to keep her conscious until a helicopter arrived.

He later recalled the horror of the avalanche, saying he had never seen anything so terrifying.

In 1990 he broke his right arm in a fall during a polo match.

Charles
The then Prince and Princess of Wales leave Cirencester Hospital after Charles broke his arm in 1990 (David Jones/PA)

A second operation was necessary three months after the tumble because one of the fractures failed to heal, causing him great pain.

In 1992 he had an operation to repair torn cartilage in his left knee – again after a polo injury.

In 1993 he was hurt again during a game at Windsor, aggravating an old back injury.

He also broke a rib when he tumbled from his horse in a hunting accident in 1998.

Charles hunting in 1995
Charles hunting with the Duke of Beaufort Hounds close to his home at Tetbury, Gloucestershire (Barry Batchelor/PA)

Despite the discomfort, the prince insisted on trekking in the Himalayas a few weeks afterwards during an official visit to Nepal and Bhutan.

Three months later in October 1998, he was back in hospital undergoing laser keyhole surgery on his right knee cartilage due to wear and tear from years of sport and exercise.

In June 2001, he fractured a small bone in his shoulder after falling off his horse during a fox hunt.

A few months later in August 2001, he was knocked unconscious and taken to hospital when his horse threw him during a polo match.

He was stretchered off and taken by ambulance to hospital as a precautionary measure.

Charles has also strained tendons in his wrist while salmon fishing in Scotland and injured himself gardening.

Charles planting a tree
The then Prince of Wales plants a tree during an engagement (Andrew Milligan/PA)

While tending to his gardens he once accidentally hit his thumb with a mallet and broke his finger, almost severing the tip.

Charles has said that as a child he was rushed to Great Ormond Street Hospital to stop his appendix “exploding”.

He declared on a later visit: “I got here just in time before the thing exploded and was happily operated on and looked after by the nurses.”

Charles’s appendix procedure took place in February 1962 when he was 13 and studying at Cheam School, near Newbury, Berkshire.