The King and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa voiced their mutual respect and admiration for Nelson Mandela and the late Queen during the first day of the leader’s state visit.
Charles welcomed Mr Ramaphosa to the UK during a ceremony of pomp and pageantry – the first state visit hosted by the King – and later took him on a tour of Royal Collection items relating to South Africa on display in Buckingham Palace.
When Mr Ramaphosa picked up a photograph of the Queen with former president Mr Mandela during a 1996 Buckingham Palace state banquet, he said: “This lovely picture,” and agreed when the King replied: “You were lucky to have known both.”
The Prince of Wales later spotted the photo, saying with a grin to his accompanying guests: “My father in South Africa – the Spice Girls.”
The state visit had begun with the King and Queen Consort warmly greeting the president on a chilly but sunny Horse Guards Parade in Whitehall.
National figures had gathered in the royal pavilion for the pomp and pageantry of the ceremonial welcome, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak joined by senior members of the Cabinet, as well as the Lord Mayor of London, Nicholas Lyons, and the Defence Chiefs of Staff.
The Prince and Princess of Wales were part of events for the first time, travelling to Mr Ramaphosa’s luxury hotel in central London and accompanying him to Horse Guards Parade.
Nearby in gleaming breast plates and plumed helmets were the Sovereign’s Escort of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment – Life Guards and Blues and Royals, commanded by Major Robert Perera of the Blues and Royals.
Former US president Donald Trump’s state visit in 2019 was the most recent by a world leader, but his welcome was in the gardens of Buckingham Palace, so the official visit by king Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands in 2018 was the last time a full ceremonial welcome was held on Horse Guards Parade.
Lieutenant Colonel James Shaw, Brigade Major of Headquarters Household Division, who delivered the military ceremonial spectacle, said: “The state visit is a historic first: our first state visit for His Majesty the King and the President of South Africa, the first state visit in London since 2019, the first processional state visit on Horse Guards since 2018, and the first for almost everyone on parade.”
He added: “A huge amount of work has gone into preparing for the visit and we are very proud to support such an important national occasion.”
The next phase of the UK-South Africa Infrastructure Partnership is being launched on Tuesday, supporting South Africa’s economic growth through major infrastructure developments and offering increased access to UK companies to projects worth up to £5.37 billion over the next three years, said Downing Street.
There is said to be much excitement and anticipation at Buckingham Palace as the royal household prepares for the state visit, but the reservicing work at the palace has meant the South African leader could not stay there.
Work for the South African state visit began during the Queen’s reign and the King was said to have been delighted to continue with the plans.
Kate wore a Emilia Wickstead dress and Sean Barrett hat, while Camilla was dressed in a royal blue crepe dress and coat by Fiona Clare and blue feather beret by Philip Treacy.
Mr Ramaphosa’s limousine crossed the open space overlooked by Wellington’s former office and as he stepped on to the royal pavilion to be greeted by the King, gun salutes were fired across London.
In nearby Green Park, 41 volleys were fired by the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery and 62 were fired at the Tower of London by the Honourable Artillery Company – an extra 21 for the City of London.
The Captain of the Guard of Honour, Major Andrew Dickinson of Number 7 Company The Coldstream Guards, marched forward and asked the South African president: “The Guard of Honour from Number 7 Company Coldstream Guards is formed up and awaiting your inspection. May I have your permission to accompany you sir, please?”
Mr Ramaphosa was joined by the King as he cast his eye over the troops, walking a few steps behind his guest.
He later left for a private Buckingham Palace lunch, and the exhibition of South African items, in a carriage procession with Charles and Camilla.