King Charles vowed that the UK “will always be one of France’s closest allies and best friends” in a historic Senate address to round off the second day of his three-day state visit.
The King flitted between fluent French and English as he became the first British monarch to address France’s Senate. He hailed the partnership between the two nations as “remaining utterly vital as together we confront the challenges of this world”, citing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the climate crisis.
Charles branded global warming “our most existential challenge”, a day after prime minister Rishi Sunak faced fierce criticism for scaling back key green efforts designed to help the UK reach net zero by 2050. In the speech, which received a lengthy standing ovation from French lawmakers, the monarch called for a new entente cordiale to tackle the global climate emergency.
French president Emmanuel Macron later paid tribute to the King’s long-standing “conviction” and “preaching” on tackling climate change, as the pair visited a sustainability reception for business leaders and ministers at the Natural History Museum in Paris.
Meanwhile, Queen Camilla and the French first lady, Brigitte Macron, launched a new Franco-British literary prize at the Bibliotheque Nationale de France. They later bonded over a hilarious game of table tennis at a community centre in Saint-Denis, northern Paris, where they joined Charles and Mr Macron.
Camilla was revealed to have a competitive streak as she challenged Ms Macron to a match, but the French first lady appeared to get the better of the Queen as they played for a few minutes in a well-spirited game.
The King watched and laughed, before meeting sports stars such as former Chelsea footballer Didier Drogba and French rugby prop Demba Bamba.
Charles had even wished the English and French teams good luck in the Rugby World Cup in his historic Senate address earlier, saying in French: “May the best win.”
He and Camilla went from Saint-Denis to a Paris flower market named after his late mother, Elizabeth II. As rain poured in the afternoon, the pair met two stallholders who met the King’s mother during her last state visit to France in 2014.
Charles had earlier told the Senate the late Queen was the golden thread binding the nations together. He said: “In the rich and complex tapestry of the relationship between France and the United Kingdom, my mother’s golden thread will forever shine brightly. Let it inspire us all to continue to weave the connections between our two countries – with determination, hope and with love.”
He also thanked the people of France for the “great kindness you showed to us, and our people, at a time of such grief” after her death.
Charles made a few stops to greet the crowds waiting for him along the streets of the sites he visited throughout the day, including at the Paris flower market.
Meanwhile, in Saint-Denis, which will serve as a major venue in next year’s Olympics, the King chatted with young athletes, while Camilla exchanged a few balls with Prithika Pavade, a 19-year-old French table tennis player.
Residents said the royal visit was a welcome boost for the town with deep pockets of poverty, a reputation for crime and a feeling among many of being left by the wayside.
“A lot of people are poor and it has a reputation as a cut-throat place,” said Yasmina Bedar, who was born in Saint-Denis and has lived there for 50 years. “For a king in real flesh and blood to come to Saint-Denis of course can only help our image.”
The King also met there with the Paris Saint-Germain soccer club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, who gave him the club's No 3 jersey and explained the club's involvement in supporting young people and communities in difficulty.
Charles, Camilla and the Macrons later paid much attention to a presentation about ongoing renovation work at Notre Dame, one day after the king said he had been “utterly appalled by the scenes of such devastation following the catastrophic fire” in April 2019. The King and Queen also met firefighters who tackled the blaze and were applauded and photographed by dozens of workers on the higher floors.
The royal couple's trip started on Wednesday with a ceremony at Arc de Triomphe in Paris and a lavish state dinner at the Palace of Versailles. It will end on Friday with a stop in Bordeaux, the southwestern city that is home to a large British community.