By Alejandra Ocampo
On Saturday May 6 2023, at 11am, UK time, London and the whole United Kingdom will live a historic moment, the coronation of His Majesty King Charles III, due at the mythical Westminster Abbey. And it is indeed a historic moment, because it is the first coronation in 70 years (with the last being the coronation of the unforgettable Queen Elizabeth II, on June 2 1953), as well as the first coronation of a King in almost 90 years, after his grandfather, King George VI, in 1937. The Archbishop of Canterbury will crown Charles III as the 40th. monarch of the United Kingdom, when he places the magnificient St. Edward’s Crown, comissioned by the second King Charles in history back in 1661, on his head.
“He is a very cultivated man, very sensible, and he is really very well prepared to be King; definetly, he is up to this very difficult task”, says the legendary Mexican-born polo player, Guillermo “Memo” Gracida, in an exclusive conversation with PoloLine. Memo is not only a personal friend of the monarch, but also they played and won together The Queen’s Cup in 1986. Both Memo and his brother, the unforgettable Carlos, played with the King on several occasions.
And he adds: “The last time I spoke to him was in 2014, when my brother passed away. The King, back then the Prince of Wales, was the first person to send his condolences. So you realize about his personality and his special sensibility. He’s always been a very special person to all the Gracida family. When I stopped going to England, my brother continued to play polo with him and was the instructor of his two sons, William and Harry”.
With regards to the personal relationship, Memo states: “My relationship with Charles started in 1978, when I was 18. We played together with Les Diables Bleus; we won The Queen’s Cup in 1986, and in 1978 and 1985 we reached the final of the Gold Cup. He is a very nice person, very simple, sensible, a true family man, who has developed many environmental projects; he is a great father, he truly loves his sons. We, the Gracida family, spent a lot of time in his country house, Highgrove, with Lady Di. And sometimes, when we were doing some stick-and-ball at Windsor Castle, the Queen came to see us, always with her little corgis. Queen Elizabeth was a renowned horse breeder, and the first thing she asked was about what horses we were playing. Charles always played his mother’s horses, and that’s such an achievement”.
Born Charles Philip Arthur George on November 14 1948, King Charles III played his first polo match at 15, following the tradition that began his great-grandfather George V and, to a lesser extent, his great uncle, King Edward VIII. But those who established a long-term relationship between the Royal Family and polo were Lord Louis Mountbatten, King Charles III’s great uncle and mentor, a true passionate of the sport, to the extent that he constructed and patented an oval-shaped head to the polo mallet, which provided “loft and length and a strong head”, and his father His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, who claimed the Gold Cup three times with his team, Windsor Park, and the founder of Guards Polo Club, on January 25 1955.
When in university, he played with the team of the University of Cambridge and later in the team of the Royal Navy. In his days as a “professional”, his two most important teams were Les Diables Bleus and Maple Leaf. He won the Queen’s Cup with the former, in 1986, with a lineup composed by Charles, Memo Gracida, Guy Wilderstein and Rodrigo Vial. He always played as a back, his favourite position.
Memo remembers Charles as a “disciplined player, a very good team mate, a great competitor, he liked to win. His playing was very classic; he was a very good rider, he hit the ball hard and was a very good back. Besides, he always wanted to be involved within the team. We had really nice meeting in the stables, because he is very cultivated, a very intersting person, he knows about everything. He played his 4 goals, a really very good player. His aim was to reach 5 goals”. It is worth noting that, unlike his great uncle and father, who both reached 5 goals, Charles remained as a 4-goaler.
The legendary Mexican player adds some fun facts, as well. “One day, I asked him why he didn’t use his influence on the field, and he told to me that he would never do that. On one occasion, when we were playing a very tough Gold Cup final, with Maple Leaf, in 1985, we had the team meeting at half time. Suddenly, a lady came in and she offered him a vanilla ice-cream. He looked at the lady, who indeed was interrupting a very busy moment for us. But Charles was very polite – ‘Thank you so much, but I think this is not the appropiate moment, perhaps after the match’. Something I learned from him is that he never lost his nerves under any circumstance, he was always very relaxed. Definetly, he has been very well prepared to the top job, to be the King of England. He will be a great King, indeed”.
Major Ronald Ferguson (the father of Sarah, Prince Andrew’s ex wife), was in charge of his horses and stables. Among his most memorable contenders were Los Locos, the renowned team of the 70s, led by Simon Tomlinson and his wife, the unforgettable Claire Lucas, who was a great friend of Charles. “Every time we played against Los Locos, Charles came up to me and told me, ´please, don’t make me mark Simon'”, Memo laughs. “That was because Simon was a very tough player”.
In 1985, the music mogul, Bryan Morrison, who managed the careers of music icons such as Pink Floyd, T-Rex, The Police, George Michael, among others, founded the Royal County of Berkshire Polo Club. Charles, then Prince of Wales, inaugurated the club, and the Prince of Wales Trophy, the tournament that opens the English high goal season, was established in his honour.
When he retired from competitive polo, Charles only played charity matches with his sons. He also presented awards, such as the historical Coronation Cup, when his father was not able to do so. The Coronation Cup is the annual international match, with England playing against an invited country. Charles had the opportunity to present the massive trophy to polo stars such as Adolfo Cambiaso, James Beim, Luke Tomlinson and Facundo Pieres.
Since his mother, Elizabeth, passed away on September 8 2022, Charles has been preparing for the historic moment he will live on Saturday May 2023. And he will cherish something he remarked in his first speech as a King: “I shall endeavour to serve you with loyalty, respect and love, as I have throughout my life”.
Cover photo: Les Diables Bleus, with His Majesty King Charles III, the winners of the Queen’s Cup, in 1986. Photo courtesy of Memo Gracida.