She's been called 'The Rottweiler.' Princess Diana famously declared on television that 'there were three of us in this marriage, so it was quite crowded." Prince Charles once declared in a private phone conversation that was heard around the world that her greatest mission in life as been 'to love him' She's been reviled as a homewrecker, pelted with bread rolls, the woman who ruined the fairytale marriage of the century. Was it fate that brought her and Prince Charles together? Who is Camilla Parker Bowles, HRH The Duchess of Cornwall? What is it about this earthy, chain-smoking dame that has enthralled the Prince of Wales for almost forty years?
She was born Camilla Rosemary Shand sixty one years ago today on July 17, 1947, making her a Cancer like her rival Princess Diana. As everyone now knows, her great grandmother was Alice, Mrs. George Keppel, mistress of Edward VII. Contrary to the myth, Camilla did not announce to Prince Charles when they first met that her great-grandmother and his great grandfather got it on, so how about it? Her mother Rosemary was the eldest daughter of Alice's daughter Sonia and Roland Cubitt, 3rd Baron Ashcombe. Her father Major Bruce Shand was the son of Philip Morton Shand, an architectural writer and critic who was a close friend of architects Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier. Shand graduated from Sandhurts and was commissioned in the 12th Lancers. He served heroically during World War II, where he was captured and taken to Greece as a prisoner of War, later being transferred to Spangenberg. One could almost say that it was inevitable that Camilla and Charles should meet and fall in love. Not only is Camilla descended from Charles II's mistress, Louise de Keroualle, Duchess of Portsmouth, but also Arnold Joost van Keppel, particular favorite of William III.
Camilla spent her early youth in Plumpton in East Sussex, across from the racecourse, before the family moved to Dorset. Her father Bruce worked in London for several wine merchants before later becoming Deputy Lieutenant of Sussex. She is extremely close to her younger brother and sister, Annabel Elliott and Mark Shand as well as to her late parents. Camilla attended Queen's Gate school, a tony girls boarding school in South Kensington, whose alumnae included Lynn Redgrave. Queen's Gate was an old fashioned school that prepared the girls for marriage and motherhood as opposed to higher education. Most of the graduates went on to finishing schools or secretarial college until they made a good marriage. 'Milla' as she was known then was even at a young age, a boy magnet. While not as pretty as some of the other girls, she exuded an earthy sexuality that attracted the boys like bees to honey. According to her fellow classmates, she was always a 'man's woman' able to converse with them on the subjects that mattered like sports, fishing, hunting. She exuded confidence, loved to flirt and liked men a great deal.
According to her friends, Camilla reveled in her illustrous ancestor's royal connection (apparently Prince Charles is equally fascinated. He has been on a mission to buy Camilla pieces of jewelry once owned by Alice Keppel, perhaps given to her by Edward VII). She never shied away from talking about Alice Keppel (what she thought about her Scandalous great Aunt Violet Trefusis is unknown). "My great grandmother was lover of the king," she allegedly boasted. "We're practically royalty." (Andersen, page 67). Like Camilla, Alice Keppel was not a great beauty. While she had chestnut hair, blue eyes, and a lush figure, it was her husband George Keppel who was considered the beauty in the family. Sir Harold Acton remarked that one could easily see Keppel waltzing to the Merry Widow waltz. Apparently he inherited the beaux yeux of his ancestor Arnold Joost van Keppel (the current Earl of Albemarle has them as well.) What she did have, and what Camilla seems to have in spades, is an even-tempered personality, the 'gift for happiness' that her daughter Violet wrote about.
Camilla left school after achieving only one 'O' level. After a year at finishing school, Camilla made her London debut as a debutante. She also inherited $1.5MM from a relative. Still, even though, she didn't need the money, Camilla joined the workforce, taking a job at the tony decorating firm of Colefax & Fowler. Moving into a flat, she shared it with friends who went on to marry well, one flatmate even married Camilla's uncle, Lord Ashcombe! Camilla was noted by her friends for being a total slob, she would come home from work and drop her clothes on the floor, leaving a trail to her bedroom. Even later in life when she had servants, her house still looked like more like nouveau pauvre than nouveau riche.
She joined the social swirl of the swinging sixties, spending time at private clubs such as Annabels, owned by Mark Birley, the former husband of Lady Annabel Goldsmith. More than her city life, Camilla loved the country, and all manner of country pursuits including hunting.
She made her debut with a party for 150 guests in 1965. Soon after she met Kevin Burke, the man to whom she lost her virginity. This is significant because it immediately took her out of the running as a potential Princess of Wales. Despite the fact that it was the 'swinging sixties', a future Princess of Wales was still expected to be pristine before her marriage.
In 1966, she met Andrew Park Bowles, her future husband. Like her, Andrew came from a well connected and aristocratic family from Berkshire. His father, Derek, was a great-grandson of the 6th Earl of Macclesfield, and his mother, Anna was the daughter of millionaire Sir Humphrey de Trafford. Twenty-seven at the time they met, he was educated at Sandhurst and was a lieutenant in the Blues and Royals regiment of the Royal Horse Guard. Camilla was instantly smitten with Parker-Bowles camera ready good-looks. On his side, despite the many beautiful woman he squired, there was something about the earthy, bawdy Camilla that intrigued him. For seven years they had an on-again, off-again relationship. From the beginning, Andrew Parker-Bowles was not faithful. "Andrew behaved abominably to Camilla," a friend Lady Caroline Percy said, "But she was desperate to marry him." He had many girlfriends, including at one point, Princess Anne who he squired for a time in 1970. There were even rumors that Princess Anne wanted to marry Parker Bowles. It was this relationship that inadvertantly led to the defining relationship of her life, the Prince of Wales.
The Prince and his future Dutchess met appropriately enough on the polo fields near Windsor Castle in August of 1971. Camilla complimented him on his mount and his prowess on the playing field. They chatted briefly that day but people noticed how at ease they were in each other's company. A few weeks later, one of the Prince's former flames Lucia Santa Cruz, told Prince Charles that she had met the perfect girl for him and introduced him formally to Camilla. For the rest of the evening they were glued to each other's side, echoes of the first meeting of an earlier Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) and Alice Keppel.
Although the Prince had met and dated many beautiful women by this time, he was intrigued by Camilla's down to earth manner, and ease. She didn't seem awed by his presence which was a breath of fresh air for him. Camilla even wondered if perhaps she might be the reincarnation of her great-grandmother. "Strange, but I never felt intimidated in his presence, never," she explained to a friend, "I felt from the beginning that we were two peas in a pod. We talked as if we had always known each other." (Andersen, page 70).
Prince Charles had had a lonely childhood. As a small child, his mother once went off on a six month tour of the current and former British colonies, leaving him alone with nannies. He was required to curtsey to his mother. Sensitive and shy, at school he was bullied by the other children. Sent to Gordonstaun, Prince Philip's alma mater, to toughen him up, he instead felt like it was a prison sentence. When he arrived at Cambridge, he had very few close friends. The one person that he could talk to or count on was his great-uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten, Earl of Burma, First Sea Lord and the last Viceroy of India. He would spend weekends at his great-uncle's estate Broadlands, where his uncle would introduce him to suitable women, including his own granddaughter Amanda Knatchbull. His great-uncle was the father that Prince Charles would have liked to have. He even gave his seal of approval to the relationship by allowing Charles to use Broadlands for weekends with Camilla. Meanwhile Camilla was the motherly figure that the Queen could never be. That wasn't all that she gave him. Apparently lessons in love-making were also on the cards. According to Tina Brown's biography of Princess Diana, Charles was not a good lover at this time. Camilla helped him to become more relaxed about sex.
The relationship was put on hold when Prince Charles shipped out in early 1973 as part of his duties in the Royal Navy. He had also apparently decided that he wouldn't be getting married before he turned 30, which was not part of Camilla's plans. While he told her that he loved her before he shipped out, he made no commitments. Although they wrote to each other, the Prince pouring his heart out to her, Camilla became engaged to Andrew Parker-Bowles and married him on July 4th 1973 in front of 800 guests. At this point in time, while Camilla was fond of the Prince, it was Andrew that she loved.
Prince Charles was devastated by the news. There were even rumors that he was so distraught over the marriage that he didn't attend, when the reality he was that he'd had a prior engagement in his calendar for months. Over the next several years, he dated a slew of eligible females, both suitable and unsuitable, he also started a relationship with a woman named Jane Jenkins who lived in Canada. But none of them were prepared to be the Princess of Wales, not even Diana's elder sister Sarah, who the Prince dated briefly. He even proposed to his cousin Amanda Knatchbull, who turned him down. And there was Dale, Lady Tryon, a jolly bouncy Australian nicknamed Kanga, who also had a rather motherly relationship with Charles as well as being his lover. Still, he couldn't forget Camilla. It was the death of his great-uncle that brought Camilla back into the Prince's life. He was absolutely shattered. Despite the fact that she was married now, with two children Tom and Laura, Camilla soon took up her old role as the Prince's confidante.
Soon they were seen together all over the place. It was the beginning of their 'second' affair. At the Queen Mother's 80th birthday party, they danced together all night, leading Charle's girlfriend at the time, Anna 'Whiplash' Wallace to cause a scene. "Don't you ever, ever ignore me like that again! No one treats me like that, not even you." At one ball, they were seen making out on the dance floor, leading Andrew Parker-Bowles to comment that "HRH is very fond of my wife, and she appears fond of him." Parker-Bowles had his own extra-marital dalliances so it wasn't as if he could throw stones.
In a strange twist of fate, it was also the death of his great-uncle that led to his relationship with Diana. When they met again, she was terribly sympathetic to the pain he had gone through. She seemed like the perfect girl. Sweet, and more importantly totally innocent. While she had a few boyfriends, she had been "keeping herself neat and tidy for what lay ahead."
Ironically it was Camilla who encouraged Prince Charle's relationship with Lady Diana Spencer, mistakenly thinking that she would be a malleable presence in the Prince's life. It was a mistake that she would learn to regret. Still, in the initial days of the Prince's relationship with Diana, Camilla tried to befriend her. Her former brother-in-law, Richard Parker Bowles told Tina Brown that "she initially encouraged the relationship between Charles and Diana because she thought Diana was gormless. She never saw Diana as a threat, she thought that Diana was someone she could manipulate." At the time, she was more threatened by Charle's relationship with Kanga Tryon than she was by Diana.
Diana, however, was not that stupid and quickly sussed out that Camilla had ulterior motives, although it took awhile before she realized the real role that Camilla played in Prince Charles's life. After her wedding, Diana found a pair of cufflinks that Camilla had given Prince Charles with the initials C. Allegedly Prince Charles valet, Stephan Barry who was jealous of Diana, put the cufflinks out so that Diana could see them. But even before the wedding, Diana was suspicious. There was the story in the paper about Prince Charles and a blonde woman on the Royal Train before the engagement. Diana always said that it wasn't her on the train. Was it perhaps Camilla? Than there was the gift of a bracelet that Charles gave Camilla with the card from Fred to Gladys (their pet names for each other). He told Diana that it was just a gift from one friend to another, but Diana didn't believe him. She also found photographs of the two of them together in a book. Diana was so jealous that although she could do nothing about Camilla being invited to the wedding, she made sure that she was not invited to the reception afterwards.
It is unclear exactly when Prince Charles and Camilla renewed their sexual relationship. In his famous interview with Jonathan Dimbley, Prince Charles stated that their relationship was platonic until his marriage had 'irretrievably broken down' which some authors point as to around 1987. Other states that Prince Charles and Camilla renewed their relationship even soon, perhaps as early as 1983 or 1984. Whenever it was, it soon became clear that the Prince and Princess of Wales were fundamentally incompatible. Despite their age difference, they had little in common. Prince Charles preferred country pursuits, Diana the city, Charles liked opera, blood sports and his establishment friends, Diana loved pop stars and glamour. The only things they did have in common were feeling damaged from their childhoods, raging insecurities, and an interest in alternative medicine and therapy. The more popular Diana became, the worse their marriage. Prince Charles wasn't used to be overshadowed, and Diana did nothing really to reassure him, just he did not to reassure her that she was doing a good job. The emotional hole they both suffered from couldn't be filled by the other.
The pair were soon trysting secretly at the homes of their friends. Prince Charles effectively moved to his country house at Highgrove, while Diana remained at Kensington Palace in London. For awhile it seemed everyone was living some kind of French farce. The Parker-Bowles had moved from Bolehyde Manor to Middlewick which was conveniently located 15 minutes from Highgrove. Camilla would serve as hostess for Charles at Highgrove, but all traces of her would have to be removed before Diana arrived at the weekend. Even when Diana did deign to spend time at Highgrove, Prince Charles would sneak out and tryst with his lover in the bushes, leaving his valet having to come up with creative ways to remove grass stains.
At the 40th birthday party for Camilla's sister Annabel Elliott, Diana confronted her rival, telling her that she knew what was going on. Ugly rows ensued between the Prince and Princess of Wales. The Prince once told the Princess angrily that he would not be the only Prince of Wales to not have a mistress! Unlike Princess Alexandra, Diana was not about to sit by and allow another woman to steal her husband. She tried vainly to rekindle whatever spark had been between her and the Prince in the beginning. Soon she gave up and turned to her own extramarital affairs including James Hewitt and possibly Barry Manakee, her protection officer. While the Prince was dallying with Camilla, Andrew Parker-Bowles had his own extramarital dalliances (shades of George Keppel). The first hint that the public learned of their relationship was when Charles and Camilla took a painting holiday together in Italy without their spouses. Then there were the revelations in Andrew Morton's book: Diana, Her True Story (written with the full cooperation of the Princess).
Things would probably have gone on as they had been for years if it hadn't been for the release of the Camillagate tapes. The breathless declarations of Prince Charles wishing that he could be Camilla's tampon, plus the lover's sex talk of needing each other several times a day, which were recorded on prehistoric mobile phones in 1989 and published first in Australia in the early party of 1993, both titillated and repulsed the nation. Suspicion on who taped the Prince and his mistress fell at first on the Security Services, but it was probably a amateur ham radio operator who recorded the calls. Once Andrew Parker-Bowles became known as the most famous cuckold in history, it was only a matter of time before the two divorced after 22 years of marriage.
Meanwhile, the Queen had had enough, after Diana gave her famous interview to Martin Bashir, she urged the couple to divorce, paving the way for Prince Charles and Camilla to finally go public with their relationship. In 1996, Prince Charles hired Mark Bolland to rehabilitate Camilla's image, a slow process that started with Camilla visiting the US on behalf of the National Osteoprosis Foundation. In July of 1997, Prince Charles even felt comfortable throwing a 50th birthday party for his love at Highgrove. Then in August of 1997, Princess Diana was killed in a car crash with her new lover Dod al-Fayed. Overnight, the tide turned against Prince Charles and particularly against Camilla. She was literally trapped in her home. If she dared to venture out to do some shopping, she was pelted with bread rolls or cursed at. The harrassment got so bad, that Prince Charles had a protection officer assigned to her. Any hope that they had of the nation finally accepting their relationship seemed to have ended.
And there were other obstacles as well. The Queen asked Prince Charles to publicly make a statement that he was giving up his relationship with Camilla. Charles refused, as far as he was concerned, Camilla was non-negotiable. In the spring of 1998, he even took the first step of finally introducing Camilla to Prince William. Camilla, of course, was understandably nervous. However, the meeting seemed to go well, although she did ask for a large Vodka tonic afterwards. The next step, at least as far as Camilla was concerned was to get rid of Tiggy Legg-Bourke, the nanny to the young princes. It was the one thing that Camilla and Diana had in common, their suspicion that the young woman was more than just a nanny to the boys. In Diana's case, it was her jealously of her boys having a surrogate mother. For Camilla, it was the idea that she might be replaced with a younger, prettier, more acceptable model.
Another obstacle, besides public opinion, was the Queen Mother. Her grandson's relationship with Camilla was a little too reminiscent of the Duke of Windsor's with Wallis Warfield Simpson. The former Edward VIII put love before duty to the nation, leaving his younger brother ill-prepared for his role as King. The strain of the job, and the second World War sent the king to an early grave, or so it seemed to his widow. Bertie and Elizabeth had given up their dream of a normal life to take on the role of King and Queen, despite their personal feelings. The Queen Mum was appalled that her grandson, not to mention the late Princess had put their own feelings before their duty to the crown. She refused to meet Camilla or even to have her name mentioned in her prescence. As long as she was alive, Prince Charles would never have taken the chance at losing his grandmother's respect by marrying Camilla. The Queen followed suit.
It was not until the Queen Mum's death at the age of 101 in 2002, that relations between the House of Windsor and Camilla began to thaw. Camilla slowly began to appear in public again. At first, the photo ops were carefully staged, Camilla and Charles sharing a kiss on the cheek, Camilla and Charles taking a trip to Italy together, Camilla being invited to the 50th Anniversary celebration of the Queen's coronation, attending a pop concert at Wembley stadium with the family (albeit seated 2 rows behind). She even managed to get along with William and Harry, becoming their friend, and not trying to step in as a mother substitute.
Finally after years of speculation, the Palace announced in February of 2005 that the Prince and Camilla Parker Bowles would be married in April of 2005. What finally provoked the Prince to pop the question. The wedding of Edward van Cutsem to Lady Tamara Grosvenor. While both Prince Charles and Camilla were invited, they were not going to be seated together. The Prince was tired of not having Camilla treated as his companion, the woman in his life. He declined to attend the wedding. The time had come to make Camilla his wife. There was a sense of relief in the establishment that the thing was finally going to be done. It cleared up Camilla's rather ambiguous role in the Prince's life, (they were already living together at Clarence House and at Highgrove although Camilla also maintained for awhile her own country house) and there was also the matter that the Prince was supporting her to the tune of $250,000 year for clothes, grooming, botox protection officers, some of which came from tax-payer money. Camilla had her teeth whitened to the tune of $10,000 (it costs a lot to get rid of those tobacco stains!), botox to smooth her wrinkles and fine lines, chemical peels, her hair professionally dyed (Camilla, like Diana, was more of a mousy blonde), designer clothes replaced her mumsy outfits, all befitting her new role as consort to the Prince. She even took over the redecorating of Clarence House after the Queen Mum's death, although Charles paid for the changes to her suite out of his own pocket, costing him around $2MM.
The announcement that Camilla would be known not as the Princess of Wales, which automatically became her title on her marriage to Prince Charles but as HRH The Duchess of Cornwall did a great to deal to make the idea of the marriage palatable to the general public. Still there were many people who were not happy about the marriage, including several prominent clergymen. But the general public at large seemed finally to accept that this was the woman the Prince loved and wanted to share the rest of his life with. The approval of the two Princes also went along way to smoothing things over. Once again, the Prince declined to have his future wife sign a pre-nuptial agreement, preferring to go on faith that the marriage will last. He also set up a $20MM trust fund for Camilla, which gives her an income of $600,000 a year. In the event of her death, the money returns to the Prince's family.
The wedding took place on Saturday April 9, 2005 (postponed by a day so that the Prince could attend Pope John Paul II's funeral) at the registry office in Windsor, followed by a blessing at St. George's Chapel Windsor. The press speculation leading up the wedding made it appear as if the whole thing were falling apart, the Daily Mail being the most awful in their press coverage. Instead the wedding went off without a hitch, although for a moment it looked as if Camilla's headdress would blow off her head. During the blessing the Prince and his new bride were obliged to read an act of contrition as it were for their previous behavior. While the Queen didn't attend the civil ceremony, she was at the blessing and gave a gracious toast to the newlyweds at the reception.
Although it can be hard to get past the fact that their relationship caused a great deal of pain to a lot of people, least of all themselves, one can't help admiring the fact that after almost forty years, they still love one another and they make each other happy. While she may not have the movie star good looks or the common touch that Diana possessed, Camilla has proven to be a hard working member of the Royal family undertaking hundreds of engagements a year. Everyone who comes into contact with her remarks upon her warmth, her wit, and her compassion. She also doesn't overshadow the Prince. Like Prince Philip, she knows her place is to support Prince Charles. It is easy to speculate on what might have been if Charles and Camilla had married when they first fell in love, but they didn't. There would be no William or Harry, no Tom and Laura Parker Bowles.
Comparisons have been made between Camilla and the Duchess of Windsor. While Wallis Simpson was denied the honor of HRH, Camilla was given the title by the Queen. The differences come down to the fact that while Wallis was a twice divorced American who seemed grasping, and ambitious, Camilla came from the British aristocracy, one of "them" so to speak and she never sought to be the wife of the Prince of Wales. She was content to love the Prince behind the scenes as it were, while it was Prince Charles who was more adamant that Camilla be accepted.
Will Camilla ever be Queen? More to the point will Charles ever become King? He turns 60 this year, and the Queen at 82 shows no signs of slowing down or turning over the reigns to her son. It is entirely possible that if the monarchy survives that either Charles will become King when he is elderly and who will care at that point if Camilla is Queen. Any rate, as his wife, she automatically becomes Queen.
Charles and Camilla: Portrait of a Love Affair - Gyles Brandreth
After Diana: William, Harry, Charles and the Royal House of Windsor - Christopher Andersen
The Diana Chronicles - Tina Brown
Diana: Her True Story - Andrew Morton
The Firm - Penny Junor
The Windsor Knot - Christopher Wilson
Royal Affairs - Leslie Carroll
Sex with Kings: Eleanor Herman