‘Charles will be a better King with Camilla by his side’, says royal expert
When King Charles addressed the nation for the first time as our new monarch, he made it clear that his reign will be one of openness and love – and one where his Queen Consort, Camilla, will be by his side.
“This is also a time of change for my family. I count on the loving help of my darling wife, Camilla,” he said. “In recognition of her own loyal public service since our marriage 17 years ago, she becomes my Queen Consort. I know she will bring to the demands of her new role the steadfast devotion to duty on which I have come to rely.”
This devotion had never been more evident than when the couple went on a walkabout outside Buckingham Palace soon after the passing of Queen Elizabeth II.
Despite their obvious grief, the couple greeted well-wishers, shaking hands and accepting flowers and gifts from the crowd of mourners.
Their romantic relationship, and their friendship in the early stages of both their respective marriages, has lasted for decades.
It has weathered many ups and downs, survived scandals, divorces, grief and even public scorn.
There are differing accounts of their first encounter. The more engaging story suggests the pair met at a polo match in Windsor Great Park in the early 70s, with Camilla accosting Charles with the line, “My great-grandmother was the mistress of your great-great-grandfather, so how about it?”
However, in his official biography of Charles, Jonathan Dimbleby says the pair were introduced by Charles’ first girlfriend, Lucia Santa Cruz. The two women lived close to each other in Victoria, London, and according to Jonathan, Charles “lost his heart to her almost at once”.
Even if her chat-up line is an embellishment, the reason it seems so believable is because it sums up the truth about Camilla: she is relaxed, down-to-earth and has a wonderful sense of humour. For a young man who had grown up in the austere surroundings of the palace, she would have been a breath of fresh air.
In her biography, Prince Charles, Sally Bedell Smith says that one of Camilla’s friends, Lady Annabel Goldsmith, said of her, “You could see what a man could see: an intensely warm, maternal, laughing creature, with enormous sex appeal.”
Camilla – who is two years older than Charles – had been dating Army officer Andrew Parker Bowles. In 1972, with Andrew absent on military service, Charles and Camilla’s romance began in earnest. Yet, despite their attraction, it seemed unlikely that the union would ever end in marriage. Charles was still very young and had not had many relationships, while Camilla was also in love with her eventual husband, Andrew.
Fate soon played a role in the pair not being together at that stage in their lives.
At the end of the year, Charles, then in the Royal Navy, left for an eight-month tour, just as Andrew finished his. Andrew soon asked Camilla to marry him and she accepted. The pair tied the knot on 4 July 1973, and the Queen Mother, Princess Margaret and Princess Anne were all in attendance.
Charles, absent, wrote to a friend, “I suppose the feeling of emptiness will pass eventually.”
While he threw himself into the role of eligible bachelor, Camilla instead focused on life in the country, becoming a mother-of-two and settling down.
Yet her friendship with Charles endured. Photos from polo matches at Windsor Great Park bear witness to their ongoing feelings for each other. The most famous shows the pair standing by a tree, deep in conversation. Another from 1979 shows them walking together with a mutual friend, shortly before Charles started dating Lady Diana Spencer.
There is one later set of images in 1980 of Camilla with Diana at Ludlow Horse Races, where they both watched Charles take part. From that moment, Camilla slips into the background, although she remained in contact with Charles while her own marriage began to fall apart.
Then in 1993, Charles and Camilla’s relationship was revealed to the world for the first time. They had been recorded having an intimate conversation, and Charles confirmed their relationship in an interview with Jonathan Dimbleby in June 1994.
When asked if he had been faithful to Diana, Charles replied, “Yes, absolutely… until it became irretrievably broken down, us both having tried.”
The mid-90s was a turbulent time, dominated by reports in the press about Diana and Charles’ separation, Diana’s shocking Panorama interview, their subsequent divorce and finally her tragic death in August 1997. At the time, the public opinion was firmly set against Camilla.
It was impossible to guess then that she would one day become one of the most steadfast and loved members of the royal family. It is testament to her strength of character and love for Charles.
But, behind the scenes, there was a continual effort to ensure that Camilla started to integrate both in family life and, eventually, in public life. The hardest step was meeting Princes William and Harry, then both still grieving for their mother, in 1998. The second was inviting Camilla to a public engagement – a 50th pre-birthday party at Hampton Court – shortly followed by her hosting Charles’ official bash at Highgrove two days later.
The Queen and Prince Philip were notably not at that event.
The following year saw another momentous development – the first time Charles and Camilla were photographed together officially, this time as guests at a 50th birthday party at The Ritz. The pair actually arrived separately, but left together, much to the relief of the waiting banks of press photographers.
Then came the true turning point: the first meeting between Camilla and the Queen. This took place at Highgrove in June 2000. At the time, a palace spokesperson simply said, “The Queen attended a birthday party for King Constantine given by the Prince of Wales at Highgrove and Mrs Parker Bowles was among the guests.”
Over the next five years, Camilla became a more public figure. She would not necessarily appear alongside Charles but would be placed subtly in the audience at events, like at the Queen Mother’s funeral in 2002 and the Golden Jubilee that same year. Gradually, polls among the public showed increasing support for a marriage between the pair.
Their wedding finally took place on 9 April 2005 – but many conversations were had about the constitutional issues raised by two divorcees marrying each other.
Although Charles was keen on a religious ceremony, the Archbishop of Canterbury felt it would not be possible. Instead, they married in a civil ceremony at Windsor Guildhall, not attended by the Queen. However, his parents were there to see his marriage blessed in a service at St George’s Chapel.
Finally, more than three decades after they first met, Charles and Camilla could breathe a sigh of relief.
The Queen brought a note of levity to proceedings, saying, “They have overcome Becher’s Brook and the Chair and all kinds of other terrible obstacles. They have come through and I’m very proud and wish them well. My son is home and dry with the woman he loves.”
Now, as she becomes Queen Consort – a title confirmed by Her Majesty as part of her Platinum Jubilee celebrations earlier this year – the nation will have a chance to get to know Camilla better than before.
In a documentary to mark her 75th birthday earlier this year, we caught a glimpse of her real character. She spoke candidly, saying, “I was scrutinised for such a long time that you just have to find a way to live with it. But I think in the end, I rise above it and get on with it. You’ve got to get on with life.”
She even gave some insight into her marriage to Charles, saying, “It’s not easy sometimes, but we do always try to have a point in the day when we meet. Sometimes it’s like ships passing in the night, but we always sit down together and have a cup of tea and discuss the day.”
What shone through was her continued devotion to our new King.
Royal expert Duncan Larcombe told OK!, “One of the reasons why Camilla has been accepted, is because they can see that he was a better prince with her by his side and that he will now be a better king with her by his side.
“What we’ve seen here is a journey that, if it was a movie, would be incredibly compelling. It was a relationship that threatened to destroy the institution of the royal family, but is now one of its greatest strengths.
"Twenty-five years after Diana’s death, who could have imagined that we’d see Charles and Camilla walk across the courtyard of Buckingham Palace being kissed, waved at and applauded, and even sung at, by an adoring public. Finally, all’s well that ends well.”
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