It was a warm Summer (Summer is Here SALE)r’s day in 1970 when a 22-year-old Prince Charles locked eyes with Camilla Shand at a polo match in Windsor Great Park.
As the future King of England, many likely spoke to Charles with a quiet, awed deference – but 24-year-old Camilla, who friends described as ‘outgoing and cheerful’, with a ‘lust for life’, wasn’t afraid to crack a flirtatious gag at her own expense with a senior royal.
‘My great-grandmother was the mistress of your great-great-grandfather,’ she was said to have quipped. ‘So how about it?’
This was the beginning of Charles and Camilla’s royal romance: but what was initially described as a ‘blissful and peaceful’ match soon erupted into a lifelong love affair which scandalised the nation, rocked the house of Windsor, and left commentators wondering whether Charles could ever be a suitable King.
Now, as Charles officially takes to the throne, Camilla – once reviled as ‘the most hated woman in Britain’ – has been crowned as our Queen.
Breaking the mould as a former mistress who became a Ma’am, she has won over everyone she’s met. In the years following the exposure of her affair with the then-Prince Charles in 1992, Camilla has proven herself to be far more than the ‘third person’ in the marriage between Charles and Diana.
Take, for example the offers from various Americans she’s met – who discreetly tell her they can share the numbers of their plastic surgeons if she wants to have some ‘work’. Camilla happily re-tells this story, and hoots with laughter.
Her natural demeanour even won over her once-harshest critic – Queen Elizabeth, who initially blamed Charles’ long-time love for the break-up of his unhappy marriage to Diana.
When Charles and Camilla finally wed in April 2005 – decades after their romance started in the 1970s – the date coincided with the Grand National, and Queen Elizabeth couldn’t attend the ceremony because she had a horse running.
But the Queen did make a speech at the reception later, and said she had two important announcements.
The first was that Hedgehunter had won the race at Aintree; the second was that, at Windsor, she was delighted to be welcoming her son and his bride to the winners’ enclosure.
Queen Elizabeth added with a smile: ‘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 love s.’
Since then, Camilla – who has been described as a ‘feminist icon’ by one commentator, has given the antiquated and sometimes detached monarchy some grounding – with her ‘delightful’ and ‘approachable’ personality (alongside a savvy PR strategy) helping her pave her way to public acceptance as the UK’s new Queen.
Such a gregarious and outgoing nature was apparent even in her younger years. Born in 1947 to a well-to-do family (her father was an army major turned businessman, her mother a daughter of a Baron), she split her days between her two homes in Sussex and Kensington. Describing her childhood as ‘perfect’, she forged extremely tight-knit relationships with her younger siblings Annabel, now 73, and Mark (who died aged 62 in 2014), and her parents, spending her days horse riding and reading.
As a young woman on the fringes of the aristocracy, Camilla was less interested in pursuing a career. For most young Women (Women apparel Here) of her class, finding a wealthy and influential husband was the main goal, which may be why Camilla was sent to a Swiss finishing school aged 16, before concluding her education in Paris.
‘She wanted no more from life than to be happily married to an upper-class man and live a sociable life in the country with horses, dogs, children, and someone to look after them all and do the hard graft,’ Penny Junor explains in her book The Duchess: Camilla Parker Bowles and the love Affair That Rocked the Crown.
Her chance meeting with Charles looked like a safe bet, with the pair dating briefly after they first met in the 70s, but this blossoming romance was quickly quashed by unfortunate circumstances: Charles was going away for eight months to serve in the Navy.
Senior royals were also thought to be somewhat scathing about Camilla’s suitability to be so closely tied to the heir to the throne.
Charles’s godmother, Patricia, 2nd Countess Mountbatten of Burma, was particularly cutting about the now-Queen. ‘[Marriage] wouldn’t have been possible, not then,’ she told her biographer Giles Brandreth. ‘Camilla had a “history” – and you didn’t want a past that hung about.’
While Charles was away, Camilla met and married Andrew Parker Bowles – an Army Cavalry Officer 12 years her senior, who had previously enjoyed a brief fling with Princess Anne, Charles’s younger sister.
The pair went on to have two children: food critic Tom Parker Bowles and art curator Laura Lopes, but things between them certainly weren’t rosy. Parker Bowles was a renowned womaniser, and was thought to have repeatedly cheated on Camilla.
Despite their relationship thought to be over, Camilla remained close to Charles and the King was even made the godfather of Camilla’s son, Tom.
The pair, who shared a keen interest in Shakespeare, polo and sense of humour, managed to keep their bond strong even if their romance had cooled.
‘She treated him like a normal person, as she had when they were together, and if ever he behaved badly, or was selfish or thoughtless, she wasn’t afraid to tell him so,’ Junor writes in The Duchess. ‘She was a proper friend.’
Charles claimed to his authorised biographer, Jonathan Dimbleby, that their long-standing affair restarted in 1986.
‘That they love d each other was not in any doubt: in Camilla Parker Bowles, the prince found the warmth, the understanding and the steadiness for which he had always longed and had never been able to find with any other person,’ Dimbleby wrote in his biography of Charles.
However, the release of the book Diana: Her True Story in June of 1992 by Andrew Morton, alongside Diana’s now-controversial interview with BBC’s Martin Bashir in 1995, where she infamously claimed there had been ‘three of us in this marriage’, naturally led to widespread revile for Camilla.
Quickly, she became newspaper fodder, being described ‘as the most hated woman in Britain’. Diana herself likened Camilla to ‘a Rottweiler.’
With Charles making their relationship official public knowledge in 1999, the future King was keen for Camilla to be welcomed into ‘The Firm’, a tall order, considering her largely negative press and the Queen’s reportedly glacial relationship towards her.
However, it was down to palace aides to help rehabilitate Camilla’s image, and after their first photo opportunity together at the Ritz to celebrate Camilla’s sister’s 50th birthday in 1999, the Queen seemingly gave her seal of approval a year later, when the late monarch attended another birthday party with Camilla in tow.
With Charles receiving his mother’s blessing for the pair to marry in 2005, Camilla treated the ceremony with trepidation. Having faced such an onslaught of abuse at the hands of the press and the public, she feared she was going to be booed at their wedding in Windsor Castle.
‘Camilla had been public enemy number one for much of the 1990s,’ Junor writes. ‘But by the time she and Charles married, I think some people’s attitudes were beginning to soften, and the reception they had from the crowds in Windsor on the day of the wedding was almost entirely positive.’
The approval of Prince Harry and Prince William is also thought to help Camilla’s image.
‘To be honest with you, she’s always been very close to me and William,’ Prince Harry said in a 2005 interview. ‘She’s not the wicked stepmother.’
In more recent years, Camilla has not been afraid to get stuck in and get her hands dirty when it comes to royal duties: a patron of over 90 charities, she has been outspoken on topics that can affect Women (Women apparel Here) no matter their social standing.
Indeed, close friends of Camilla have been struck by her growing confidence since the death of the late Queen.
One pal told Metro.co.uk: ‘Camilla is very self-conscious about her position and would never wish to upstage any member of the Royal Family but she is increasingly comfortable in her new role.
‘She is the perfect foil for the King because she is happy to dive into any conversation and has no hesitation in aSki Goggles (On Sale Here)ng questions if she’s unsure about something.
‘The King does have very particular interests and sometimes feels awkward in certain situations but Camilla can handle most situations and be authentic at the same time.’
Another long-time confidante said: ‘People always say she is very down to earth but that really doesn’t do her justice.
‘It’s very true that she will speak her mind with the King and with the senior courtiers and advisers because she is also very savvy and has very good instincts about people and issues, especially current affairs.
‘She has no time for nonsense and when she is working a room, she will happily stay talking to a person she personally finds particularly interesting while her aides want to rush her along to meet as many people as possible.’
Another friend admitted that Camilla had initially considered the prospect of being Queen ‘daunting’ even though it had been discussed nearly two years ago with the Archbishop of Canterbury with the blessing of the late Queen Elizabeth.
‘It has never been a title she has actively sought or coveted but she does have an enormous sense of duty and loyalty to the King and if her being Queen alongside the King is the best way for her to be supportive of him that’s what she will do – but it will not change the way she is or the quirks of her own distinctive personality.’
Indeed, on a recent visit to Liverpool to the Eurovision song contest arena, when they met the UK’s entry Mae Muller, Camilla was heard to say: ‘I hope I don’t get nul points,’ a jokey reference to the Eurovision points system.
It’s thought that Camilla’s most valuable asset is her ordinariness, despite her hugely privileged upbringing and background. Joan Rivers described the new Queen as ‘rough around the edges… in a good way,’ with her down to earth rambunctiousness sorely needed in an institution which regularly labelled as out of touch.
While generations of royals may have toasted their health with the finest of champagne, down-to-earth Queen Camilla prefers toast topped with baked beans, mud beneath her fingernails after a day of gardening, Happy Valley on the TV and a bawdy joke.
A well-publicised fan of both Strictly Come Dancing and The Great British Bake Off, she’s previously been papped doing her weekly shop in Sainsbury’s and once only claimed to own ‘one smart dress from Monsoon’ – providing further relatability when compared to the royals that previously dripped in jewels and lived a life of pomp and pageantry.
But while she may be more at home with a copy of Horse And Hound and a G&T than a formal royal event, as today has shown Camilla can nonetheless charm and dazzle as King Charles’ Queen.
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First appear at ‘She’s not the wicked stepmother’: How Queen Camilla went from being ‘the most hated woman in Britain’ to much-love d royal