The romance of Prince Charles and Camilla: A love that endured loss, pain and a tragedy that shook the world
Camilla and Charles' relationship, which spans for about four decades, can be easily classified as being nothing short of an absolute fairytale
Camilla Parker Bowles, the Duchess of Cornwall, recently celebrated her 71st birthday. As she advances in age, her life too has continued to be the cynosure of all eyes for her personal choices. The most controversial of them being — marrying Prince Charles.
All through her life, Camilla has been known as the 'third woman' or the 'other woman' in Prince Charles' life, especially since he and Diana were married before she came and spoilt the idyllic family picture. Now as we look back on the years and keeping all of the controversies aside, we see that Camilla and Charles' relation, which spans for about four decades, is nothing short of an absolute fairytale. One that needs retelling time and again to prove how one woman's determination conquered all the obstacles thrown at her.
As of now, the couple is much happily married, but before they could get to this bliss, they too had to undergo their fair share of heartbreak, tabloid drama, and even tragedy in order to maintain their love. It was the year 1970 when Prince Charles met Camilla Shand for the first time at a polo match in Windsor. It was mostly love-at-first-sight for the two, who not long after their first meeting started dating each other actively. The two lovebirds had quite the time with each other up until 1971, when Prince Charles went away to join the Royal Navy.
That interval changed a lot in their relationship dynamics. Once Charles was gone, two years later in 1973, Camilla married a powerful British Army officer by the name Andrew Parker Bowles, who was also known for having dated Prince Charles' younger sister, Princess Anne. Camilla has been viewed as the villain for long and fortifying those claims were interviews from who knew her. According to one of her school friends, as reported by Good Housekeeping, for Camilla, "landing a rich husband was the top of the agenda. Camilla wanted to have fun, but she also wanted to marry well because, in her mind, that would be the most fun of all."
It is not clear as to how Prince Charles reacted to the news at the time, but four years after Camilla got married, Prince Charles got formally introduced to a 16-year-old Lady Diana Spencer, while he was already in a relationship with her elder sister, Lady Sarah McCorquodale.
However, in an interesting turn of events, Charles ended up splitting from Sarah and started courting Diana by the year 1980. As per Lady Diana's biographer Andrew Morton, both Diana and Sarah remained close despite their relationship dynamics with Charles. Sarah even went on to take the onus of introducing the couple to each other, saying, "I introduced them. I'm Cupid."
The very next year, Prince Charles and Diana announced their engagement to the public, officially on February 24, 1981. The summer of that same year, in July, Charles and Diana got married in a lavish ceremony on July 29 at St. Paul's Cathedral. As has been reported earlier, Camilla was present at Charles and Diana's wedding, despite Diana's wishes for her not to attend.
Having a family, one would have thought, would have cemented Charles' and Diana's relationship, but sadly it did not. One year after their marriage, Prince Charles and Diana welcomed their first child into the world, Prince William, on June 21, 1982, and two years later, on September 15, 1984, the couple announced to the world the birth of their second son, little Prince Harry. The princes' parents continued to live fractured lives, each almost leading their own separate lives coming together only for family and appearance sake.
In the sidelines, despite both their extremely-high-profile marriages, Charles and Camilla continued to be there and present in each other's lives, and rumors still remained that the couple maintained their longtime love affair. But then, Camilla did have a family history of love affairs. Her great-grandmother, Alice Keppel, who Camilla simply idolized, was actually the famous mistress of Prince Charles' great-great-grandfather Edward VII.
As per the interview tapes recorded by Morton for the late Princess of Wales' biography at the time, Diana had actually confronted Camilla at a party and said to her, "Camilla, I would just like you to know that I know exactly what is going on between you and Charles. I wasn't born yesterday." Then Camilla's response allegedly came as "You've got everything you ever wanted. You've got all the men in the world to fall in love with you and you've got two beautiful children. What more do you want?" to which Diana responded, "I want my husband."
But in 1922, trouble began brewing with Charles and Camilla's off-the-road romance, after private tapes of intimate phone conversations between the two were released in the press. A month after what reporters at the time referred to as 'Camillagate', Prime Minister John Major announced Diana and Charles' separation to the public.
Two years after his separation from Diana, Charles, in a nationally televised interview, agreed to his adulterous relationship while still being married to Diana, and even confirmed Camilla to be his mistress. However, he did try to defend his actions, and said that he had always tried to be true to Diana and what they shared, "until it became clear that the marriage had irretrievably broken down."
After Charles' explosive interview hit the news, things were not so smooth between Camilla and her partner Andrew. The couple finally broke things off in 1995, and after living apart for years, announced that divorce was the only resolution to their marital problems, saying, "there is little of common interest between us.".
That same year, even Diana confessed to adultery and revealed that she too had been seeing James Hewitt, a well-known polo player, and her former riding instructor. In an interview with Martin Bashir, Diana admitted, "There were three of us in the marriage, so it was a bit crowded." However, at the time, Diana asked Bashir to keep the interview a secret, and he had to literally sneak into the palace to do the interview without her team knowing.
A couple of years after her scathing interview, Princess Diana was killed in a sudden and mysterious car crash in the French Riviera, and the whole world was shocked at the sudden loss of their 'People's Princess.' The whole city of London turned into a mourning ground as they witnessed the hugely emotional moment when Prince Charles and his two little boys made their way to pay their final respects to her.
As for Camilla, her role in the life of the royal family members, especially with Prince Charles, came to a standstill, since even in death Diana seemed to have once again taken control of the spotlight when the royal family and their emotions were concerned. The public had been united in their hatred against Camilla and many blamed her for being the cause of Diana's sorrows. The future King of England continued to see his mistress and in less than two years after Diana's death, they even shared their living accommodations at Clarence House. In private, Camilla referred to Diana as a "mad cow" and a "nutter," who cheated on Charles with several men. In Camilla's eyes, Diana was a bit of a hypocrite.
In 1998, three years after the People's Princess' death, Prince Charles finally mustered up the courage to introduce his two sons, William and Harry, to Camilla. However, since the news of Diana's death was still very much a raw wound, Charles and Camilla consciously chose to keep their relationship hidden from the public eye. However, they still had to, at some point, come out in the open and declare their relationship to the world, which happened at Camilla's sister's 50th birthday party at the Ritz Hotel in London. The couple made their first joint appearance, and even though they did arrive at the event separately, they were photographed leaving the event together.
As per reports, more than 200 photographers, journalists, tourists, and fans had crowded the streets to catch a single glimpse of the couple, and once their pictures were out, their relationship went from a public affair to a public romance. But the couple was still quite wary of Charles' mother, the Queen, who had still not given her approval to their relationship. In fact, the Queen was so unwilling to give her nod to the relationship that she refused an invitation to Charles' 50th birthday due to Camilla's presence. The Queen is once believed to have called her a "wicked witch" who led her son and the heir-to-the-throne astray. Her disdain for Camilla extended well after Diana's death as well
However, in a turn of events, the Queen was seen attending the exclusive 60th birthday celebration for King Constantine of Greece at Highgrove in the summer of 2000, an event where Camilla was also present. The mere choice of the Queen to attend an event with Camilla present meant that things had changed in the household. This was just the beginning of the signs that showed the Queen was finally giving in. She had to work quickly in order that the public's faith be restored in the royal family. It had taken quite a beating after Diana's death and her son's refusal to let go of the forbidden affair.
In 2003, Camilla officially moved into Prince Charles' residence, Clarence House, which raised a lot of eyebrows at the time. And in a surprising, or not-so-surprising turn of events, the couple announced their engagement to the world in February 2005. The news of their engagement caused a lot of public controversy and difficult political decisions, including the appropriate venue for their wedding ceremony.
Two months after their engagement, Charles and Camilla got married in a civil ceremony, where on April 9, 2005, at Windsor Guildhall, Prince William served as the best man, while Camilla's ex-husband and his second wife were also seen in attendance. Even though the Queen and her husband, Prince Phillip did not attend the wedding ceremony, they did make it to the Service of Prayer and Dedication held at the St. George Chapel at Windsor Castle, as well as the reception afterward. The Queen's absence at her son's second wedding raised eyebrows but according to Vanity Fair, she merely disagreed with the arrangements of the ceremony.
One thing was clear for Camilla: she had no place in the British people's hearts and certainly wasn't welcome in the Windsor family. The couple then tried to devise a strategy wherein Charles regained favor with the public while making it known that Camilla was responsible for this change in him. Her relentless campaign to be in the public's consciousness - whether by giving them time to warm up to her, leaking stories that cast a positive light or having a book published on her own broken heart - paid off.
However, when she did not attend Diana's 10-year memorial service, she did open herself up for speculation. At the time, the Duchess released a statement, "I accepted and wanted to support them, however, on reflection I believe my attendance could divert attention from the purpose of the occasion which is to focus on the life and service of Diana. I'm grateful to my husband, William, and Harry for supporting my decision."
With time, she even made her way towards the Queen's heart, and the monarch too started to warm up to her daughter-in-law as time passed. In 2012, the British monarch shocked the world when she decided to officially give Camilla a royal honor, making her the Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order.
The Queen even accompanied Camilla on a carriage ride during one of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee processionals, which was seen as a huge step for her acceptance in the royal family since she had also gone through a time when the Queen refused to show up to events if Camilla was there.
Ever since the couple have overcome all the odds considering all the problems and obstacles that they had faced during their relationship. The memory of the woman who the public once loved to hate has faded into the background. And now with two daughters-in-law and three grandchildren later, Prince Charles and Camilla still happen to be very much in love and keep doing joint appearances wherever they go, giving rise to the belief that they indeed are the happy couple that they look like.
However, the question remains if the Queen will relent to Charles' desire to see Camilla as Queen when he takes over as King of England. If Queen Elizabeth II agrees, Camilla will perhaps be wiped from the British public's minds as the 'other woman' who once ruined a royal marriage.