March 24, 2023

Contributor, PEOPLE
Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall had a roller coaster of a relationship for years — including during their previous marriages.
The couple hit it off as soon as they met in 1970, but their relationship didn’t last at the time. They moved on and got married to others: Prince Charles famously wed Princess Diana, while Camilla tied the knot with Andrew Parker Bowles.
Prince Charles and Camilla eventually reunited romantically. Amid a flurry of royal scandal, including leaked audio recordings of some of their pillow talk, Charles and Camilla each divorced their spouses and laid low. A year after Princess Diana’s tragic passing in 1997, Charles and Camilla appeared publicly as a couple.
Now, Prince Charles has Camilla by his side as the future queen consort. Though their relationship certainly had a rocky start, their love has been seemingly smooth ever since. Here’s everything to know about Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and Prince Charles‘ relationship.
Prince Charles met Camilla in 1970 when they were introduced by a mutual friend, Lucia Santa Cruz. In The Duchess: The Untold Story, author Penny Junor wrote that Charles was immediately smitten.
"He loved the fact that she smiled with her eyes as well as her mouth, and laughed at the same silly things as he did," Junor wrote. "He also liked that she was so natural and easy and friendly, not in any way overawed by him, not fawning or sycophantic. In short, he was very taken with her, and after that first meeting he began ringing her up."
In 1971, Prince Charles joined the Royal Navy, and the grueling schedule and time away from home put his relationship with Camilla in turmoil. Further complicating their romance was that Camilla didn’t meet royal prerequisites for marrying the heir to the throne: Reports claimed she wasn’t a virgin and she didn’t have an aristocratic bloodline. Charles and Camilla split, believing they didn’t have a feasible future together.
While Prince Charles was in the Caribbean serving in the Royal Navy, Camilla got engaged to Parker Bowles — incidentally, a former boyfriend of Prince Charles‘ younger sister Princess Anne. They married in 1973, devastating Charles, who reportedly tried to stop Camilla from marrying Parker Bowles.
“It seemed to him particularly cruel, he wrote in one letter, that after ‘such a blissful, peaceful and mutually happy relationship,’ fate had decreed that it should last a mere six months,” Junor wrote.
Despite his broken heart, Prince Charles and Camilla remained good friends for several years after their breakup and during her marriage to Parker Bowles.
According to Junor, Prince Charles and Camilla reignited their physical relationship around 1978 or 1979 — and Camilla’s husband was said to be fully aware of what was happening.
“Andrew was in no position to complain; and when he discovered what was going on, he wisely didn’t make a fuss,” Junor wrote in The Duchess: The Untold Story. “Some would say that a part of him actually quite enjoyed the fact that his wife was sleeping with the future King; he might have felt differently had Charles been a traveling salesman.”
Despite his relationship with Camilla, Prince Charles began courting Lady Diana Spencer in 1980. Born into an aristocratic family, Diana was more suited to wed the heir to the throne, according to royal family traditions and beliefs.
Though Prince Charles was dating Diana, he and Camilla were still quite close. Camilla and Diana were both spotted attending one of Charles’ races in 1980.
After proposing to Diana in February 1981, Prince Charles and Princess Diana wed on July 29, 1981. Dubbed “the wedding of the century,” 750 million people tuned in to watch Charles and Diana tie the knot. Camilla was a guest at the nuptials with her son Tom Parker Bowles.
Prince Charles and Camilla reportedly began seeing one another again in 1986, despite both of them being married with children. In recordings she made for author Andrew Morton’s Diana: Her True Story, Princess Diana recalled calling Camilla out for her affair with Charles.
“I was terrified of her … I said, ‘I know what’s going on between you and Charles and I just want you to know that,’ ” Diana recalled. “She said to me, ‘You’ve got everything you ever wanted. All the men in the world fall in love with you and you’ve got two beautiful children, what more would you want?’ … So I said, ‘I want my husband.’ ”
Diana added, " 'I'm sorry I'm in the way … and it must be hell for both of you. But I do know what's going on. Don't treat me like an idiot.' "
Prince Charles and Princess Diana announced their separation on Dec. 9, 1992. At the time, Buckingham Palace said that there were no imminent plans to divorce and that the estranged couple would still occasionally attend royal events together.
On Jan. 17, 1993, audio recordings of Prince Charles and Camilla were leaked and the transcripts were published in British tabloids. Recorded in December 1989 — while Charles was married to Diana and Camilla was married to Parker Bowles — the audio included both raunchy innuendoes and outright declarations of love.
In an interview with ITV, Prince Charles was asked if he tried to be “faithful and honorable” to Princess Diana when they married. As his affair with Camilla had already been exposed to the public, Prince Charles replied, “Yes … until it became irretrievably broken down, us both having tried.”
He also said of Camilla, "Mrs. Parker Bowles is a great friend of mine … a friend for a very long time. She will continue to be a friend for a very long time."
On Jan. 11, 1995, Camilla and Parker Bowles announced their plans to divorce. The pair said in a statement that they lived apart for two years before deciding to split permanently, adding, “There is little of common interest between us.”
Speculation of a divorce between Charles and Diana went into full force following Camilla and Parker Bowles' announcement, but the palace denied any plans for the Prince and Princess of Wales to end their marriage. Camilla and Parker Bowles' divorce was finalized in March 1995.
Though they arrived separately, Camilla and Prince Charles attended a party for mutual friend Lady Sarah Keswick in October 1995, reportedly dancing together for two hours at the event. Up to that point, Camilla and Charles had taken pains not to appear at the same events, especially since Prince Charles was still legally married to (albeit estranged from) Princess Diana at the time.
A month prior, Camilla had been spotted joining Charles at the royal family’s country estate, Balmoral. During the same period, she was also frequently spotted at Prince Charles‘ country house, Highgrove.
A veteran royal journalist told PEOPLE that the semi-joint outing at Lady Keswick's celebration "was hugely significant. It opened up the gates a little further — making the point that he and Camilla are a couple and will be seen at things together."
Princess Diana spoke publicly about Prince Charles and Camilla’s affair in an interview with BBC’s Panorama in November 1995.
Acknowledging her own extramarital relationship with James Hewitt, Princess Diana said that she “desperately wanted” her marriage to Prince Charles to work. She said it was her “woman’s instinct” that initially made her suspicious. Diana also added that Charles’ infidelity was “pretty devastating” and made her feel “useless and hopeless and failed.”
Her most famous quote about the affair remains indelible today: "There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded."
It was later found that journalist Martin Bashir used deception to get Princess Diana to agree to the interview, and the BBC has vowed “never” to broadcast the interview again.
In February 1996, Princess Diana announced she agreed to Prince Charles‘ request for a divorce. Negotiations continued for several months, and they reached a settlement agreement in July 1996. On Aug. 28, 1996, their divorce was finalized. One year later, Princess Diana died in a car crash.
According to The Guardian, Charles’ eldest son Prince William first met Camilla by surprise on June 12, 1998. The then-teenage William stopped by the palace “unexpectedly” and spent about half an hour with his father and Camilla. Over the next month, William and Camilla met twice for lunch and tea. Camilla was expected to meet Prince Harry shortly thereafter.
According to biographer Tom Bower’s book Rebel Prince, only a few months after Diana’s untimely death did Prince Charles speak to his mother, Queen Elizabeth, about welcoming Camilla into the royal family. The Queen was allegedly unhappy about her son’s relationship with his former mistress.
Bower wrote that the Queen had "several martinis and to Charles' surprise she replied forcefully: She would not condone his adultery, nor forgive Camilla for not leaving Charles alone to allow his marriage to recover." Bower also claimed that the Queen referred to Camilla as "that wicked woman," leaving Charles to call Camilla in tears.
Prince Charles and Camilla first stepped out as a couple at a birthday party for Camilla’s sister Annabel Elliot at London’s Ritz Hotel in January 1999. Though Prince Charles arrived after Camilla, around 150 photographers were present to capture the pair leaving together.
The Queen attended a lunch with Charles and Camilla in 2000. While this was a seemingly small gesture, her attendance reportedly signified her tacit approval of the couple.
Camilla attended several public engagements with Charles in 2002, including the Queen Mother’s funeral that April. In May, she held her first solo speaking engagement for the National Osteoporosis Society. The same month, The Guardian reported that Prince Charles paid for Camilla’s private security, though the palace wouldn’t confirm or deny the expense. A spokesperson for Charles said, “Whatever the prince is providing is a private matter.”
In 2003, Prince Charles and Camilla took their relationship to the next level when they moved into Clarence House together. The palace established an office for Camilla in Clarence House shortly thereafter. The next year, Camilla was included in Charles’ “annual review,” which documents the public funds he spends each year.
Prince Charles and Camilla announced their engagement on Feb. 10, 2005. The couple revealed that they would marry on April 9, 2005, and Charles said, “Mrs. Parker Bowles and I are absolutely delighted. It will be a very special day for us and our families.”
William and Harry released a joint statement of their own, saying, "We are both very happy for our father and Camilla, and we wish them all the luck in the future."
When asked if Prince Charles got down on one knee to propose, Camilla said, “Of course. I’m just coming down to Earth.”
Prince Charles married Camilla, who received the title Duchess of Cornwall, on April 9, 2005. Unlike other royal weddings that feature grand processions at a chapel, Charles and Camilla’s nuptials were relatively low-key, with a civil ceremony held at Windsor Guildhall, just outside of Windsor Castle. Though Prince Philip and the Queen didn’t attend the civil ceremony, they later joined the couple for a blessing at St. George’s Chapel and hosted a reception afterward.
The couple wasted no time getting back to work — Camilla joined Prince Charles at numerous royal engagements within days of their wedding.
Camilla opened up about how difficult it was to cope with the public scrutiny and vitriol she faced during her affair with Prince Charles.
“I couldn’t really go anywhere. But the children came and went as normal — they just got on with it — and so did great friends,” she told You magazine. “It was horrid. It was a deeply unpleasant time and I wouldn’t want to put my worst enemy through it. I couldn’t have survived it without my family.”
Camilla also said that her friends and family help keep her grounded.
"You also have to laugh at yourself because if you can't, you may as well give up. I sometimes think to myself, 'Who is this woman? It can't possibly be me.' And that's really how you survive," she said. "Also, having so many friends who, if I ever even vaguely look like getting uppity, which touch wood I never have, they would just say, 'Look, come on, pull yourself together! Don't be so bloody grand!' "
Though they’ve been together for decades, Prince Charles and Camilla rarely engage in PDA. In 2017, the couple were photographed kissing for the third time ever: They traveled to Southeast Asia, where they arrived separately in Singapore and shared a kiss upon reuniting.
During a visit to Crickhowell, Wales, Prince Charles turned down an opportunity to taste some chocolate from a local business, telling the crowd, “It’s my darling wife who likes chocolate!” Charles instead opted to sample some organic cannellini beans.
To mark their 15th wedding anniversary, Charles and Camilla subtly recreated their engagement announcement photo. The couple posed for a picture together in front of their Birkhall Home in Scotland with Camilla’s Jack Russell terriers. The porch was the same location they used for their engagement announcement photos in February 2005.
When Camilla and Charles first got engaged, it was announced her title would be Princess Consort when Charles eventually ascended to the throne. In February 2022, the Queen said in a statement — on the eve of her Accession Day — that Camilla’s title will be Queen Consort when Charles becomes King.
The Queen said, “I was blessed that in Prince Philip I had a partner willing to carry out the role of consort and unselfishly make the sacrifices that go with it. It is a role I saw my own mother perform during my father’s reign. When, in the fullness of time, my son Charles becomes King, I know you will give him and his wife Camilla the same support that you have given me; and it is my sincere wish that, when that time comes, Camilla will be known as Queen Consort as she continues her own loyal service.”
The announcement came a little over a month after the Queen appointed Camilla to the Order of the Garter, the most senior order of knighthood in the British honors system. Knights of the Garter are personally chosen by the monarch to honor those who have held public office, contributed to national life or personally served the monarch.
In an interview with British Vogue, Camilla revealed that the media and public attention on her relationship with Prince Charles in the ’90s were exceptionally difficult for her.
"It's not easy," she said. "I was scrutinized for such a long time that you just have to find a way to live with it. Nobody likes to be looked at all the time and, you know, criticized … But I think in the end, I sort of rise above it and get on with it. You've got to get on with life."
She also described her current relationship with the heir apparent.
"It's not easy sometimes, but we do always try to have a point in the day when we meet," she said. "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 … You know when we go away, the nicest thing is that we actually sit and read our books in different corners of the same room. It's very relaxing because you know you don't have to make conversation. You just sit and be together."
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