March 22, 2023

Camilla Parker Bowles: The woman who will now be King Charles's Queen Consort
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When Prince Charles and Camilla Shand first met at a polo match in 1970, the pair had no idea their instant connection would unleash a lifelong love affair and a scandal that would rock the House of Windsor.
At the time, a 22-year-old Charles was the heir to the throne and the most eligible bachelor in the world.
Camilla was a 24-year-old country girl from an upper-class family, known for her sparkling wit and a love of the outdoors.
The couple would embark on what Charles would later describe as a "blissful, peaceful and mutually happy relationship".
But fate, disapproving families and the pressures of royal life would conspire to keep the couple apart.
Their tumultuous relationship would eventually test the strength of the British monarchy and spark open questions about Charles's suitability as next in line.
As a result, Camilla's path to public acceptance has been at times rocky.
Once dubbed "Britain's most hated woman", Camilla was blamed by some for the end of Charles's first marriage to the beloved Princess Diana.
But since marrying into the royal family 17 years ago, Camilla has grown into her role as the wife of a future King and senior member of "the Firm".
Through a rigorous workload, a savvy public relations campaign and her clear devotion to her husband, Camilla has transformed herself into a symbol of duty and redemption.
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Camilla Shand was born in 1947 to a wealthy family in rural Sussex and has described her childhood in the English countryside as "perfect in every way".
An "outgoing, cheerful" girl with a "lust for life," according to one of her biographers, Camilla attended the prestigious Queen's Gate School in South Kensington, whose alumni include Nigella Lawson, Lily Allen and Florence Pugh.
Her parents pulled her out at the age of 16 to complete finishing school at Mon Fertile in Switzerland, rounding off her education at the Institute Britannique in Paris.
Her European education taught her the skills required for marriage to a "suitable man", as was common for upper-class girls at the time, before she returned to London.
Camilla was employed as a receptionist at the fashionable decorating firm of Sibyl, Colefax and Fowler in Mayfair and moved among the city's glamorous social circles.
The story goes that when she first met Charles, Camilla quipped: "My great-grandmother was the mistress of your great-great-grandfather, so how about it?"
Whether true or not, the pair briefly dated until forces beyond their control tore them apart.
Prince Charles joined the navy to follow in the footsteps of his father, and Camilla eventually married a young officer, Andrew Parker Bowles, in 1973.
The former couple remained close friends, however, and when a 19-year-old Diana entered Charles's life, Camilla reportedly joined a close circle of family and friends in championing the match.
"[Charles's] family wanted it. The public wanted it. Like the last Prince of Wales, he liked to confide in married women, and his two favourites, Lady Tryon and Camilla Parker Bowles, wanted it," biographer Tina Brown, author of The Diana Chronicles, wrote in Vanity Fair.
"They had met the blushing little Spencer girl and deduced she was not going to give them any trouble."
Charles and Diana married, the charming young princess capturing the heart of a nation with her warmth and compassion.
But behind the scenes, the royal marriage was not what it appeared. Their 13-year age gap was difficult to overcome.
Charles played polo, read Shakespeare, and obsessively tended to his lavish organic gardens — all hobbies he once shared with Camilla.
Diana just wanted to dance, listen to Duran Duran and push the boundaries of traditional royal philanthropy to focus on HIV/AIDS and homelessness.
They looked like they'd stepped from the pages of a child's storybook. But the outward perfection that palace aides demanded for a future king and queen was not enough to forge a meaningful bond between them.
Though he and Diana had two children together, it appeared Prince Charles was irrevocably in love with someone else.
"That they loved 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," Jonathan Dimbleby wrote in his authorised biography.
"Their relationship … was later to be portrayed merely as a tawdry affair. For the prince, however, it was a vital source of strength to a man who had been saddened beyond words by a failure for which he invariably blamed himself."
Almost every monarchy is built upon fairytales, and the House of Windsor was no different.
When the love story between Charles and Diana fractured in front of the public, Camilla was cast as "the other woman".
"There were three of us in this marriage – it was a bit crowded," Diana told BBC's Martin Bashar in an interview in 1995.
For many, Diana's untimely death in 1997 transformed the tragic princess into a saint-like figure.
Camilla's cultural role as a conniving mistress looked inescapable, even as she and Charles quietly started living together.
In a sign of just how much public opinion was against her in 1997, many in the audience booed loudly at the mention of her name during a live televised debate on the monarchy.
One tabloid at the time even placed her photograph next to a picture of a horse, asking, "Which one would you rather go to bed with?"
But the future king would not give up the woman he loved again. And so it was up to his palace aides to revamp her image, and gain tolerance for their relationship from both his mother and the public.
Their first official public appearance together appeared to be spontaneous, when in reality, it was a carefully stage-managed photo opportunity.
In 1999, Camilla and Charles were spotted leaving the Ritz Hotel after her sister's 50th birthday.
Dozens of paparazzi had gathered outside to capture the moment, thanks to a tip-off from royal spin doctor Mark Bolland.
Dressed in a black dress and an emerald and pearl choker fit for a future queen, Camilla came out of the shadows and into the glare of photographers' flashbulbs.
Front page headlines splashed the news of the couple "facing the world together at last".
Though some tabloids still dubbed Camilla as the mistress, "Operation Ritz" marked the beginning of their public relationship and a new chapter with the press.
But the true seal of approval would come a year later from the symbolic head of the country, when Charles's mother stepped out to another birthday party, with Camilla in tow.
To observers it appeared to be a thawing of the icy relationship between the couple and their Queen.
The monarch would eventually permit her son to marry the love of his life, but given Camilla was divorced, they wed in a civil ceremony.
The Queen, as head of the Church of England, did not attend, but did throw a post-wedding reception for the newlyweds.
Though often portrayed by British tabloids as staid and dowdy, a family friend once told biographer Sally Bedell Smith that Camilla was "an intensely warm, maternal, laughing creature".
Whenever she walked into the room, "your spirits rise because you know you are going to have a laugh", they added.
In Camilla, the prince found a sympathetic ear, a love to cherish and a warmth that was lacking from much of his upbringing.
"I got what she was about, which is full of fun, a wicked sense of humour and — this in a very good way — rough around the edges," Joan Rivers told Bedell Smith of Camilla.
"He's got to be so formal in public and charming to everybody and all that kind of stuff, and I just love that you know somewhere there was someone who could be rowdy with him and silly with him and normal with him."
Charles's whole life has been a prelude to him becoming King. Now a great deal rests on his ability to carve out his own path.
Despite being held to the same crushing beauty standards as Diana, Camilla has refused to bow to public pressure and left her fashion and hairstyle largely unchanged over the years.
Some see this as a mark of her character and her style as boldly dignified — "unflappable, steely, confident".
A very hard worker with a sense of humour and an ability to put the public she interacts with at ease, she has become the patron of more than 90 charities.
Camilla has also increasingly championed a number of different causes during her marriage to Charles, including literacy, osteoporosis, rescue dogs and charities supporting victims of domestic abuse.
"Rapists are not born, they are constructed. And it takes an entire community – male and female – to dismantle the lies, words, and actions that foster a culture in which sexual assault is seen as normal, and in which it shames the victim," she said at the launch of a project called Shameless, supported by the Women of the World Foundation, in October last year.
Some have seen her championing of taboo subjects like sexual violence as a mark of her feminism.
"You cannot help really liking Charles and Camilla because they are both people of great kindness and great compassion," Australian-British author Kathy Lette told ABC News.
"Camilla is a feminist, she is the head of the Women of the World and campaigns for women's right's and educational rights for girls.
"Even though she is in a decorative role as the consort, she is a strong feminist and a bit of a female icon in some ways."
Camilla has accompanied Prince Charles on many official obligations and overseas tours, slowly settling into her role as a senior member of the royal family.
Though the Netflix series, The Crown, has revived interest in Diana for a new generation who did not live through the tumultuous 1990s, her dedication to her husband has allowed Camilla to find some measure of acceptance from his subjects.
In 1997, only 8 per cent of respondents to a MORI Ipsos poll for the Mail on Sunday said they would like and accept her as a future Queen.
But in recent years, Camilla has gained ground with the public and in a YouGov poll conducted in the lead-up to the Queen's Platinum Jubilee, 47 per cent of respondents viewed her positively.
Camilla's relationship with the rest of the royal family has warmed considerably since those early days.
A doting grandmother, she is known to Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis as their GaGa.
"To be honest with you, she's always been very close to me and William," Prince Harry said in an interview to mark his 21st birthday in 2005.
"She's not the wicked stepmother."
But there remained one symbolic marker of the walls put up in the years after Diana's death.
When the couple married in 2005 and public sentiment towards Camilla was still quite frosty, Buckingham Palace said she would be known as "princess consort" when Charles became King.
Charles himself caused confusion about the arrangement in 2010 when asked by a reporter if his wife could ever be Queen.
 "That's, well … We'll see won't we? That could be," he said, visibly uncomfortable.
Ultimately, however, it was up to Charles's mother to decide what role Camilla would perform upon her death.
As a parting gift for her daughter-in-law, the Queen confirmed her new title just eight months before her passing.
"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," Queen Elizabeth II said in her February statement as she planned beyond her reign.
"And it is my sincere wish that, when that times comes, Camilla will be known as Queen Consort as she continues her own loyal service."
It was a final endorsement of Camilla, allowing her to have a fully-fledged royal role beside Charles.
The British monarchy's 1,200-year history is filled with marriages of convenience, high-stakes diplomacy, and complete catastrophe.
With her husband Philip, the Queen had been one of a handful of monarchs to find a love match.
In the end, she could not deny her son what was essential to her own reign: A partner who will be his closest confidant always by his side.
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