In an interview with the Mail on Sunday’s You Magazine, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall has revealed so much about her experiences. She has spoken of her life as a Royal, the fear of press harassment and public haranguing when she married Prince Charles, and the pain of losing her brother, Mark.
Camilla married The Prince of Wales in April 2005 at Windsor Guildhall; from the carefully choreographed first appearance of them together at her sister’s birthday party, to their engagement a few months later, everything has had to be done with caution, hopeful to not aggravate the public and press, who had hounded her as ‘the other woman’ since Diana’s explosive Panorama interview.
“I couldn’t really go anywhere,’ the Duchess says in the interview. “But the children came and went as normal – they just got on with it – and so did great friends.
“It was horrid. It was a deeply unpleasant time and I wouldn’t want to put my worst enemy through it.”
Her children, Tom and Laura, also spoke to Geordie Greig for the interview. Tom recalls how they would count the paparazzi hiding in the bushes: “The paparazzi used to follow us everywhere and lurk around like spooks. We used to keep binoculars in my mother’s bathroom [of Middlewick House], and one of us would look out every morning to see how many paparazzi were hiding in the bushes. We could tell by the flash of sun on their camera lenses. At the peak [of interest in Camilla], there would be half a dozen hiding outside. It seemed entirely normal.”
Camilla said she ‘would pass the time by reading a lot.’ “More than I’d ever have been able to in a normal life. I thought, well, if I’m stuck here I might as well do something positive like read all the books I want to read, and try to learn to paint – though that wasn’t a huge success! – and after a while, life sort of went on.”
Speaking to her sister, Annabel, each day, hearing from her brother Mark, along with seeing her children regularly, kept her going during this difficult period of confinement.
She then spoke of her father, Bruce, who she said ‘always came to the rescue’. “I remember once when he was staying with me at Middlewick and the press were outside. Every couple of minutes they’d be rattling the door, coming down the chimney, banging on the window; they were out of control in those days. They’ve changed a lot since.
“After a while, my father calmly went to the front door and he summoned them all. They came clustering round thinking there was about to be some great statement about me, and he said, “Gentlemen, in our family, we keep our traps shut, thank you very much,” and walked in again. He closed the door with a smile and that was it. I don’t think the press could believe what they’d heard but that was always how we were brought up: never complain and never explain. Don’t whinge – just get on with it.”
She doesn’t think she is overly strong in dealing with such harassment and character defamation. “I don’t think I’m tough but I do think I’m quite a strong character. You have to be, but I think it also comes from my upbringing. We were brought up in a very happy family and I can’t whinge about my childhood because it was idyllic.
“Our parents gave us a certain amount of freedom, and we had a really good time. We’ve brought up our children in vaguely the same way. They’re very rooted, but I think that we were much more respectful of our parents, certainly than Tom and Laura are of me,” Camilla explained, laughing.
Prince Charles has previously spoken of the challenge his wife has faced adjusting to Royal life due to such behaviour, which influenced public opinion: “You can imagine it is a real, real challenge,” he told Max Foster when they celebrated their 10th anniversary in 2015. “But she’s, I think, been brilliant in the way she’s tackled these things.”
Thankfully, it has since warmed to her, recognising the Duchess’ hard work.
Understandably, the idea of royal life must be hard: “Sometimes you get up in the morning and think you can’t do it, and you just have to,: Camilla says in the article.
“The minute you stop it’s like a balloon, you run out of puff – you sort of collapse in a heap. I think you live on adrenaline. If you are a positive person, you can do so much more. People are either glass-half-empty or glass-half-full. I always think hopefully. You just have to get on with it. Being British!”
Camilla didn’t go to university, like many of her generation, and she puts her ease in royal life now – conversation and people skills – down to the experience of these post-school years in Europe: “It sounds, especially in this day and age, sort of snobbish but we left school at 16, nobody went on to university unless you were a real brainbox. Instead, we went to Paris and Florence and learned about life and culture and how to behave with people, how to talk to people. This was very ingrained in my upbringing and if I hadn’t had that, I would have found royal life much more difficult.”
“It’s in the psyche, not to leave a silence,” she explained. Her mother would make her and her siblings sit at the table during dinner parties and talk about anything. “Talk! I don’t care what you talk about, talk about your budgie or your pony but keep the conversation going…”
The Duchess of Cornwall thinks that staying grounded is the only way in her position. “And 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. 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!”’
Normal is the Duchess’ favourite, out of the lime-light; she keeps a house in Wiltshire, Ray Mill, as a bolt-hole when she needs a retreat from public life. “That house is where she can cook scrambled eggs in her dressing gown and be among those she loves with not a jot of ceremony or anyone looking at her. It is home,” a friend tells the magazine.
The loss of her brother in 2014 was a blow; Camilla was seen visibly in tears leaving his funeral – despite emotions being distinctly ‘un-royal’. Mark fell whilst in New York and hit his head on the pavement.
“Mark always wanted something. When I heard his voice on the phone saying “Camillsy”, I knew immediately that he wanted something. But God, I miss him.”