Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall is a figure who has divided people. Many peddle her as the home-wrecker responsible for breaking up Prince Charles and Diana’s marriage, and a woman unfit to be Queen Consort when the time comes. Quite frankly, that is poppycock, and she is one of the best things to happen to the Royal Family for years…
The Duchess of Cornwall was born Camilla Rosemary Shand on 17th July 1947 to parents Major Bruce Middleton Hope Shand and the Hon Rosalind Maud Shand (nee Cubitt). She is the eldest of three children, her siblings being Annabel, and Mark Shand, the conservationist, who died in 2013.
Camilla spent time at Dumbrells School, Sussex, before attending Queen’s Gate School in South Kensington. Later, she attended finishing schools: Mon Fertile school in Switzerland and the Institut Britannique in Paris.
Camilla meets Prince Charles
Friends from their earlier years, Charles and Camilla met in the early 1970s, reportedly at a polo match in Windsor, but other sources state a mutual friend introduced them at a party. Miss Shand ran in the same circles as the Prince, and it was almost inevitable they would meet and attend functions together regularly. The two briefly dated, before Charles joined the Navy and spent months away from home.
Camilla married Andrew Parker Bowles, an army officer, in 1973, but rekindled a romance with Charles from 1986 after his marriage to Diana had broken down. The pair had remained close throughout their marriages. The Prince and Princess of Wales had separated in 1992, and Andrew and Camilla had also been living apart for a while, divorcing in 1995.
Charles spoke of his relationship with Camilla in his TV interview of 1994 – amidst the furore over the breakdown of the Waleses marriage – and defended her to the press, implying he was not going to leave her at the wayside: “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 long time.”
It’s official! Charles and Camilla get engaged
Diana passed away in 1997, and it was in 1999 that Charles and Camilla stepped out together in public. In January, the couple were photographed leaving Camilla’s sister’s birthday party at the Ritz Hotel. This was, evidently, the unofficial announcement of their relationship.
From that moment on, until the couple announced their engagement at Birkhall in early 2005, Camilla became an almost-permanent fixture at Charles’ side. They had however, been living as man and wife, without the marriage certificate, for a few years.
Speaking on the day of their engagement announcement, Camilla said she was ‘still coming down’ and confirmed Prince Charles got down on one knee for her.
Her father said the whole family was ‘delighted’ at the ‘wonderful news’, and Sophie, Countess of Wessex said she and Prince Edward were ‘absolutely thrilled’ for the couple. These sentiments show exactly how ingrained Camilla was in Charles’ life and that she was already accepted by all the family before the pair made it official.
Marrying at Windsor’s Guildhall, followed by a blessing at St George’s Chapel in the castle, the couple had a low key day. It was announced Camilla would be known as The Duchess of Cornwall, taking Charles’ lesser title, in deference to Diana. She is however, legally, The Princess of Wales, as morganatic marriage (a partner taking an unequal title) does not exist in the UK.
A family at war? Not likely
Another story the foreign media like to push is that Camilla is at war with both The Queen and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. While many people have mothers-in-law worthy of a fantastical fairytale, Her Majesty isn’t one of them! Prince Charles would not have married his love if The Queen had not given her permission – this is a legal requirement to remain in the line of succession (the first six in line must ask), and Charles would have also sought his mother’s personal approval of his bride-to-be, as normal families do.
It seems clear that The Queen was in support of the match; in fact, at the wedding reception she made a speech saying how proud she was of her eldest son: “Despite Becher’s Brook and The Chair and all kinds of other terrible obstacles my son has come through and I’m very proud and wish [Charles and Camilla] well,” she said referring to their rocky start with a racing analogy.
At events such as the Royal Windsor Horse Show, the Duchess and Sovereign are seen enjoying one another’s company, giggling and chatting. Just a few months ago, Her Majesty turned up unexpectedly at an engagement with her daughter-in-law!
Penny Mortimer, friend of the Duchess’, said: “Camilla is the least stuck-up person one could meet. And this comment comes from a pig-farmer’s daughter whose granny would curtsey to the doctor when he came to call!”
Some also like to claim that William and Harry were opposed to the marriage – but it simply isn’t true. They understand their parents marriage would not have worked due to various factors, and that mistakes were made on all sides, including Diana’s. Having been victimised enough for the relationship, the Princes just wanted to see their father happy – which he is.
Ingrid Seward had this to say: “[William and Harry] love Camilla as she keeps their dad happy and doesn’t interfere with their lives unless they ask her. She makes them all laugh and creates a happy atmosphere.”
While its a stretch to say that Camilla has been a motherly figure to William and Harry, she has certainly been a constant in their lives.
The Duchess of Cornwall eased into her role as wife of the future King. Bearing in mind she was already in her late 50s, a time when most are wrapping up their career ready for retirement, Camilla was embarking upon a new one,. Within the Firm, of all places. She took on a few patronages and was careful to follow protocol correctly, being reserved in voicing opinions. She learnt the ropes quickly, and those who met her were impressed by her keen interest in their cause or project, and her desire to learn more.
In her decade in the Royal Family, she has supported her husband on 27 official tours abroad, to 45 countries.
Her patronages, though fewer in number than many, deal with sensitive topics, and those close to Camilla’s heart. For example, The Duchess of Cornwall is a keen reader, and so supports literacy programmes for adults, children and those in prison, as patron of the National Literacy Trust.
Animal welfare is reflected in the large number of animal charities and organisation Camilla backs: she is president of the Brooke Animal Hospital, patron of the British Equestrian Fedration, as well as the Kennel Club Charitable Trust. The Duchess even adopted her two Jack Russells, Bluebell and Beth, from Battersea Dogs and Cats home.
The Arts also interest Camilla, and she lends her time to the National Youth Orchestra and the Theatre a Royal in Bath, amongst others.
A personal cause for the Duchess is osteoporosis: both her mother and grandmother suffered and died from the condition, which weakens the bones. In 2011, she spoke of the ‘heartbreak’ of seeing her mother become increasingly fragile before her death, in an article she wrote for the Daily Mail; the National Osteoporosis Society was her first patronage (which pre-dates her marriage to Prince Charles in fact), and she is now president of the organisation.
Camilla does not shy away from important causes, either. One she has taken to heart is that of domestic abuse and sexual assault victims. The Duchess of Cornwall has campaigned on behalf of rape and abuse victims for a number of years now, even penning an article for the Daily Mail in 2014, in which she called the statistics of such cases ‘truly horrifying’, and said she wanted to ‘shine a light on the violence hiding in the dark corners of our society’.
The Duchess met Angelina Jolie back in 2014 as the actress co-chaired the four-day Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. It was also her idea to create washbags for rape victims to use after their medical examinations – to help them ‘feel more normal’; these were highly praised by experts and organisations who deal with these issues and were piloted in three sexual assault centres in London.
Another cause for Camilla is children’s hospice, a cause which her daughter-in-law, Kate, has also taken on. Each Christmas, the Duchess invites the ill children of Helen and Douglas House to Clarence House to decorate her and Prince Charles’ Christmas tree in the library (see pictures in our article here); the tallest Welsh guard is roped in to put the star on the top of the tree with his sword, and then Camilla helps dish out dinner to her guests. It is one of my favourite engagements of the year, and unprecedented in terms of the activity.
Camilla’s personality – quiet and unassuming
Quiet and unassuming, one thing always commented upon by members of the public who meet Camilla is her affability, listening skills and sense of humour.
I have personally seen the Duchess at a number of engagements and seen her interactions with the public. At DMS Whittington in 2014, Camilla was about to enter her car to leave, but then saw an elderly gentleman in a wheelchair waving at her. She quickly walked back over to him to shake his hand and had a brief chat with him before leaving, putting a huge smile on his face – a true lady.
A senior Royal source told the Mirror: “Humour plays a big part in [Charles and Camilla’s] relationship.
“She has that glint in her eye. Sometimes, on official engagements, you will see one of them get the giggles and set the other off and they can’t stop. She definitely brings out the lighter side in him and knows more than anyone how to cheer him and get him to see the funny side of things.”
The Prince of Wales agreed with this when he spoke of his ‘darling wife’ in a CNN interview last year: “It’s always nice to have somebody on your side. She is an enormous support and sees the funny side of life, thank God.”
She has yet to put a foot wrong in her Royal duties, and I am yet to see a critical article on her work – because she does it effortlessly and so well.
The reason Charles and Camilla work as a couple is simple: they accept one another for who they are, and support each other no matter what: “She puts up with his eccentricities and is completely non-judgemental and he puts up with her sloppiness and laziness,” states Ingrid Seward.
Charles regularly sit at his desk into the wee hours completing paperwork, whilst Camilla has bathed and is in bed for 9 o’clock, it is thought. She reminds him that work is not everything, and he shows her how much work there is to do, spurring her on to achieve more in her work.
The Duchess also had some kind words about her husband during a documentary about the Prince’s Trust, aired in January: “I think I’m really proud to be married to somebody who, 40 years ago, aged 27, had the vision to put it [The Prince’s Trust charity] together.”
Able to tackle even the most sensitive of issues well, Camilla is worthy of her place in the Firm. We can hardly imagine a better companion for Prince Charles, nor a better Queen Consort (she deserves the title) to stand at his side.