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Charles and Camilla: The Full Story

An in-depth look at one of the most controversial royal love stories
Charles and Camilla
Charles and Camilla were an item
Getty Images

The Prince of Wales and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, have a love story spanning 50 years. Filled with scandal, heartbreak and finally wedded bliss, we explore how Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles met and how their full story unfolded.

Who is Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall?

Born Camilla Rosemary Shand, the Duchess of Cornwall was born on July 17, 1947 at London’s King College Hospital.

Her parents were Major Bruce Shand and Rosalind Cubitt, the daughter of a baron. Young Camilla, who grew up loving her pet cats and dogs and her pony, went to school in Great Britain, Switzerland and France.

After leaving home, she shared flats with friends and worked as secretary and receptionist. During the late 1960s, she met her future first husband, Andrew Parker Bowles. Andrew’s brother Simon worked for Major Shand’s wine company.

Their relationship wasn’t plain-sailing, with the young couple having an on-off romance before their marriage in 1973, when Camilla became Camilla Parker Bowles.

But three years before her wedding, Camilla had met and caught the eye of the young Prince of Wales.

Princess Anne's christening
Prince Charles sits on the Queen Mother’s lap on the day of Princess Anne’s christening (Credit: Getty Images)

Who is the Prince of Wales?

Queen Elizabeth II’s eldest child and heir to the throne, Charles Philip Arthur George Mountbatten-Windsor, was born in 1948 at Buckingham Palace.

He attended Gordonstoun school in Scotland and spent time at Geelong Grammar School in Victoria, Australia.

Graduating from the University of Cambridge, Prince Charles then served in the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy between 1971 and 1976.

The year before his military career, Charles crossed paths with Camilla Shand. Their relationship would rock the royal family for decades.

Charles and Camilla at polo
Young Charles and Camilla went to the same polo matches (Credit: Getty Images)

How did Prince Charles and Camilla meet?

It’s been widely reported that Charles and Camilla met at a polo match in Windsor in 1970, after she and Andrew Parker Bowles had temporarily split.

In fact, it’s said Andrew was involved with Charles’s sister, Princess Anne, around that time.

But Charles and Camilla’s biographer, Giles Brandeth, claims the pair were introduced by a friend, Lucia Santa Cruz.

It’s said Camilla cheekily reminded the prince that her great-grandmother Alice Keppel was his great-grandfather, King Edward VII’s mistress.

Either way, the pair clicked and became close friends before dating. Charles even introduced her to members of the Royal Family, and he visited Camilla’s family too.

Although it looked like the couple might go the distance, their relationship abruptly ended in 1973 shortly after Charles returned from an overseas Navy trip. But their story was far from over.

Charles and Camilla
Charles and Camilla were an item (Credit: Getty Images)

Why did Prince Charles and Camilla break-up?

Only the couple themselves know for sure, but over the years royal experts and insiders have given their views.

Some say Camilla had decided she didn’t want to marry Charles and had decided Andrew Parker Bowles was The One. Others say Charles had decided he didn’t want to settle down until he was 30.

And some suggest outside forces, claiming Lord Mountbatten, Charles’s much-loved great-uncle, wanted him to marry his granddaughter instead and so arranged the young prince’s trip abroad.

While others say Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother didn’t approve of Camilla, preferring her grandson married one of the Spencer family’s daughters, who were friends of hers. One of those Spencer girls was the teenaged Lady Diana Spencer.

Charles and Mountbatten
Charles was very close to uncle Lord Mountbatten. Did he influence his split with Camilla? (Credit: Getty Images)

Could Prince Charles and Camilla have got married when they were young?

According to royal watchers, had Charles and Camilla asked for approval to marry, they would have been disappointed. Courtiers didn’t consider Camilla to be a suitable choice of bride for the future king.

She wasn’t ‘virginal’ or from the highest strata of society.

Patricia Mountbatten, Prince Charles’s cousin and godmother, told writer Giles Brandeth, ‘With hindsight, you can say that Charles should have married Camilla when he first had the chance. They were ideally suited, we know that now. But it…wouldn’t have been possible, not then.’

However happy the couple had been, the establishment would not have blessed their match. And instead, Camilla got engaged to her on-and-off boyfriend Andrew Parker Bowles.

Andrew Parker Bowles Camilla Shand wedding day
Camilla and her first husband Andrew Parker Bowles on their wedding day (Credit: Getty Images)

How did Prince Charles feel about Camilla’s marriage to Andrew Parker Bowles?

Prince Charles is said to have been deeply upset by Camilla’s engagement and marriage to her former boyfriend in 1973.

Writing to his uncle, Lord Mountbatten, he said, ‘I suppose this feeling of emptiness will pass eventually.’

IRA bomb Mountbatten Shadow V
The death of Lord Mountbatten in an IRA attack on his boat devastated Prince Charles

When did Prince Charles and Camilla begin their affair?

In 1979, Lord Mountbatten was killed in a terrorist attack by the IRA who placed a bomb on his fishing boat, Shadow V.

Lord Mountbatten, then 79, had been out on the water on a family day trip and died along with his 14-year-old grandson Nicholas and two others.

Prince Charles was very close to his uncle, and his sudden death left him bereft.

The grieving prince sought support and comfort from his friends, and he and Camilla became close again, allegedly rekindling their relationship.

But Camilla was a married woman with two children, Tom, born in 1974 who is Charles’s godson, and Laura, born in 1978, meaning they were unable to be open about the relationship.

However, it’s been reported Andrew Parker Bowles, who died in 1995, knew of the affair and had affairs of his own.

Lady Diana Spencer
Lady Diana Spencer is hounded by the press in November 1980 (Credit: Getty Images)

When did Prince Charles meet Princess Diana?

Prince Charles visited, Althorp, the Spencer family home in 1977 while he was dating Diana Spencer’s older sister Sarah.

There he met Diana, then 16. Three years later, in mid-1980, he visited Althorp again for a barbecue.

As he chatted to Lady Diana, he mentioned the death of Lord Mountbatten. Diana is said to have told him that he’d looked in need of care during his uncle’s funeral.

The conversation is said to have sparked the idea that Diana might make a good wife for the future king.

Soon, the couple, who had a 13-year age gap, were dating and thrown into a frenzy of media speculation and press attention.

Charles and Diana
Diana and Charles enjoy a dance (Credit: Getty Images)
Engagement Charles Diana
Diana and Charles pose for photos after their engagement (Credit: Getty Images)

How did Prince Charles propose to Diana?

Then, in February 1981, Charles proposed to Diana. As a ‘virginal’ young woman from high aristocracy, she was seen as much more suitable bride for Charles than Camilla had been.

It’s said the proposal came out of the blue for Diana, with the couple still getting to know each other.

She told writer Andrew Morton, who wrote her official biography Diana: Her True Story, that she had laughed. ‘I remember thinking, “This is a joke,” and I said: “Yeah, OK,” and laughed.’

However Charles was serious, and told her she should realise she would be queen.

After considering things, Diana said she told Charles yes, and said ‘I love you so much, I love you so much.’

To which he allegedly replied, ‘Whatever love means.’ A statement he repeated in a TV interview about their engagement.

Charles hadn’t bought a ring, so Diana chose her own 12-carat sapphire ring surrounded by 14 diamonds. The ring has been worn by the Duchess of Cambridge since her engagement to Prince William in 2010.

Diana Charles Wedding
The new Princess of Wales and the Prince of Wales on their wedding day in 1981 (Credit: Getty Images)
Charles Di balcony
Their wedding seemed like a fairytale (Credit: Getty Images)

Was Camilla a guest at Diana and Charles’s wedding?

When Charles and Diana married in Westminster Abbey on July 29, 1981, more than 2,500 guests attended, including heads of state and royals from around the world.

And among the guests was Camilla Parker Bowles.

In 1991, Diana recalled her memory of her wedding day for biographer Andrew Motion.

‘So walking down the aisle, I spotted Camilla, pale gray, veiled pillbox hat, saw it all, her son Tom standing on a chair. To this day you know — vivid memory,’ she said.

It’s believed that while Diana was aware of how close her fiancé and Camilla were as friends, she had grown suspicious about the extent of their relationship.

Camilla’s husband Andrew Parker Bowles was also at the wedding. As Commanding Officer of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment, he oversaw the newlywed’s journey through London during the procession.

Prince William birth
Princess Diana and Prince Charles introduce Prince William to the world (Credit: Getty Images)
Charles and Diana leaving hospital Harry
Charles and Diana leaving hospital with Prince Harry (Credit: Getty Images)

What was Diana and Charles’s marriage like?

To the watching world, the wedding of young Lady Diana Spencer and the Queen’s eldest son appeared to be a fairytale. And they had no reason to believe the royal couple’s marriage would be otherwise as they headed off on their honeymoon.

After the ceremony, the newlyweds boarded a train from Waterloo station to spend their wedding night and three days at the Mountbatten’s estate, Broadlands.

Then they travelled to Gibraltar and took an 11-day cruise of the Mediterranean on the Royal Yacht Britannia.

Months later, on November 5, 1981, it was announced that Diana was pregnant. If the couple’s first child was a son, he would be second in line to the throne, after the Prince of Wales.

Prince William was born on June 21, 1982, at St Mary’s Hospital, London. And on September 15, 1984 his younger brother Prince Harry completed the family.

The royal couple couldn’t hide their marital tension (Credit: KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images)

But two years later, the couple’s marriage was on the rocks. Pictured at public engagements, they seemed distant and almost hostile towards each other.

Speaking in 1994, Prince Charles said he and Camilla had rekindled their affair in 1986 after his marriage to Diana had broken down and couldn’t be saved.

And Diana had grown close to her bodyguard Barry Mannakee, who was killed in a motorbike accident in 1987, and embarked on a five-year affair with Major James Hewitt.

Then, in 1989, she was recorded speaking with car salesman and gin fortune heir James Gilbey, and in 1992 she was allegedly seeing married art dealer Oliver Hoare.

In December 1992, after a year of revelations about the couple’s extra-marital affairs, British Prime Minister John Major announced the couple’s ‘amicable separation.’

Their 11-year marriage was all but over.

charles diana
By the end of 1992, it was obvious their 11-year marriage couldn’t be saved (Credit: Getty Images)

How did Charles and Camilla’s affair become public knowledge?

In 1989, Diana attended the birthday party of Camilla’s sister Annabel. During the event, she confronted Camilla about her relationship 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 told her biographer Andrew Motion.

But it wasn’t until May 1992 when that biography, Diana: Her True Story, was published that their relationship was thrown into the media spotlight.

Diana had secretly helped Andrew Motion write it, and it contained explosive claims about Charles and Camilla as well as explaining Diana’s unhappiness.

Charles and Camilla’s affair was no longer gossip among high society, it was making headlines around the world.

In August 1992, leaked phone calls between Diana and her lover James Gilbey, where he repeatedly called her ‘Squidgy’ were released, and by the end of year Prime Minister John Major had formally announced their split.

John Major
UK Prime Minister John Major announces Charles and Diana’s separation (Credit: Getty Images)

What was Camillagate?

In 1993, intimate conversations between Charles and Camilla were secretly recorded and printed in full by newspapers. The tapes and fallout were dubbed ‘Camillagate.’

The night-time phone call between the pair included declarations of love for each other, and how they wished they could spend more intimate time together.

Charles told Camilla, ‘Oh, God. I’ll just live inside your trousers or something. It would be much easier!’

Camilla laughed and said, ‘What are you going to turn into, a pair of knickers? Oh, you’re going to come back as a pair of knickers.’

To which Charles joked, ‘Or, God forbid, a Tampax. Just my luck!’

‘You are a complete idiot! Oh, what a wonderful idea,’ Camilla said.

Charles replied, ‘My luck to be chucked down a lavatory and go on and on forever swirling round on the top, never going down.’

The exchange was hugely embarrassing for the couple.

Daily Mail headline
The scandal hit the headlines

Later in the tapes Charles told Camilla he was proud of her, to which she expressed surprise and said she hadn’t achieved anything.

By now, Camilla had been vilified in the press and was seen as home wrecker by the public, who every sympathy for Diana.

‘Your great achievement is to love me,’ Charles told her.

‘Oh, darling. Easier than falling off a chair,’ Camilla replied. Charles continued, ‘You suffer all these indignities and tortures and calumnies.’

To which Camilla replied, ‘Oh, darling, don’t be so silly. I’d suffer anything for you. That’s love. It’s the strength of love. Night, night.’

It was dynamite. The press had a field day and the scandal rocked the royal family. After all, Charles and Diana were still husband and wife in the eyes of the law.

And with the Queen the head of the Church of England, to have her son recorded speaking about extra-marital sex was scandalous.

Diana’s infamous 1995 Panorama interview (Credit: BBC)

When did Charles and Diana divorce?

In what became a public war of words,in 1994 Charles gave a TV interview where he spoke about his relationship with 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,’ he said before admitting their most recent affair stretched back to 1986.

Then in November 1995, Diana gave her own TV interview to the BBC’s Panorama.

When asked by interviewer Martin Bashir whether she felt Camilla had contributed to the breakdown of her marriage, she replied, ‘Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.’

When asked if she was responsible for some of the difficulties between her and Prince Charles, Diana said, ‘Absolutely, we both made mistakes.’

The Queen was reported to be furious with the airing of dirty linen in public and ordered the couple to divorce.

Finally, in 1996, they did, signing non-disclosure agreements to prevent them from speaking about it further.

By now, Camilla was also divorced. Prince Charles declared that, going forward, his and Camilla’s relationship was non-negotiable.

But if the path seemed cleared for Charles and Camilla to finally be together and rebuild their public image, any immediate chance of public acceptance ended on August 31, 1997.

Tragically, Diana, her boyfriend Dodi Al-Fayed and driver Henri Paul were killed in late-night car crash in a Paris tunnel as they drove from the Ritz Hotel.

Diana’s death, untimely and devastating, turned the public not only against Charles and Camilla, but the Queen and Prince Phillip who were accused of appearing unfeeling. 

Diana's funeral
Prince Charles and his sons at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales (Credit: JOEL ROBINE/AFP/Getty Images)
Charles Harry flowers
Prince Charles and Prince Harry hold hands as they look at floral tributes to Diana (Credit: Getty Images)

When did Charles and Camilla get married?

HRH Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, and Camilla Parker Bowles got married in a civil ceremony on April 9, 2005. It was followed by a blessing at St George’s Chapel, Windsor.

The couple had hoped to marry at St George’s Chapel but the rules around a civil ceremony meant it would have had to have been opened for members of the public to also tie the knot there.

Unlike Charles’s first marriage, the nuptials were not televised but cameras recorded the wedding party’s arrival and departure from Windsor Guildhall.

Despite the couple’s joy and formalizing their relationship, there were still concerns over how the marriage would be viewed by the public.

In the months following Diana’s death, the couple kept a low profile but they made their first public appearance together at a birthday party in 1999.

Then, in 2002, Camilla was invited to join the royal family in the royal box during Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee celebrations.

By 2003, Camilla had moved into Charles’s residence and by 2005 public opinion was turning in favour of the couple marrying.

In February 2005, Charles and Camilla announced their engagement, with Camilla sporting a ring which was believed to have been given to Charles’s grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, following the birth of the Queen.

Charles and Camilla
Shortly after the couple’s engagement (Credit: Getty Images)
Camilla’s engagement ring used to belong to the Queen Mother (Credit: Getty Images)

But the path to the altar wasn’t quite smooth. The wedding was due to take place on April 8, but following the death of Pope John Paul II the Prince of Wales it was delayed by one day to allow Prince Charles to attend his funeral at The Vatican.

Prince William and Camilla’s son Tom Parker Bowles were witnesses to the marriage.

Although the Queen didn’t attend because of her Christian faith, she held a reception afterwards for the couple at Windsor Castle.

After the wedding Camilla became known as the Duchess of Cornwall instead of using the title Princess of Wales which was so closely associated with Diana.

Royal biographer Penny Juror has claimed Camilla was so nervous about the wedding and public reaction that she almost stayed in bed.

‘On the day itself it took four people to coax Camilla out of bed,’ Junor wrote in The Duchess: Camilla Parker Bowles and the Love Affair That Rocked the Crown.

It wasn’t just her sinus infection that was at play, though. It had become more an issue of nerves.’

Although there were a few boos from the gathered crowd, and other protesters outside Diana’s former home at Kensington Palace, the majority were well-wishers come to show support for the couple whose love had endured for more than 30 years.

Protestors outside Kensington Palace, Diana’s former home (Credit: Getty Images)
Charles and Camilla with their children on their wedding day (Credit: Getty Images)
The Queen threw a reception at Windsor Castle (Credit: Getty Images)
Camilla on her wedding day (Credit: Getty Images)

Where do Charles and Camilla live now?

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall live at Clarence House in The Mall in London. The couple carry out official engagements together and separately.

Camilla is step-grandmother to Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge and Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge’s children Prince George, Princess Charlotte, and Prince Louis and Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, and Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex’s, son Archie Harrison Windsor.

Camilla is the president of the UK’s Royal Osteoporosis Society, patron of the National Literacy Trust and patron of many animal welfare charities. She is also an advocate for sexual abuse survivors.

She also supports charities focusing on homelessness, anti-FGM, and other causes.

Megan Markle wedding
Charles and Camilla on Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding day (Credit: Getty Images)
The couple enjoy a joke at a public engagement (Credit: Getty Images)
The couple on an overseas trip (Credit: Getty Images)

Will Camilla become Queen?

When Queen Elizabeth II passes away, the Prince of Wales will become king.

It’s believed that rather than ‘Queen Camilla,’ the Duchess of Cornwall will be referred to as ‘Princess Consort.’

However, references to this alternative title have been removed from the monarchy’s website in recent years, perhaps suggesting that Queen Camilla hasn’t fully been ruled out for the woman by Prince Charles’s side for the best part of 50 years.

Camilla and Charles
Camilla and Charles have been in each other’s lives for 50 years (Credit: Getty Images)

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