Operation Ritz anniversary: 20 years since Prince Charles and Camilla went public

Danielle Stacey
Royal Correspondent
Charles and Camilla were photographed for the first time together in 1999 [Photo: Getty]

20 years ago today marks the moment Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles were photographed together publicly for the first time.

And it was all down to a clever media plan – Operation Ritz.

It was the brainchild of the Prince of Wales then deputy private secretary Mark Bolland. He helped to devise a media strategy to enhance the couple’s public image and orchestrated the media coverage of their first official outing.

That moment came as Charles, then 50, and Camilla, then 51, left London’s Ritz Hotel, following a 50th birthday party for her sister Annabel Elliott on January 28, 1999.

The pair were photographed leaving The Ritz in London in 1999 [Photo: Getty]

According to The Independent, Mr Bolland, former director of the Press Complaints commission, “had returned from Los Angeles to take personal control of Operation Ritz, and had privately assured his contacts at The Sun and Daily Mail by telephone that Thursday 28 January was T-Day, or Together Day.”

MORE: Did Camilla Parker Bowles just borrow Meghan Markle’s handbag?

MORE: Prince Philip’s car crash ‘disastrous’ for the Royal Family’s public image

Hundreds of photographers gathered outside The Ritz in London to get a photo of the couple [Photo: PA]

As a result, hundreds of photographs were taken of the pair and appeared on the front pages of the newspapers the next day.

There were a couple of earlier attempts at the “coming out” before this occasion.

The first time was at a gala for Camilla’s charity, the National Osteoporosis Society, in late 1997, but due to Princess Diana‘s sudden death, she cancelled it. She and Charles then went to great lengths to avoid being seen together in public. 

Another opportunity arose at the wedding of Santa Palmer-Tomkinson – the daughter of Camilla’s best friend Patti. However, the couple decided they didn’t want to upstage the bride and groom. 

Charles and Camilla eventually married in a civil ceremony at Windsor Guildhall on April 9, 2005.