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King Charles and Queen Camilla’s love story has been anything but conventional. Despite marrying Diana Spencer, Charles never got over his former girlfriend—and against all odds, they got their happy ending 35 years after they first met. Here’s the true story of how their twisty, turn-y love story played out (in case The Crown piqued your interest).
Camilla Shand is born on July 17th, making her 16 months older than her future husband, Prince Charles Philip Arthur George, born November 14, 1948. The daughter of a British Army officer, Camilla grows up socializing with royals and attends Queens Gate school in London and finishing schools in Switzerland.
Charles and Camilla meet for the first time at a polo match at Windsor Great Park, a royal park. They discover that they both love polo and the outdoors and have the same sense of humor. Camilla jokes about the fact that her great-grandmother had had an affair with King Edward VII, saying, “My great-grandmother was the mistress of your great-great-grandfather. I feel we have something in common.” They begin dating, but Charles leaves to serve in the Royal Navy for eight months. When he returns, Camilla is engaged to someone else.
An Army cavalry officer seven years older than Camilla—and who had previously dated Prince Charles’s sister, Princess Anne—Andrew Parker Bowles, becomes Camilla's first husband, despite the fact that he apparently hadn't even proposed when his family and Camilla's had an engagement announcement published, effectively forcing the issue. In July, the couple marries. They go on to have two children, Tom and Laura Parker Bowles. Charles and Camilla are still friends—in fact, Prince Charles becomes Tom’s godfather.
Charles, 31, begins dating Lady Diana Spencer, 18. The Prince had briefly dated her older sister, Lady Sarah Spencer, who takes credit for the match, saying, “I introduced them—I’m Cupid.”
Charles proposes to Diana on February 6. (One report suggests that he popped the question in Camilla’s garden.) After the news breaks on February 24, he makes a slightly jarring comment when a television interviewer asks him and Diana if they’re in love. Diana blushes and says, “Of course;” Charles adds, “Whatever love means.” But he sounds more smitten in a newspaper interview at the time: "I feel positively delighted and frankly amazed that Di is prepared take me on."
On July 29, with an estimated 750 million people watching around the world—and with Camilla reportedly in attendance—they marry in St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Charles and Diana will go on to have two sons, Prince William, born in 1982, and Prince Harry, born in 1984 However, their relationship soon becomes rocky.
According to he begins an affair with Camilla.,
Diana confronts Camilla, approaching her at a party and saying, “I know what's going on between you and Charles and I just want you to know that. She said to me: 'You've got everything you ever wanted. You've got all the men in the world fall in love with you and you've got two beautiful children, what more do you want?' So I said, 'I want my husband.' And I said, 'I'm sorry I'm in the way...and it must be hell for both of you. But I do know what's going on. Don't treat me like an idiot,'" the princess later revealed.
In June, Andrew Morton’s book Diana: Her True Story is released; the Princess of Wales had recorded multiple tapes for the freelancer writer, and its publication shocked the world, thanks to its explosive stories about Diana’s jealousy over Charles’s involvement with Camilla. Questions arise about whether Charles could be king if he was divorced and remarried—under the strictures of the time, he wouldn’t be allowed a second marriage in the Church of England, as the King is the secular head of the church. In December, just days before the wedding of Princess Anne and her second husband Timothy Laurence, Prime Minister John Major announces that Charles and Diana had officially separated.
In January, a transcript of a suggestive, secretly-recorded 1989 phone conversation between Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles (known as Camillagate) is first published in an Australian magazine and a German tabloid. British tabloids redact the most explicit (and embarrassing) elements of the private call. The news breaks only a month after transcripts of a secretly-recorded call between Diana and a man named James Gilbey (in which he calls her by the nickname Squidgy) were published.
Prince Charles had allowed a documentary filmmaker to follow him for a year and a half in the hopes of repairing the damage to his reputation caused by the stories of his adultery. When the documentary airs, one portion has the opposite effect.
The filmmaker, Jonathan Dimbleby, asks Charles if he was “faithful and honorable” during his marriage to Diana. Charles says, “Yes, yes…Until it became irretrievably broken down, us both having tried." The Prince also discusses Camilla, calling her "a great friend of mine," he said. He adds, "She has been a friend for a very long time—and will continue to be a friend for a very long time."
In January, Camilla and Andrew Parker Bowles announce that they will divorce. That November, Martin Bashir does a now-infamous televised interview with Diana where he asks if Camilla was a factor in the breakdown of her marriage. She says sadly, "Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded."
A later investigation would conclude that Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, was “deceived and induced” by Bashir to arrange a meeting with the Princess, and that Bashir used deceptive practices to obtain her agreement to the interview. The BBC issued an apology for it in 2021, and ultimately stated that they would never re-air the interview.
Charles and Diana’s divorce is finalized.
Shortly after Charles hosts a 50th birthday party for Camilla at his country home, Highgrove, Diana dies tragically in a car accident in Paris. As the world mourns the loss of the People’s Princess, Charles, along with Diana’s sisters, flies to Paris to bring Diana’s body back to England.
Charles, Prince Philip, Princes William and Harry, and Diana’s brother walk in the funeral procession as mourners line the streets and pile flowers in front of Diana’s residence at Kensington Palace. Due to the overwhelming outpouring of grief for Diana, Charles pauses his campaign to introduce the public to his relationship with Camilla.
Charles gradually resumes the process of legitimizing his relationship. He confirms a report in a British tabloid that Camilla met Prince William, and the papers speculate that she will meet Prince Harry soon as well. However, the Queen doesn’t approve of the previously-adulterous relationship, and declined to attend a private 50th birthday party for Charles because Camilla would be there.
In January, Charles throws a birthday party for Camilla’s sister at the Ritz Hotel in London. He and Camilla arrive separately but leave the party together in full view of the crowds of reporters and photographers ready to capture them appearing in public together for the first time. Later that year, she and Charles vacation in Greece with Princes William and Harry.
Charles and Camilla still face the hurdle of getting the Queen’s official approval for their relationship—a key matter to enable Camilla to appear publicly at royal events, and potentially join the royal family. Ultimately, the Queen accepts an invitation to an event at Highgrove—a 60th birthday party for the King of Greece—knowing Camilla would be there. It’s interpreted as a sign that she accepts the relationship.
In February, Charles and Camilla, announce their engagement, 35 years after they first met. On April 8, they marry in a civil ceremony with Prince William as the best man. The Queen does not attend the wedding, but does go to the reception afterward. In order to have Diana remain as the only Princess of Wales, Camilla gains the title Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall.
Questions remain about what title Camilla could receive when Charles becomes King. Because Camilla is seen as part of the reason Charles’s first marriage ended, the official royal position is that she would receive the title of Princess Consort instead of Queen. But in an interview with Brian Williams, when asked, "Does the Duchess of Cornwall become Queen of England if and when you become the monarch?" the Prince answered, "That could be." After an uproar in England, the Palace responds by saying nothing had changed and Princess Consort is still the intended title for Camilla.
On June 9, Camilla (as well as Prince William) is named to the Privy Council, a group of the Queen’s most senior advisors. Reports speculate that the Queen wants to ensure that they both will be present when Charles is named the King after her death.
On May 27, approaching her 70th birthday, Camilla gives an interview to the Daily Mail where she refers obliquely to her affair with Charles and the press attention that came with it. “It was horrid. It was a deeply unpleasant time and I wouldn’t want to put my worst enemy through it. I couldn’t have survived it without my family.” Asked if she is good at moving on, she says, “Most definitely, yes.”
The couple self-isolate at Birkhall, their home on the Queen's Balmoral estate, amid the coronavirus pandemic. Charles tests positive for the virus, but experiences a mild case and recovers quickly; the couple is reunited after they complete their respective quarantines. To mark their 15th wedding anniversary, the couple release a photo of themselves outside Birkhall with their dogs Bluebell and Beth. (Charles would later get COVID a second time in 2022.)
Ahead of The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall's 15th wedding anniversary tomorrow, we are sharing this photo of Their Royal Highnesses with The Duchess's dogs Bluebell and Beth.
The photo was taken earlier today at Birkhall. pic.twitter.com/0Xw1nxySpu
— Clarence House (@ClarenceHouse) April 8, 2020
As part of a message released for her Platinum Jubilee, the Queen shocks many with the statement that it is her "sincere wish" that Camilla should be known as Queen Consort when Charles takes to the throne. A Clarence House spokesperson responds that the Prince and Duchess are "touched and honored by Her Majesty's words."
The couple later appear alongside the Queen on the Buckingham Palace balcony during the final event of the Platinum Jubilee. Unlike Trooping the Colour a few days prior, in which all of the working royals had appeared on the balcony, on this occasion, only the most direct line of succession—Prince Charles and Prince William—and their wives, along with William's children, were present, sending a subtle message about the future of the monarchy.
Queen Consort Camilla's title became official following Queen Elizabeth's death and King Charles's accession to the throne in September 2022. A statement from the royal family read:
"The Queen died peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon. The King and The Queen Consort will remain at Balmoral this evening and will return to London tomorrow."
Camilla was by her husband's side throughout the mourning ceremonies for Queen Elizabeth, and the early days of King Charles III's reign. Following a period of mourning in the late Queen's honor, Camilla and Charles both return to their duties as working royals.
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