It’s the astonishing biography of Camilla that has gripped the nation. Yesterday in the Mail, we told how Diana’s death sparked a fallout between Charles and his mother. Today, royal author Penny Junor reveals how Camilla was accepted by the Queen, overcame appalling pre-wedding nerves and learned to excel in her public role…
Early in the morning of her cold and blustery wedding day, Camilla was hiding under her covers — and no one could coax her to get up.
For the whole week leading up to her marriage to the Prince of Wales on April 8, 2005, she’d been at Ray Mill, her home in Wiltshire, suffering from sinusitis.
Fearful that Camilla wasn’t going to make her own wedding, her friend Lucia Santa Cruz —who is from Chile, and the person who had first introduced Camilla to Charles 34 years earlier — had arrived bearing home-made chicken soup. ‘In Chile, everything is cured by chicken soup,’ said Lucia. And she sat there and made her friend eat.
Together at last: Charles and Camilla on their wedding day. A beaming Queen gave the couple her blessing with a touching speech
Lucia had found her ‘really ill, stressed’. And on the wedding day itself, by which time Camilla had moved to Charles’s residence, Clarence House, ‘she literally couldn’t get out of bed’. She still wasn’t feeling well, but now it was nerves more than sinusitis that kept her under the duvet.
No one, least of all Camilla, knew what the reaction of the crowd at Windsor would be, what the media would say, or how the whole thing would go. Having once been widely reviled as an adulteress, she was almost paralysed with fear.
The Queen’s aide told the Prince: You have to marry her or let her go
Camilla’s sister Annabel and daughter Laura were there with her in her bedroom, along with her dresser, Jacqui Meakin, and a housemaid called Joy.
But not one of them could persuade her to get up.
Finally, her sister said: ‘OK, that’s all right. I’m going to do it for you. I’m going to get into your clothes.’
Only at that point did the bride-to-be get up.
The gradual emergence of Camilla as an important part of the Prince’s life had begun in July 1996, almost a year before Diana’s death, when Charles hired Mark Bolland, then the director of the Press Complaints Commission, as his deputy private secretary.
His task was to rescue the Prince’s reputation and make his lover acceptable to the British public. And he went about it with gusto, by whatever means it took.
As Charles knew only too well, the Queen was keen for her son’s lover to leave his life. But he was not prepared to let Camilla go.
Both of them were now divorced, and Camilla was getting fed up with being marginalised. So Bolland boldly told Charles he should invite Camilla to a weekend party at Sandringham, the Queen’s home in Norfolk.
‘It will be a two-day wonder in the Press, and then it will go away. It won’t be a problem,’ he said.
Camilla did indeed bring Charles back from the brink and give him the strength to face the world. And, eventually, what had begun as friendship and a sympathetic shoulder to cry on turned into a powerful love affair
Next, he bypassed the Queen’s private secretary Robert Fellowes — who reinforced the Queen’s view about Camilla — and rang his deputy, Robin Janvrin, instead. Explaining the plan, Bolland told him that a story would be leaked to the Press, posing the question: has the Queen given her permission for Camilla to be invited?
So, on Janvrin’s advice, the Queen’s official reaction was that it was a private party, it was up to Charles to invite whomsoever he wished and she would not have expected to be consulted.
Thus Camilla got to attend her first private weekend party at Sandringham as a divorcee.
The following year, Diana’s tragic death made it impossible for the couple publicly to be seen together. It wasn’t until two years later that Bolland engineered for them to be photographed coming out of a party at the Ritz hotel in London.
Many people in the Prince’s office thought it was too early for them to be seen together. As one of them says: ‘But that was Mark — he was always pushing things on because he wanted to get there; he wanted to achieve the goal of getting them married.’
She has whatever it is that men go for. They’re like bees round a honeypot
Photographers came from far and wide to stake their positions, three deep, across the road from the side entrance to the Ritz. The shot they were waiting for — the first of the two of them together since Diana’s death — came at the end of the evening, as Camilla and Charles stood briefly at the door.
The sky didn’t fall in. And, thanks to Bolland’s gambit, public opinion started turning round.
Next, Camilla started turning up unannounced at public engagements, dinners and events where the media was present. ‘It was quite hard on her, people pointing and whispering, but she coped really, really well,’ says one person close to her. ‘What I noticed quite early on was the effect she had on the room.
‘You’d have a load of guests standing around drinking, and then Camilla would come in — and she really has whatever it is that men go for. The Press all criticised her looks and called her horrible names — but when you see her in person, she does have that je ne sais quoi, and they were like bees to a honeypot. She’d suddenly be surrounded by this gaggle of men.
‘I think she was quite nervous of doing things — because she was absolutely hated. And I think she went through some really gruesome times, a lot of pain and hurt.
‘But the great thing was I can’t remember anybody ever being disappointed or rude about her once they’d met her.’
It amused the Prince’s team that, in the early days, Camilla would open her diary and say she wasn’t sure she could fit more in. It had things in it like getting her hair done one day, or seeing an exhibition with a friend on another.
‘I thought: ‘You’re hardly doing anything,’ ‘ says one. ‘It was a bit like that at the beginning — she just wasn’t used to working.’
But the Prince’s staff were warming to her. They couldn’t help liking that fact that she was so normal and down to earth — ‘a bit kick your shoes off, have a fag, let’s talk about Coronation Street’ — and they realised she had a very calming effect on Charles, whose temper can be ferocious.
Because her happy childhood had given her the solid start in life that Diana had been denied, Camilla could address the Prince’s needs. Pictured: Charles and Camilla in 2016
‘She would be sitting at the table, listening to him behave badly, and all she would have to do is look at him and the whole atmosphere would change . . . It did make him behave a little bit better, because when she wasn’t there, boy, could he kick off!’
Camilla and the Queen finally met in the summer of 2000, when Charles threw a 60th birthday party at Highgrove for his cousin, the exiled King Constantine of Greece. It was the first time the two women had met in more than a decade.
They shook hands, smiled at one another, Camilla curtseyed, and they had a moment or two of small talk before going to different tables for lunch. But it seemed a highly significant step forward.
Or was it? At the beginning of 2002, Stephen Lamport announced his intention to leave his post as the Prince’s private secretary in the summer. Bolland imagined he would get the job, but a deal had been done behind his back.
The Queen was parachuting in her own man to sort out St James’s Palace, to get adultery off the front pages and make sure the Prince’s charitable work and more positive stories about the monarchy appeared there instead; and to get rid of Mark Bolland.
Sanctuary where she loves to forget she’s a Duchess
After 11 years as the wife of Prince Charles, Camilla has inevitably changed in some ways — but not fundamentally.
Her saviours have been her family, who keep her feet on the ground; a couple of good friends who are prepared to tell her she’s talking nonsense; and the fact that she’s kept Ray Mill — the home she bought in Wiltshire after her divorce from Andrew Parker Bowles.
Retreat: Camilla uses Ray Mill in Wiltshire as an escape, where she was be a mum and an aunt, not a Duchess
There, she can forget she’s a duchess. She can be a mum and a grandmother, a sister and an aunt; she can put on old clothes, forget the make-up, ignore the hair, potter about in the garden, watch mindless television, cook everyone some lunch.
She can be untidy in her own home without feeling that Charles is itching to send in the butler to straighten the pile of magazines or take away the empty glasses.
And her family appreciate her. As her son Tom once said: ‘What p***es me off most of all is when someone who doesn’t know her says she’s been a bad mother. She’s been an exemplary mother. She never judges, she’s very funny, she cooks the food I like and coming home is a joy.’ These days, she spends most weekends at Ray Mill, and usually Mondays, too.
Quite often, too, she’ll have dinner with Charles at Highgrove and, if there’s nothing on the next day, go home for the night afterwards.
It’s not so much an escape from him — he sometimes stays with her there himself — as from the baggage that comes with him. Besides, he’s up working most nights until well after she’d like to be in bed and asleep. She also insists on dashing off to see her grandchildren on Christmas Day, after lunch with the rest of the Royal Family at Sandringham.
Whether she will be able to keep her sanctuary at Ray Mill after Charles becomes King is something Camilla is not daring to think about. To lose it would break her heart.
She enjoys a lot of her new life, but not everything about it; having somewhere to escape to that’s entirely hers, entirely normal, entirely stress-free, is not a luxury.
It has helped Camilla to keep a sense of reality in a very unreal world.
Following her marriage to Prince Charles, pictured right, Camilla, pictured left, became the butt of lewd jokes, crude cartoons, lurid headlines; she had disturbing phone calls at all hours of the day and night, received abusive letters, and became a virtual prisoner, alone for a lot of the time, in a big house in the country with no security
That man was Sir Michael Peat, the inscrutable accountant who as Keeper of the Privy Purse had revolutionised the royal finances.
Bolland duly resigned. The person most sorry to see him go was Camilla — and with good reason, as Peat had arrived from Buckingham Palace with a clear agenda.
His instructions were to sever Charles’s relationship with Mrs Parker Bowles because it was a mess and was detracting from his work. Camilla had been the Prince’s mistress, he’d admitted having an adulterous affair with her, and now she was sharing his bed, his house and his life. And she was being seen in public by his side, but not as his wife.
For a man who would one day be Defender of the Faith and Head of the Church of England, this was an awkward situation at best. She had to go.
But it didn’t take Peat long to realise that this was an impossible dream. The Prince would never give up Camilla, no matter what — and so Peat rapidly changed tack and, with the zeal of the freshly converted, became the loudest, fiercest advocate for their marriage.
While Mark Bolland had laid the ground for it, Michael Peat was the man who made it happen.
But there were obstacles to overcome first. It needed not just the Queen’s permission but the agreement of the State, the Church, and the great British public.
And, in his usual way, the Prince of Wales was dithering. He really is the most curious character. On the one hand he had stood his ground against his parents, the media and the voice of the nation in making Camilla non-negotiable.
A man who for decades had dedicated himself to duty, to doing the right thing, suddenly put everything he stood for and had worked for in jeopardy because of Camilla.
‘He’d been through a lot of bad times with the public,’ says one of the team. ‘And I think he was probably nervous about putting himself back in a negative situation, damaging the Monarchy, and he didn’t know whether he could persuade the Queen to accept her . . . the Prince is too diffident and nervous and I think he was scared.’
Peat was having none of that. He went to the Prince and told him very clearly that either Mrs Parker Bowles had to go — or he had to marry her. They could not, under any circumstances, continue as they were.
Without a doubt, she’s in charge – she’s the far stronger character
Another person who was key in persuading Charles to do the right thing was Camilla’s father, Bruce Shand, then aged 87. Although he loved the Prince dearly, he thought him weak, and was worried about how vulnerable he’d left Camilla by allowing her to live in limbo.
Taking Charles aside, Bruce told him: ‘I want to meet my maker knowing my daughter’s all right.’
Charles adored Bruce. He loved the whole extended Shand family and in turn they were very fond of him, but Bruce spoke for them all.
They felt that Camilla’s situation was precarious and a bit shoddy, and although she had never wanted marriage in the past, things were different now.
She felt herself to be neither one thing nor the other and was secretly grateful to her father for putting pressure on Charles.
Having been at Buckingham Palace for nearly 15 years, where he had been close to the Queen, Michael Peat was the perfect person to pull all the essential strands together and iron out the complications.
Coming clean: Once the engagement was announced, Charles admitted that Camilla (right) had been one of his most intimate friends. But he reassured Diana (left) that, from now on, there would be no other women in his life. And he meant it
She was raging, bingeing, vomiting and obsessing about Camilla — and getting no meaningful reassurance from Charles. And he was being driven away and ever deeper into himself
He knew Robin Janvrin — who had been promoted and was now the Queen’s private secretary — well, and Janvrin, being sympathetic to the Prince, was willing to offer helpful advice to the Queen.
And although Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, had been the one to christen Diana ‘The People’s Princess’, he also admired the Prince and, like Janvrin, appreciated how important Camilla was to Charles.
The final component was Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, who inevitably ruled out a church wedding — because the Anglican Church frowns upon second marriages if a spouse is still living — but sanctioned the solution, a civil ceremony with a church blessing.
Charles finally asked Camilla to marry him at Birkhall, the Queen Mother’s house on the Balmoral estate, over New Year.
He had spoken to his mother, his sons, and the rest of the family when they were all together at Sandringham for Christmas, which Camilla had spent with her family.
News of the engagement leaked out on the morning of February 10, 2005 — a day that the couple were due to attend a charity ball at Windsor Castle. The Prince’s staff sprang into action.
Julia Cleverdon, who has worked with the Prince for more than 30 years and is his greatest and sanest supporter in all things, was uncharacteristically in bed at home with a raging temperature when Elizabeth Buchanan, one of the Prince’s longest-standing private secretaries, rang and said: ‘Julia, I’ve arranged for you to be on the other side of the Windsor doors as they come through because Mrs PB must be able to see somebody she knows in the flashing bulbs of the paparazzi.’
Dazzling smile: Camilla shows off her £100,000 diamond and platinum engagement ring – a present from the Queen
Julia pleaded a temperature of 102. ‘I don’t mind if you’ve got a temperature of 106,’ responded Buchanan. ‘Get to Windsor!’
So as Charles and Camilla came through the doors, to a cacophony of requests to see the ring, Julia was right there.
The ring, £100,000 worth of platinum and diamonds, had been a gift from the Queen. It was a Thirties Art Deco design, a central square-cut diamond with three smaller ones on either side, which had belonged to the Queen Mother and was one of her favourites.
When asked how she felt, Camilla said she was just coming down to earth, but she coyly dodged the question of whether the Prince had been down on one knee.
The Prime Minister sent congratulations on behalf of the government; the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were ‘very happy’ and had given the couple their ‘warmest wishes’.
The Archbishop of Canterbury was pleased they had taken ‘this important step’.
And William and Harry? They were ‘100 per cent’ behind the couple. They were ‘very happy for our father and Camilla and we wish them all the luck in the world’.
After Camilla had recovered from her early morning terror, the wedding day itself went smoothly: a civil ceremony at the Guildhall, followed by a church blessing at St George’s Chapel and a reception at Windsor Castle.
There were a few boos when the royal car drove up, but the vast majority of spectators seemed delighted that Charles was finally marrying the woman he’d loved for more than 30 years.
Tom Parker Bowles and Prince William acted as the couple’s witnesses. Andrew Parker Bowles didn’t come to the civil ceremony (although he did come to the blessing), but he’d already rung to wish his ex-wife luck.
After the civil ceremony, the new Duchess of Cornwall and her husband went on to the castle for a blessing in the chapel.
Her assistant Amanda MacManus, who was waiting for them with other staff, recalls: ‘As they came up the stairs, they were both crying. And that set all of us off, so we were all sobbing. It was just so touching.’
Slowly, as the day wore on, Camilla relaxed, reassured and supported by having her family around her.
Her father, now 88 and ailing, had put off going to the doctor until after the wedding. When he finally did so, four days later, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer — and he died 14 months later. But he’d seen his daughter getting married, and that mattered a great deal to him.
The reception was in the state apartments. Charles gave a touching speech in which he thanked ‘my dear mama’ for footing the bill and ‘my darling Camilla, who has stood with me through thick and thin and whose precious optimism and humour have seen me through’.
The vast majority of spectators seemed delighted that Charles was finally marrying the woman he’d loved for more than 30 years
But it was his mama’s speech that was so perfect and laid to rest any lingering notion that she might still disapprove.
The Queen is passionate about horse racing and the date coincided with the Grand National, in which she had a horse running.
She began by saying she had two important announcements to make. The first was that Hedgehunter had won the race at Aintree; the second was that, at Windsor, she was delighted to be welcoming her son and his bride to the ‘winners’ enclosure.
‘They have overcome Becher’s Brook and The Chair and all kinds of other terrible obstacles. They have come through and I’m very proud and wish them well. My son is home and dry with the woman he loves.’
The romantic side of the day apart, their marriage heralded a complete change in Camilla’s life and true to form, head in the sand, she had not wanted to think about it too carefully.
For the Prince, that day brought an end to his loneliness. Camilla already shared his private life but not all of his public life, and it was on the long, gruelling foreign tours that he missed her the most.
‘They have overcome Becher’s Brook and The Chair and all kinds of other terrible obstacles… I’m very proud and wish them well
Henceforward she would be with him to share the travel, the feting by his hosts, the wining and dining, the concerts and spectacles that were laid on for him, the beautiful views that he was always taken to see.
She’d be there to laugh with him at the absurdities and mishaps along the way and to chat, have a drink and unwind at the end of each day.
She, on the other hand, was entering a whole new world. She had never been a great traveller — she can’t sleep on trains and is terrified of flying. But her future would be one of almost non-stop travel, long haul and short haul, helicopters, trains, cars.
There would be state visits, receptions and formal dinners, there would be ceremonial occasions and religious ones, when she would have to be on parade with the Queen and the rest of the Royal Family, and charity work would take her all over the country.
On all such occasions, she would have to dress and look and behave like a duchess — immaculate hair, immaculate make-up and nails, outfits and hats.
She had already shifted up a gear in her wardrobe, and the outfits for her wedding — both by Anna Valentine — were simply beautiful. But that was just the beginning. As she signed the register in that town hall, Camilla was signing away the rest of her life to obligation, duty and hard work.
It is only when you follow a member of the family around that you realise just how hard it is to do what they do, and to keep on doing it day after day.
The romantic side of the day apart, their marriage heralded a complete change in Camilla’s life and true to form, head in the sand, she had not wanted to think about it too carefully
It is like being at a wedding party that never comes to an end, where you have to smile, shake hands, remember people’s names, make small talk to strangers, show an interest in widgets and whelk stalls, and stand when you are aching to sit down and your shoes are killing you.
She was embarking on this at the age of 57, having previously done nothing much more taxing than weed a flower bed. But on that joyous day in Windsor, she was just happy to have got through it without anyone throwing an egg at her.
As one guest put it, what people saw ‘was two people in their 50s getting married and why not? It’s a love story’.
William and Harry were ‘100 per cent’ behind the couple. They were ‘very happy for our father and Camilla and we wish them all the luck in the world’
The late Sir James Goldsmith famously said: ‘When a man marries his mistress, he creates a vacancy.’ That won’t happen on Camilla’s watch; she sees off anyone who shows the slightest designs on her husband.
Knowing that Charles is very susceptible to flattery, she’s wary of those who toady to him, who flatter him and laugh before he’s even made a joke.
‘He’s a very bad judge of character,’ says a person close to her. ‘If someone’s nice to him, he thinks they’re wonderful, while she’s very sharp on people.
‘There’s also a sense of slight unease when it’s women who are prettier and cleverer and talking the same language as him, which she doesn’t do. She can be quite dismissive of them, and she’s quite right.’ The other truth about marrying one’s mistress is that the relationship changes. An affair can encompass love and support, but it’s usually about good, exhilarating sex.
Marriage, on the other hand, is about living with someone 24/7 and discovering that some of the things about a lover that seemed so cute or idiosyncratic are just plain irritating. There’s often nothing like it for killing romance stone-dead.
Someone who knows both Charles and Camilla well agrees that there’s been an adjustment.
‘I’m sure there’s a bit of that thing that if you have a long affair with someone and you get married, you have a bit of a wake-up call. That’s human nature.’
The two of them were certainly very fixed in their ways by the time they married, and adjusting to life under one roof was difficult.
Charles is obsessive about order and tidiness. Camilla has always been untidy. Her homes have always felt lived in, full of clutter, dogs and stuff that children have dumped; his are like country house hotels with not a photograph or a magazine out of place.
He has never had to pick up so much as a dirty sock for himself; she has been chief cook and bottle-washer for a family of four. He has always had household staff to look after his every need; she has had no more than a cleaning lady to help.
Knowing look: As Charles walked down the aisle (pictured), he looked over at Camilla (pictured in a grey suit and matching pillbox hat) with a ‘slightly plaintive, sad look’ on his face. Their wonderful affair was over, and reality was kicking in
He has always had a punishing work ethic; she was new to the concept and found it hard to keep up.
He likes people around him all the time and is a wonderful host; she needs a break from people and enjoys her own company — and will often announce she’s off to bed.
He never eats lunch; she needs to, to keep her blood sugar levels up. He can be very down in the dumps; she is almost always buoyant. He has a terrible temper and can be moody and difficult; she can get angry but she is generally very easy-going and cheerful.
One of her very old friends is married to a similar character. ‘We laugh,’ says the friend, ‘because we both have pessimistic husbands. So I ring her up and say: ‘How is the glass today?’
‘ ‘Totally empty.’
‘ ‘Mine is waterless.’ But Camilla is strong: she makes her points and has strong views and lays them down. He takes that quite well.’
As another close friend says: ‘Camilla is very stubborn and there are all sorts of things she doesn’t budge on, and he’s probably found that quite testing. Without a doubt she’s in charge, she’s a far stronger character than he is.’ Despite this, Camilla’s family still worry for her. The pain of the past, the emotional damage wreaked by all those years as a figure of hate, have taken their toll.
She has health issues that are almost certainly a legacy of that time. And even today she’s living on her nerves, particularly with the 20th anniversary of Diana’s death looming on August 31 — a date that has also sent a faint chill running through the corridors of Clarence House.
Camilla, pictured right with Prince Charles after their wedding, received a number of threatening and unnerving calls from Princess Diana in the middle of the night
There is, and perhaps always will be, a feeling among some that there are still three people in the marriage. Camilla’s relationship with Charles, however, remains strong. ‘The Prince is incredibly happy and contented and amused since Camilla came back into his life,’ observes a friend. ‘They seem to be very keen on each other, they love each other, and they’ve come to a contented happiness in their late 60s.’
The bonus is that this relationship is about more than a love affair, or two people being happy. Camilla has proved to be extraordinarily good at the job. No one is more surprised about that than she is, but friends say she is proud of being the Duchess of Cornwall.
It’s not just her people skills — the easy, open, friendly manner and sense of merriment — nor her ability to scrub up well, work a room, unveil plaques and glad-hand the public.
She has put her stamp on issues — such as domestic violence — that no one else was prepared to touch, doing it in such a way that it’s the issues that get the attention, and not her.
Slowly at first, but with a gradually increasing workload, she started doing public engagements. Today, she works four full days a week and has almost 90 patronages; she also gets thousands of letters each year — each and every one of which she reads — and does two foreign tours and one to the Commonwealth each year.
‘I don’t think that she or anyone understood just how demanding it was going to be when she took on the job,’ says Camilla’s aide, Amanda MacManus.
‘She’s got extraordinary focus for someone who appears to be very relaxed; and if she’s going to do something, she’s going to do it well.’
She is not on an ego trip and she’s not seeking self-aggrandisement. On joint engagements, she watches Charles like a hawk, making sure to stay close so that he’s always in any shot of her.
This was never going to be the Camilla show. She’s there to back him up, not overshadow him.
- Adapted from The Duchess: The Untold Story by Penny Junor, published by William Collins today at £20. © Penny Junor 2017. To order a copy for £15 (offer valid until July 1, p&p free), call 0844 571 0640 or visit mailbookshop.co.uk.