There was one Time not so long ago when the biggest threat to King Charles was Camilla Parker Bowles.
But with Her Majesty’s blessing on Camilla to become Queen Consort when Charles is crowned king, it could now be said that the Duchess of Cornwall is one of the monarchy’s greatest success stories – and a key pillar of strength for its future. The monarchy looks very different than it did 10 years ago at the Diamond Jubilee. After the death of Prince Philip, the resignation of the Sussexes and the spectacular fall of the Duke of York, the royal line-up is somewhat exhausted.
Yet here is Camilla, whose transformation from mistress to “my beloved wife,” as Charles calls her, was remarkable – a triumph perhaps only matched by Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s consort, who was seized by a distrusted German turned an outsider into a revered king.
Today, Camilla is the second oldest woman in the royal family after the Queen, who once referred to Camilla as that “wicked woman”. Now the monarch enjoys a warm and close relationship with her daughter-in-law and a bond forged over their mutual love of dogs and horses. Her Majesty’s announcement that it was her “sincere desire” for Camilla to become queen ended years of endless speculation about Camilla’s title when Charles joined. In doing so, the Queen not only ensured a smooth transition for her son’s reign, but also showed her support for Camilla, who has been a devoted member of the family since her marriage to the Prince of Wales in 2005.
Back then, the question of Camilla’s title was more inflammatory. The marriage technically made her the Princess of Wales, but fearing public backlash, Clarence House announced that she would be known as the Duchess of Cornwall and, once Charles became king, Princess Consort.
“It wasn’t inevitable that the Duchess would become Queen Consort,” says Patrick Harrison, who worked in Clarence House’s Press Office for 14 years and coordinated media plans for Charles and Camilla’s wedding. “I’m personally happy for her because she worked so hard and really didn’t do anything wrong. She would say, “I’m doing this because I love the boss, it’s my job to be by his side,” but she’s done so much more. She is absolutely devoted to the Prince of Wales and the institution, and takes her royal role and duties incredibly seriously. She understands the benefits and challenges that come with it.”
Over the years There were many challenges. Charles and Camilla’s love affair – which Princess Diana blamed for the failure of their marriage – seemed doomed. Despite a Palace Spin campaign to pave the way for Charles and Camilla, there was opposition to their union and the campaign took a long time to take off. For many Britons, Camilla has long been the “third person” in the Welsh marriage, as Diana called her in the infamous BBC interview. Meanwhile, Camilla was also a mom trying to protect two teenage children from ruinous tabloid headlines.
Her family is her core – she is very close to her son Tom, daughter Laura and five grandchildren. She is on good terms with her ex-husband Andrew Parker Bowles and counts her sister Annabel as her best friend. “She has a very close and supportive family and a close circle of old friends,” says her nephew Ben Elliot. “She loves her husband, children and grandchildren.”
Her “family first” motto has rubbed off on Charles, who calls Prince William almost every day and is closer than ever to his mother. Sources say that behind the palace doors, the Duchess has also been instrumental in healing Charles and Prince Harry’s fractured relationship.
“The situation with Harry has been worrying for the whole family and we must not forget that they are family,” says a friend. “I know Camilla did her best and was a superb sounding post and a support to Charles who was deeply troubled.”
This friend points out what a difficult path Camilla had with the press and how she was ostracized by the family. “She has reached out to Harry and Meghan in a friendly manner at various points. When Meghan was going through a difficult time with her own father, Camilla helped sort things out. It was Camilla who told Charles that walking Meghan down the aisle was the right thing to do. She is a very family oriented woman and she really wanted to help.”
Camilla’s close friend and Gloucestershire neighbor Jilly Cooper, an author, says the Duchess has an “incredible” ability to take on responsibilities. “She’s always done a lot for charity, but now people appreciate how much she does. I think Camilla climbed Everest the way she flipped things. People now see her for who she is. A kind, caring and fun person.”
And then there’s the support of the Queen. At the Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2012, the two women rode side by side in a royal carriage procession, reflecting both Camilla’s seniority and closeness to the monarch. The two just got closer.