An honest woman at
The horsey divorcée, who has enthralled the Prince for 30 years, appears set to snag her man. For punters taking bets, it's become a question of when, not if, the two will tie the knot. And why not. LEAH MCLAREN finds that Camilla never complains, has a big, womanly laugh and keeps her private life private
By LEAH MCLAREN
Saturday, May 11, 2002 – Print Edition, Page F3
The Queen Mother was not cold in her grave when the Britain's bestselling tabloid came out with it: "MARRY!" shrieked the Sun's front page headline, accompanied by the results of an opinion poll showing that 57 per cent of readers believe that Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, ought to make an honest woman of his long-time mistress, Camilla Parker Bowles.
"Everybody knows Charles and Camilla live together as man and wife," barked the front-page editorial. "Charles and Camilla are the perfect match. So why doesn't Charles marry her? With Camilla at his side and a ring on her finger, he will have a mature partner who is well able to guide him through the difficult years ahead."
Britain's barometer of blue-collar sentiment went on to urge the Prince to "seize the moment" and pop the question. Camilla has come a long way from the "rottweiler" moniker she acquired during the years she was the "third person" in Diana's marriage. That's one of the two metaphors that has clung to Camilla like a pair of unflattering trousers. The other is the tampon that Charles professed he wanted to be so he could get closer to her. A rottweiler wearing a royal tampon. In the years after the untimely death of the Princess of Wales, this sums up Camilla's public image. Since then, she and Charles have employed what the British press refer to cynically as the "softly, softly" tactic in reintroducing their relationship to the public, a tactic that now appears to be paying dividends.
Though she was never seen publicly as Charles's consort (why does nobody just call her his girlfriend?) in the presence of the Queen Mum -- she would have disapproved -- she was invited to the funeral at her lover's request. She sat apart from the Royal Family among the 2,100 mourners at Westminster Abbey. Wearing a pearl necklace and earrings given to her by Prince Charles, her presence is said to have comforted and reassured him.
A month before, she attended her first public engagement as the President of the National Osteoporosis Society at the Ritz in London (a position she is seen to have taken as preparation for her imminent role as royal wife).
There is plenty of evidence of Camilla's increasingly (to use the Prince's term) "non-negotiable" role in the life of Charles. The press hangs on the couple's every move, no matter how mundane: Charles kisses her hello (on each cheek!) at a charity event. She attends a concert at Buckingham Palace in the presence of the Queen. They take an afternoon stroll in Green Park, (but they don't dare hold hands!). She meets his sons. She attends a party with both William and Charles.
The "facts" of their private arrangement are just as openly aired. The general consensus among royal watchers is this: They spend every night they can together under the same roof, usually at Highgrove, the Prince's country house in Gloucester (for appearance's sake, she has her own house on the ground of the estate). She also keeps a set of a set of clothes at St. James's Palace, the Prince's London residence. They jointly hold events at both residences. If he is abroad (which he usually is), he calls her every morning at 7:30 and they also phone to say goodnight. They go out on dates, to dinner, the opera, theatre. A week after the Queen Mother's funeral, they were together at Birkhall, the Queen Mum's former estate on the Balmoral estate that Charles has now inherited.
They seem to be marching, inexorably, towards the marriage aisle, Charles and his rottweiler. But isn't there more to say about the keeper of the heart of the future King of England? Perhaps the best way to describe Camilla as a person is to say that there are two of her.
First, let's examine the more familiar one, that is to say, the bad Camilla. This Camilla is ugly, scheming and selfish, the perfect dramatic counterpoint to her rival Diana -- i.e. the embodiment of beauty, innocence and goodness. This is the Camilla immortalized in the schlocky, hit German musical Lady Di: A Smile Charms the World. Camilla is portrayed as the villain, laughing at Princess's naive belief in love while seducing the Prince.
If you are wondering why the Bad Camilla impression stuck, remember that she is the first one we met. She made her debut in 1992, with the publication of extracts from Andrew Morton's book Diana: Her True Story. In it, Diana described Camilla as a woman who had haunted her marriage since the honeymoon, a woman who gave made her shiver under her bridal veil when, walking down the aisle at Westminster Abbey, she noticed her shadowy figure in attendance.
Bad Camilla, it is said, helped to choose the gormless, but elegant Lady Diana Spencer as the perfect virgin bride and heir-baking-oven for her lover, the Prince of Wales. Once the marriage was done, according to Good Diana, Camilla and Charles callously conducted their affair in full view of staff, neighbours and friends.
"It's fiction, it's fiction," insisted the cuckolded Andrew Parker Bowles at his front door the day excerpts were published.
Camilla and Andrew Parker Bowles divorced in January, 1995; less than two years later, after a long separation, Charles and Diana announced their divorce.
According to the wave of dashed-off biographies that followed, Bad Camilla Shand was the homely, horsey daughter of Bruce Shand, a successful wine merchant and master of foxhounds and Vice Lord Lieutenant of East Sussex, as well as the great-granddaughter of Alice Keppel, mistress of Edward VII. She grew up on a large country estate in Plumpton, Sussex, with her parents and two younger siblings, socializing from an early age with Britain royal circles and attending the fashionable Queens Gate School in South Kensington before jetting off to finishing schools in France and Switzerland. Camilla's was, in short, the upbringing of a typical upper-class English "gel."
In 1972, Shand met her Prince charming on the polo field at Windsor Great Park. According to modern lore, Bad Camilla is said to have propositioned him then and there by saying, "My great-grandmother and your great-great-grandfather were lovers. So how about it?"
Among her many suspiciously vulgar attributes, Bad Camilla is said to wear Ultimo push-up bras (purchased for her by Charles), to smoke like a fiend, to enjoy a dirty joke, to partake of regular soakings of scotch and to be possessed of a raw animal magnetism that has held sway over the heir to the throne for more than 25 years.
"It finally made him a man," one of Camilla's "friends" told Christopher Wilson, the author of A Greater Love, Charles and Camilla.
But the question remains: If they were so in love, why didn't Charles and Camilla Shand get married in the first place?
Little more than bad timing, as it turned out. After his first animal encounter with the magnetic and devious Miss Shand, the newly virile Prince Charming sailed off on an eight-month cruise aboard HMS Minerva. When he returned, Camilla, baddie that she was, had been hitched to a handsome cavalry officer called Andrew Parker-Bowles.
The great affair was put on hold for a few years while Camilla had children, Laura and Thomas (now a flashy London nightclub owner).
After a few years had passed, however, the passion between them could no longer be contained. There was, Christopher Wilson wrote, "an almost animal attraction that the two now had for each other. At the Cirencester Polo Club Ball, they were seen "kissing each other, French kissing, dance after dance."
On a different evening, the Prince was reported to be driven insane with lust at the sight of Camilla's dress. "Charles took one look at it, plunged his hands down the front and grabbed her breasts. In mixed company, that is not the done thing."
Well no. But this is the witchy woman we're talking about. The smoke-weathered divorcée who, despite her homeliness, cast a sexual spell over the future King of England. Bad-to-the-bone-Camilla -- or is she?
Now that some time has passed since the death of the beautiful Princess, let's make the acquaintance of the other Camilla. The good one, yes, but also the loyal, silent, heartbroken and painfully private Camilla. The perfect royal who is not a royal at all. The woman who has never gone on television to talk about her marital woes (as both Charles and Diana did), who does not burden us with her opinions, who offers quiet support to the man she loves.
The main point about the good Camilla is that she worships Charles, and in a way that Diana, for all her lowered eyes and feminine shyness, never did. What people tend to forget about the famous phone call is the moment when Charles tells Camilla about a paper he is working on, concerning English composting legislation, and she replies that it sounds absolutely fascinating, and demands to read it at once. Such details offer much more insight into the relationship between the Prince and Good Camilla than any musings on tampons.
There are other reasons to warm to this new Camilla. For starters, she never complains, at least not in public (and what, I ask you, is more irritating than a whining aristocrat?). And she has a big, womanly laugh, which one writer described as being "convulsed by goons."
On the health front, Camilla is trying to shape up. She recently went on a two-week trek through Northern India with one of the Prince's health gurus, Dr. Mosaraf Ali. The purpose of the trip was to re-energize her spirits and to quit smoking, which the Prince disapproves of. (The fact that she was unsuccessful makes her even more likable, of course.)
The good Camilla seems to be moving up in public estimation. A Channel 4 News poll found 40 per cent of its viewers in favour of a Camilla-Charles union, up six percentage points from two years ago. Bookies got into high gear picking a likely date (yes, they bet on everything in Britain), settling on the year 2004 as the 7-4 favourite for the royal wedding. The most popular question among the punters today is not if, but when.
Royal biographer Anthony Holden concurs with public sentiment. But he adds that so long as Charles wants to be monarch (and hence the supreme governor of the church of England), marriage to a divorcée is impossible.
"The fact that they can't is old-fashioned British hypocrisy and outdated legislation," he said in an interview. "They've been in love for 30 years, they're both divorced. His partner is dead and hers is remarried and their children are pretty much grown up.
"Thousands of people in their position get married every week and the fact that they can't without precipitating at constitutional crisis just goes to the so-called 'modernizing of Britain' remains largely a myth."
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Now a piece of lese majeste:
Charles and Camilla had been spending a lot of time together. They spent much of their time in the country; he at Highgrove in Gloucestershire and she at the Parker Bowles’ eighteenth century manor house, Middlewich House in neighboring Wiltshire. The Prince bought this estate because it was near Camilla’s. At dinner parties, she planned the menu and sat alongside Charles. She was the only person allowed into his walled garden.
However, in 1993 this grave misconduct was revealed when the British press published the transcripts of an alleged telephone conversation between Camilla Parker Bowles and the Prince. The conversation featured, many other intimate comments (the Prince’s declaration that, if only he were a tampon, he could be closer to Camilla). In this conversation, Charles said "I love you Camilla" and added many other highly personal endearments. It was the ultimate humiliation for Diana. When, in June of the next year, Charles admitted his adultery on the British National Television, Andrew Parker-Bowles’s role as the silent husband became untenable. The Bowles announced their divorce in January 1995. Within eighteen months, the Prince and Princess of Wales were divorced. Charles knew the press would encourage him to choose between Camilla and the throne. In early 1997, while Diana pursued her own friends and interests, he stated clearly that Camilla was a "non-negotiable" part of his life.
Charles and Camilla’s relationship has become more public recently. She has been at the Prince’s side at high-profile functions, raising questions about whether they would marry one day. The Queen also seems to be concerned about the effect of this affair.