Camilla’s remarkable journey from royal mistress to Queen Consort

Charles first met fun, confident Camilla on Windsor Great Park polo field in 1970.

11 October 2022

The Queen Consort will be crowned beside her husband King Charles – a symbolic moment that will seal a relationship that has enthralled the nation.

Camilla’s journey from romantic involvement, to mistress and finally wife of the King has been played out over more than five decades, and will end with her formally becoming the nation’s Queen.

There had been speculation about what title she would hold when Charles acceded to the throne, but the Queen put the rumours to bed in February when she said it was her “sincere wish that, when that time comes, Camilla will be known as Queen Consort”.

The Queen and Camilla
Camilla and the Queen in 2014 at Dumfries House (Danny Lawson/PA)

Joe Little, of Majesty magazine, said: “It’s amazing what a difference 20 years makes, she’s gone from not quite obscurity to the second highest in the land, so it’s quite an upward trajectory in a relatively short period of time.”

In her February statement the Queen also spoke about the role of consort, saying that in her husband the Duke of Edinburgh she was “blessed” to have a partner “willing to carry out the role of consort and unselfishly make the sacrifices that go with it”.

Mr Little said: “Charles has made it clear in the last few years, what he’s doing, he couldn’t possibly have done without her. So I think people have been left in no doubt that she is invaluable to him in the same way Philip was to the Queen.”

Camilla’s public image has been transformed after she was cast as the third person in the marriage of the former prince and princess of Wales, to become a campaigning member of the monarchy prepared to serve the nation.

Platinum Jubilee
Camilla laughs with Prince Louis, who is held by Charles, during the Platinum Jubilee Pageant (Chris Jackson/PA)

Underneath she was the down-to-earth Sussex girl who grew up with a love of horses and happened to fall in love with Charles.

During the 17 years she has been married to the King, the Queen Consort has grown into the role and is now an assured royal host when hosting a reception at Clarence House or a confident representative of the Queen when invited overseas.

Camilla is patron or supporter of a number of literacy charities, speaks out in support of victims of domestic violence and champions several animal welfare organisations.

But her most significant role is likely to be in supporting the King and being the comforting presence that enables him to fulfil his role as head of state.

Queen Elizabeth II funeral
The King and the Queen Consort during the ceremonial procession following the Queen’s state funeral (Jane Barlow/PA)

Mr Little said about the Queen Consort: “I would certainly say she was ready, to have 17 years working for ‘the Firm’ and making your mark, albeit slowly but very clearly, she has proved her worth as her late mother-in-law saw.

“But clearly she is an extremely capable woman, but nevertheless she’s going to be taking on this role at a time when her contemporaries will have been retired for 10 or 15 years.”

Charles first met fun, confident Camilla on Windsor Great Park polo field in 1970 when he had just left Cambridge University, a year before he joined the Royal Navy.

Legend has it that she was the one to remind him of a long-standing liaison between her great-grandmother, Alice Keppel, and King Edward VII.

Andrew Parker Bowles and Camilla – Smith’s Lawn, Windsor
Andrew and Camilla Parker Bowles with their son Tom (PA)

“My great-grandmother was your great-great grandfather’s mistress – how about it?” she is supposed to have asked.

No marriage proposal came despite the closeness between them, and in 1971 Charles joined the Navy. The relationship cooled as he dedicated himself to duty and long periods away at sea.

Camilla subsequently married cavalry officer Andrew Parker Bowles in 1973, and Charles married the former Lady Diana Spencer in 1981 – but at some point in the 1980s it is thought their romance resumed.

In 1994 Charles had confessed to adultery in a TV interview with broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby, but only after his marriage had “irretrievably broken down”.

Queen Elizabeth II death
Charles and Camilla on their wedding day (Stefan Rosseau/PA)

The following year Diana said in the BBC Panoroma documentary: “Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded,” a reference to Camilla.

After Charles and Camilla both divorced – and Diana died in l997 – Camilla’s eventual emergence as Charles’ long-term partner was part of a carefully planned PR campaign masterminded by his doctor Mark Bolland.

Their first public appearance together was outside the Ritz hotel in London in 1999, dubbed Operation Ritz, where the mass of waiting photographers had been tipped off.

The culmination of their romance was marriage, and a civil ceremony at Windsor Guildhall on April 9, 2005.

But behind closed doors Camilla appears to have provided the King with the love and normal life, away from his public role, that he has always wanted.

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