Born on July 17, 1947, Camilla Parker Bowles (née Shand) entered a world of privilege. Camilla came from an aristocratic background (via Biography), although she couldn’t have known that she would grow up to marry the heir to the throne of England. Even casual royal watchers know of the scandal that surrounded Camilla when it came out in the ’90s that she and Prince Charles had an affair while he was still married to Princess Diana. For years, her public image was tainted by this controversy, but public sentiment eventually shifted.
Today, Camilla Parker Bowles is a respected and admired member of the British royal family, though it was a long journey to get there. Camilla’s relationship with Prince Charles may have thrust her into the spotlight, but there is far more to her story than her romance with the royal. From Camilla’s happy childhood to her rocky first marriage to Andrew Parker Bowles, to her life on the global stage as a member of one of the most powerful families in the world, here’s a closer look at how Camilla Parker Bowles has transformed throughout her life.
Camilla Parker Bowles was born into a very posh lifestyle
Camilla Parker Bowles may not have been born royal, but she was born into quite a wealthy family. As noted by PopSugar, her mother, Rosalind, was the daughter of a baron, while her father, Bruce, was a military veteran and war hero. Both of her parents came from substantial fortunes of their own. According to Showbiz CheatSheet, her father turned a profit as a wine merchant, while her mother’s family made their fortune in real estate.
OK! writes that the future duchess was raised on an estate called The Laines “about 50 miles south of London,” a short drive from the seaside. While her home wasn’t exactly a palace, CheatSheet noted that it was still a multi-million dollar estate — worth around $2 million — providing her with an upbringing that would prepare her well for her future as a member of the royal family.
The young Camilla had an 'idyllic' childhood with her close-knit family
The young Camilla Parker Bowles didn’t just grow up in a wealthy family, but a happy one. While it was typical for someone of her wealth and upper-class background to have a nanny, OK! noted that her mother, Rosalind, insisted on raising her Camilla and her siblings, Annabel and Mark, herself. “Rosalind was fully with the kids all the time,” Camilla’s childhood friend, biographer, and historian William Shawcross told the outlet. “Fun was one of the main things I remember about the Shand household. There were ponies, dogs, picnics.” While you might expect an upper-class family to put on airs, Shawcross said “there was no pomp, no snobbery” at the Shand home.
Shawcross added that Camilla’s family was “a happy clan,” an assessment that Camilla herself agreed with in a 2017 interview with the Daily Mail’s You magazine. She said, “We were brought up in a very happy family … it was idyllic.”
She was described as a 'daredevil' in her youth
At the age of 10, Camilla Parker Bowles was sent to the boarding school Queen’s Gate, staying on campus throughout the week and going home on the weekends to go horseback riding and hunting. To royal biographer Catherine Graham for her book “Camilla: Her True Story,” Camilla’s classmates described her as a tomboy who had a large social circle. Camilla’s friend, Broderick Munro-Wilson, told Graham (via OK!), “She was quite commanding and would always have other girls around her.” Munro-Wilson also described her friend as having a “daredevil element,” explaining, “There is a certain boldness required to go riding, hunting and jumping, and that shone through.”
Other classmates recalled Camilla as being a bit of a flirt, with one of them, Carolyn Benson, telling royal biographer Christopher Andersen for his book “Game of Crowns” (via the New York Post) that Camilla had a “sexy confidence over men.”
While Camilla flourished socially and athletically, she reportedly wasn’t the best student. She completed her studies at Queen’s Gate with just one “O” level, a low passing grade.
As a young adult, Camilla Parker Bowles had a reputation as a party girl
After graduating from Queen’s Gate, Camilla Parker Bowles went to the Swiss finishing school Mon Fertile and the Institut Britannique, according to Showbiz CheatSheet. Per OK!, she also came into a substantial fortune, inheriting a $750,000 trust fund — the equivalent of more than $6 million today. Camilla chose not to live off her nest egg, though, and landed a job as an assistant at a decorating firm. Her time at the firm was short lived, though. Camilla’s co-worker Imogen Taylor wrote in her book “On the Fringe: A Life in Decorating” (via Good Housekeeping) that Camilla was fired for being late to work after a night of partying.
Camilla was already traveling in the upper-class social circles that would eventually bring her face to face with Prince Charles. The New York Post noted that she shared an apartment with other prominent socialites, both of whom also went on to have high-profile marriages.
Camilla had an on-again, off-again relationship with Andrew Parker Bowles
Camilla’s relationship with Andrew Parker Bowles was tumultuous long before Prince Charles entered the picture. Good Housekeeping noted that Andrew also had a reputation for being a partier and was reluctant to give up his bachelor lifestyle. Royal biographer Penny Junor wrote in “The Duchess: Camilla Parker Bowles and the Love Affair That Rocked the Crown” (via Good Housekeeping) that the two first met in 1965. “He was 25 and a rather beautiful officer in the Household Cavalry; she was 17 but remarkably self-assured,” wrote Junor. “Andrew went over to her and simply said, ‘Let’s dance.’ They danced and she fell in love.”
During their long courtship, Andrew and Camilla broke up a number of times and saw different people, with Andrew even dating Prince Charles’ sister, Prince Anne, at one point. It was during one of these breaks, in 1971, that Camilla met Prince Charles. The two had a whirlwind romance, but it didn’t last long as Prince Charles was about to enter the military. He departed without making a commitment to Camilla, and she ended up marrying Andrew in 1974.
This is why Camilla Parker Bowles and Prince Charles married other people
A lot of heartache could have been avoided had Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles simply married each other instead of other people. There were a lot of obstacles in their way, though. For starters, Camilla truly cared for Andrew Parker Bowles. Additionally, Good Housekeeping noted that Camilla simply wasn’t considered to be aristocratic enough to be the future queen of England.
There’s also the fact that Camilla wasn’t a virgin when she and Prince Charles met each other, an archaic and sexist stipulation that nevertheless threw a wrench into their relationship. Prince Charles was advised by his mentor, Lord Mountbatten, to “sow his wild oats” before settling down with “a suitable attractive and sweet-character girl before she has met anyone else she might fall for.”
It’s possible that Prince Charles may have proposed anyway, had Camilla not already been engaged by the time he completed his military training. But, as royal biographer Sally Bedell Smith revealed in “Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life,” Camilla’s father and Andrew’s brother were tired of seeing Andrew lead Camilla on. “They intervened by publishing an engagement notice in The Times,” she wrote (via Good Housekeeping). “His hand publicly forced, Andrew proposed.”
Camilla Parker Bowles became a mother
As noted by Vanity Fair, Camilla Parker Bowles gave birth to her first child, Thomas, in 1974. Four years later, Camilla gave birth to her second child, Laura. By all accounts, Camilla was a good mother. Andrew’s third cousin John Bowes-Lyon told the outlet that Camilla was “a wonderful mother” who was often left to care for her children on her own as Andrew was in the military and frequently gone from home.
Camilla shared, as published by the Daily Mail’s You magazine, that she wanted to raise her children the way she had been raised, with “a certain amount of freedom.” She described her kids as “very rooted,” although perhaps not quite as respectful of her and Andrew as she was of her own mother and father.
Her son, Thomas, told the outlet that Camilla is “an exceptional mother.” He added, “She never got cross about bad school reports, getting into trouble and so on. She would come to Eton and take me out to McDonald’s.”
Camilla Parker Bowles and Prince Charles had an affair that sent the media into a frenzy
Even after she married Andrew Parker Bowles, Camilla Parker Bowles and Prince Charles remained close. As noted by Vanity Fair, he was a regular guest at parties thrown by Camilla and her husband, and the couple also frequently found themselves as guests of the royal family. Prince Charles was even named as a godfather to Camilla’s son, Thomas. His friendship with her continued even after he began courting Diana Spencer; after Prince Charles proposed in 1981, Camilla was the first person he told after his parents.
Royal biographer Andrew Morton wrote in “Diana: Her True Story” (via Vanity Fair) that Princess Diana had long been suspicious of her husband’s relationship with Camilla. In her infamous BBC 1 “Panorama” interview, she blamed Camilla for contributing to the breakdown of her marriage. Prince Charles claimed in a TV interview (via the The New York Times) in 1994, however, that he was faithful to Princess Diana in the early years of their relationship, and that it wasn’t until things had turned rocky that he began his affair.
The scandal attracted media scrutiny and public scorn, but Camilla remained stoic through it all even though she could barely leave her home due to paparazzi hiding on the grounds, waiting to ambush her. “It was horrid,” she told the Daily Mail’s You magazine. “It was a deeply unpleasant time and I wouldn’t want to put my worst enemy through it.”
Her affair with Prince Charles isn't the only reason her marriage to Andrew Parker Bowles ended
Camilla Parker Bowles’ affair with Prince Charles contributed to his separation and divorce from Princess Diana. It also contributed to the end of Camilla’s own marriage with Andrew Parker Bowles, although it wasn’t the only reason things fell apart between the two. Andrew was also unfaithful to his wife, noted Vanity Fair.
In spite of their mutual infidelities, the couple remained together even after Camilla’s relationship with Prince Charles became an open secret. The final straw, according to Penny Junor’s biography “The Duchess” (via the Observer), was the publication of a leaked transcript of a phone call between Charles and Camilla. In it, as reported by the Mirror, the couple spoke of their desire for each other, with the two even joking about Charles living in Camilla’s trousers so they could always be together.
The embarrassment was too much for Andrew, who finally demanded a divorce. Per Brides, their divorce was announced in 1995, although they had already been separated for two years.
She had a hard time winning over the public
Once Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles were both divorced, there were still obstacles to their union. His family still did not approve of Camilla, especially after their affair caused a scandal. Queen Elizabeth reportedly tried to break them up, as noted by royal biographer Penny Junor in “The Duchess” (via Vanity Fair), but Prince Charles would not back down. Eventually, she became resigned to the relationship.
The public was another matter, though. Prince Charles’ future subjects had adored Princess Diana and viewed Camilla as an interloper. This was especially true after Princess Diana’s death. Camilla remained out of the public eye for some time following Diana’s death, and after she emerged from her seclusion, she and Prince Charles gradually began making appearances together, acclimating the nation to the idea of them as a couple.
The vitriol towards Camilla remained for years, however. As noted by CNN, public polls in 2005 showed that more than half of British subjects did not want to see Camilla as their future queen.
Camilla Parker Bowles finally married Prince Charles
Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles finally tied the knot in 2005. In spite of her previous reservations, Queen Elizabeth gave a heartfelt wedding toast, claiming that she was “proud” to see her son married to the love of his life (via History Extra).
They might have married sooner if not for Prince William and Prince Harry. Royal biographer Penny Junor wrote in “The Firm” that Camilla and Charles deliberately waited to tie the knot until the boys were older. Their mother’s death had been hard on them and, according to Junor, the couple “didn’t want to foist a stepmother on William and Harry before they had fully grown up” (via Express).
While some sources have painted Camilla’s relationship with Harry and William as strained, according to Junor, Camilla is “sensitive as a stepmother.” Months after the wedding, Prince Harry expressed his affection for Camilla in a TV interview (via Vanity Fair). “She’s a wonderful woman and she’s made our father very, very happy, which is the most important thing,” he said. “William and I love her to bits.”
Camilla Parker Bowles inherited several patronages from Queen Elizabeth
While many people were skeptical about Camilla Parker Bowles joining the royal family, the Duchess of Cornwall has proven that she is more than up to the challenge. Camilla has excelled in her role, throwing herself into her royal duties. Queen Elizabeth seems to have finally been won over by Camilla; per Prince Charles’ official website, the monarch appointed Camilla to lead several of the patronages she had once led herself.
Camilla is kept busy with her many charities, serving as patron or president of more than seven dozen organizations. Among them are charities dedicated to helping the disadvantaged, survivors of abuse, and supporting the arts. One of her patronages is the Royal Society of Literature, an organization that affirms her love of reading. As noted by Vanity Fair, in 2021, she even started her own book club, the Duchess of Cornwall’s Reading Room.
Camilla Parker Bowles is a doting grandmother
In addition to being a loving mother and stepmother, Camilla Parker Bowles is an affectionate grandmother who dotes on her grandkids. This includes her step-grandchildren through Prince Harry and Prince William. Per PureWow, Camilla’s grandkids include Prince George, Princess Charlotte, Prince Louis, Archie, and Lilibet, as well as five grandchildren from her son, Tom, and daughter, Laura. The blended family seems to get on well, and one of Laura’s children, Eliza, even walked down the aisle at Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding as a flower girl.
Camilla enjoys spending quality time with the little ones in the family, revealing in a video on the Instagram page for her Reading Room that she particularly adores reading to them. “I love it,” she said. “I read to them when they were absolutely tiny. And they’ve got older and older and older, and now they actually read to me!”
Will Camilla Parker Bowles be queen?
While Camilla Parker Bowles is technically the princess of Wales, she doesn’t use the title out of respect to Princess Diana. Royal expert Marlene Koenig told Town & Country that there was “a lot of tension and anger among a certain element of the population” when Camilla and Charles first wed, “so it was decided that Camilla would be styled as the Duchess of Cornwall, even though, of course, she is the Princess of Wales.”
What she will be called after Prince Charles is crowned king, though, is still a matter of much speculation. While it was previously announced that Camilla would be called “Princess consort” following his ascension, things seem to have changed since then. According to Constitutional Affairs Minister Christopher Leslie, it “is absolutely unequivocal that [Camilla] automatically becomes queen when [Charles] becomes king.”
It’s still uncertain if she will actually be called queen. When asked in 2010 if Camilla would be called queen, Prince Charles said in 2010 (via Town & Country), “That’s, well … We’ll see won’t we? That could be.”
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