Born to an aristocratic British family, Camilla Parker Bowles first met Prince Charles in 1972, kicking off an enduring romance — albeit one in which she’d find herself depicted as the villain in a whole other love story when her ongoing affair with the married Prince of Wales became public knowledge. Once derided in the press as “Britain’s most hated woman,” Camilla went from anonymous to infamous, blamed by Princess Diana’s millions of admirers for destroying the marriage of the “People’s Princess.”
While the situation was far more complex than that, Camilla endured much humiliation along the way — let’s not forget the notorious “Tampongate” scandal, when a recording of her adulterous phone call with Charles was leaked to the media, leading to the indelibly disturbing image of the future king of England being reincarnated as a feminine hygiene product.
It took a few years — OK, maybe more than a few — but eventually the impossible happened: people warmed to Camilla. After she and Charles married in 2005, the public got to know her… and realized they actually liked her. Now that Netflix’s The Crown has increased interest in this oft-maligned royal, keep reading to discover the untold truth of Camilla Parker Bowles.
Camilla Parker Bowles was reportedly a "total slob"
Prince Charles’ former valet once revealed his job involved such tasks as ironing shoelaces and squeezing “one inch of toothpaste onto his toothbrush every morning.”
Hopefully his wife has a similar staffer on hand to pick up after her, if the claims of Camilla Parker Bowles’ onetime roommate are anything to go by. According to The Express, the 2017 tell-all The Duchess of Cornwall: Camilla’s Story and Secrets includes the recollection of Virginia Carrington, who once shared a London flat with the future Duchess of Cornwall — whom she described as a “total slob.” Whenever Camilla came home, Carrington divulged, “she would just drop her clothes on the floor on her way to her bedroom.”
A friend revealed that “Camilla’s bedroom always looked like a bomb had hit it.” Carrington, added the pal, was “fairly tidy, so Camilla drove her nuts… You should have seen the state of the bathroom after she’d been in it.” However, her former flatmate insisted that her Camilla’s “untidiness did not matter” because she “was so sweet it was impossible to be angry with her.” She added, “She was like a big, boisterous puppy.”
The reason Camilla Parker Bowles isn't called the Princess of Wales
Royal wives traditionally take on their husband’s titles; Diana Spencer became Princess of Wales upon marrying Prince Charles, who received that title at a 1969 investiture ceremony. After Diana’s death and Charles’ subsequent marriage to Camilla Parker Bowles, under normal circumstances she would have become the next Princess of Wales. Instead, she is commonly referred to as Duchess of Cornwall (the Duke of Cornwall is a title held by a reigning monarch’s eldest son).
As royal expert Marlene Koenig explained to Town & Country, there’s a good reason for that. “Camilla was not popular or well liked” at the time of her wedding to Charles, Koenig said, although the public eventually softened to her over the years. “Still, [there was] a lot of tension and anger among a certain element of the population — so it was decided that Camilla would be styled as the Duchess of Cornwall, even though, of course, she is the Princess of Wales.”
In fact, Camilla’s full title is a mouthful: Her Royal Highness The Princess Charles, Princess of Wales and Countess of Chester, Duchess of Cornwall, Duchess of Rothesay, Countess of Carrick, Baroness of Renfrew, Lady of the Isles, Princess of Scotland.
She is a fanatic about gardening
As one of her official duties, Camilla Parker Bowles paid a 2018 visit to London’s Garden Museum and certainly seemed to enjoy herself. “I’d be here all day given half the chance,” said the avid gardener, as reported by Express.
During her visit, Camilla took in an exhibit commemorating British Flowers Week and met with representatives of the charity Floral Angels (of which she was patron), which recycles flowers used at events and galas by transforming them into floral bouquets that are then given to homeless shelters, hospices and the like. While creating her own bouquet, the Duchess of Cornwall quipped, “Joking apart, I would do this every day if I could.” She wasn’t shy about expressing her love of gardening. “I’d be out in my garden all day, every day if I were allowed,” she proudly declared. “I love to get my hands dirty.”
As The Telegraph reported, in 2020, Camilla took her love of gardening to the British airwaves when she called in to popular British radio show Gardeners’ Question Time to ask some questions about lavender. In the course of that chat, she described herself as a “passionate gardener.”
Camilla Parker Bowles is prone to giggle fits
Some of the most enduring public moments between Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles have come when the two crack each other up, the couple erupting into giggle fits. One of their most memorable came when they were on a royal visit to Canada, and were being entertained by some Inuit throat singing — an ancient Inuit tradition that, as music goes, is very much an acquired taste. As Metro reported, the pair looked at each other and literally collapsed into laughter.
That propensity to see the humor in situations that may not be so appropriate is, she told the Daily Mail, simply part of her personality. “You’ve got to laugh through most things, and sometimes I do laugh a bit too much,” she admitted. “There are situations where it’s very difficult not to lose it completely, especially, you know, if something goes terribly wrong and everybody sits there for a split second [not sure how to react].” When something like that happens, she explained, the only thing to do in that type of situation is “to swallow and pinch yourself very hard to not laugh.”
There is never any awkward silence with Duchess Camilla
Camilla Parker Bowles considers herself to be something of an expert at the art of conversation, a trait that’s served her well while carving out a reputation as one of the busiest senior royals.
That silver-tongued gift of gab, however, was not something she was born with, but a learned skill that was drilled into her by her mother when she was being raised. “My mother could be quite fierce sometimes,” the Duchess of Cornwall confessed in an interview with the Daily Mail. As an example, she recalled a dinner party her parents were hosting for “some of the most boring neighbors in the world and we were dragged down to join them for dinner.”
According to Camilla, her mother would force her and her siblings to sit at the dinner table, “and the minute there was silence, she used to say, ‘Talk! I don’t care what you talk about, talk about your budgie or your pony but keep the conversation going…’ And so I’ve never been able not to talk. It’s in the psyche, not to leave a silence.”
Duchess Camilla is related to Madonna and Celine Dion
Camilla Parker Bowles — born Camilla Shand — boasts a prestigious family tree whose roots extend to some unexpected places. According to the Daily Mail, Camilla has a number of well-known — albeit distant — relatives who are arguably even more famous than she is. Among Camilla’s forebears were 17th-century French-Canadians Madeleine Ernard and Zacharie Cloutier, and it’s through this bloodline that she’s related to both Madonna and Céline Dion, who are her 10th cousins.
In addition, the Mail claimed that Angelina Jolie is her ninth cousin, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau her 10th cousin. Camilla also has some other famous Canadians as distant relatives: pop prince Justin Bieber and country queen Shania Twain.
Camilla also has another famous relative, and it’s an awkward one: her own husband, Prince Charles, is her ninth cousin. Interestingly, two of their ancestors had some history together: her great-grandmother, Alice Keppel, was the mistress of King Edward VII, Charles’ great-great grandfather. According to the book Notorious Royal Marriages: A Juicy Journey Through Nine Centuries of Dynasty, Destiny, and Desire, the first time Camilla met her future husband she quipped, “My great-grandmother and your great-great grandfather were lovers so — how about it?”
Will she be Queen Camilla one day?
When Queen Elizabeth II — who celebrated her 94th birthday in April 2020 — eventually shuffles off this mortal coil, Prince Charles will become king. That would make his wife, Camilla Parker Bowles, the new queen… or will it?
The question of whether she’ll one day be known as Queen Camilla is actually somewhat murky. According to Tatler, when Camilla married Charles in 2005, the official line was that she would then be known as Princess Consort, not Queen Consort. When royal rumors began bubbling that Charles was pushing for Camilla to become actual queen, Clarence House issued a statement of denial. “The intention is for the Duchess to be known as Princess Consort when the Prince accedes to the throne,” the statement read.
The Queen vs. Princess Consort question, however, is one of public relations, not legality. As University of Oxford law professor Pavlos Eleftheriadis told the Daily Star, the wife of a king is, by definition, a queen, despite the title she uses — meaning Camilla will be queen even if she’s not called queen. Therefore, he explained, in all “legal and symbolic senses, Camilla will be ‘Queen,’ whether she wants it or not. But this does not entail that she will have a royal title, which is a separate question.”
Camilla Parker Bowles reportedly watches The Crown
The release of the fourth season of The Crown in November 2020 brought a renewed interest in the sordid history of Prince Charles’ doomed marriage to Princess Diana and the scandalous role that Camilla Parker Bowles played in its disintegration. Meanwhile, fans of the show couldn’t help but wonder if the royals themselves watched the show to see how their lives had been dramatized in the Netflix series.
According to The Sun, Prince Charles reportedly told friends he’d “never seen it,” while a royal source added, “His Royal Highness has absolutely no views about it. He has never watched The Crown.”
However, an unnamed friend of Camilla’s sang a different tune, insisting that both she and Charles had seen the show. “She has watched it, of course she has and I believe [Charles] has too,” the source told Vanity Fair, guessing Camilla would be eager to watch the Diana-centric fourth season — and to see more of herself played by actress Emerald Fennel. “I imagine she’ll be tuning in with a glass of red wine to watch it, she has seen the previous series,” added the friend. “She has a wonderful sense of humor and this won’t fuss her in the slightest.”
Camilla Parker Bowles was once dubbed "the most hated woman in Britain"
The passage of time has made it easy to forget what a controversial figure Camilla Parker Bowles was in the midst of the Charles-Diana scandal. Rightly or wrongly, the public narrative held that Diana was the wronged young wife and Camilla the scheming homewrecker who refused to release her icy death-grip on Charles.
While the truth was far more complicated, what wasn’t in dispute was Camilla’s reputation, which was in absolute tatters — as Express reminded, she was once described as “the most hated woman in Britain.” Those were dark and painful days for Camilla. As she candidly told The Telegraph in 2017, she revealed the media scrutiny was so intense she spent an entire year as essentially a prisoner in her own house while paparazzi swarmed outside. “I couldn’t really go anywhere. It was horrid. It was deeply unpleasant time and I wouldn’t put my worst enemy through it,” she admitted.
She's terrified of flying and uses a special "tapping" method to calm her nerves
Royal-watchers have noticed that Camilla Parker Bowles doesn’t always accompany her husband when he travels on his official royal duties. As it turns out, there’s a very good reason for that: She’s reportedly terrified of flying. Camilla made that revelation during a 2018 appearance on U.K. talk show This Morning, reported Express.
According to Express, Camilla’s fear of flying was confirmed by a spokesperson for Clarence House (Charles and Camilla’s official residence), denying rumors that health issues were why she wouldn’t be joining Charles on his royal visit to Australia. “She is as fit as a flea,” the rep said. “The duchess does not like flying but I think she sometimes has to embrace that fear and get on with it.”
In fact, Express also revealed that Camilla had been experimenting with something called the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) to try overcoming her fear of air travel. This technique, described as being similar to acupuncture but without needles, involves tapping one’s fingertips on specific meridian points while attempting to focus on a specific issue.
Why the queen didn't attend Charles and Camilla's wedding
It would seem appropriate for a mother to attend the wedding of her eldest son, yet when Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles shared their big day, the queen did not attend — deliberately.
According to The Telegraph, the queen told a friend that attending the couple’s civil marriage ceremony was “incompatible” with her role as head of the Church or England, and she didn’t want to set a precedent that could later damage the church. “I am not able to go,” the queen told her friend. “I do not feel that my position [as Supreme Governor of the Church] permits it.”
While the media reported that the queen being a no-show at the wedding was a “snub” because she “privately disapproves” of Charles’ relationship with Camilla and the scandal it heaped upon the royal family, a “senior royal official” confirmed it was actually her role as head of the church that was the real reason behind her absence from the nuptials. “The Queen takes her position as Supreme Governor of the Church of England incredibly seriously,” said the official. “She also has great personal faith.”
The real reason she and Charles didn't get married in the first place
It’s not difficult to see that Prince Charles’ relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles has been a long and winding royal road. And while they may have ultimately ended up in contented late-in-life matrimony, getting there was no mean feat.
Which raises the obvious question: why didn’t Charles simply marry Camilla in the first place? As it turns out, that question is somewhat loaded. According to Town & Country, there are actually several reasons, one of which was bad timing. Love first sparked for Camilla and Charles while her on-again, off-again romance with eventual husband Andrew Parker Bowles was set to the “off” position. Just as things were heating up with Charles, however, he was sent on an eight-month deployment with the Royal Navy as part of his military service.
Meanwhile, Camilla’s reputation as a bit of a libertine didn’t do her any favors within royal circles; as royal biographer Sally Bedell Smith wrote, “The conventions of the time called for the heir to the British throne to marry a woman who at least appeared to be virginal.” Camilla’s “history” led her to be deemed unsuitable, and she married Andrew Parker Bowles in 1973.
Camilla Parker Bowles' friends keep her from getting too "uppity"
Throughout all her ups and downs, Camilla Parker Bowles has always tried to maintain her sense of humor, particularly when it comes to herself. As she explained in an interview with the Daily Mail, “You also have to laugh at yourself because if you can’t, you may as well give up. I sometimes think to myself, ‘Who is this woman? It can’t possibly be me.’ And that’s really how you survive.”
Despite being a member of the royal family, she also tries to stay grounded — or at least as grounded as one can be while living in palaces and having servants tending to every possible need. For that, she admitted, she tends to rely on her long-time friends. As she quipped, “if I ever even vaguely look like getting uppity, which touch wood I never have, they would just say, ‘Look, come on, pull yourself together! Don’t be so bloody grand!'”
Camilla Parker Bowles' nasty habit that Prince Charles couldn't stand
If there’s been one bone of contention between Camilla Parker Bowles and Prince Charles over the years, it’s been her smoking. While Camilla had been a lifelong smoker, Charles reportedly despised the habit. According to Express, Brian Hoey’s book Not In Front Of The Corgis detailed the very specific instructions Camilla had for servants when it came to her cigarettes. “Footmen are instructed to place silver cigarette boxes containing her favorite brand [of cigarette] in every room,” Hoey wrote, with those same footmen also ensuring ashtrays are immediately emptied the second she exits a room. In addition, “matchbox holders in solid silver containers are placed upright near at hand with one match half withdrawn so she does not have to scrabble about looking for a light.”
She ultimately did quit, reported the Daily Mail, after developing a “persistent cough which she couldn’t shake off.” She was finally able to kick the habit during a trip to the Himalayas with her husband’s “favorite health guru, Dr Mosaraf Ali.”
As she reportedly joked to a friend, “It wasn’t so much me giving up smoking, rather smoking giving up on me.”
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