Now in her 70s, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, has been a part of the lives of Prince William and Prince Harry for a long time. However, given that she had an affair with their dad, Prince Charles, during his marriage to their mom Princess Diana, her presence in their world hasn’t always been positive. And what the royal brothers really think of her has recently been revealed.
Charles encountered the then Camilla Shand at the age of 21 in the 1970s. And the attraction was instant. Journalist Jonathan Dimbleby has been quoted by Town & Country magazine as saying, “He lost his heart to her almost immediately.” Despite the strong feelings towards her that Charles had for many years, though, it wouldn’t be until 2005 that the pair finally wed.
Camilla ended up wedding Andrew Parker Bowles in 1973. Moreover, this officer in the British Army had at one time been in a relationship with Princess Anne, Charles’ sister. Camilla wasn’t reluctant to wed the dashing soldier, though. Indeed, it represented a good marriage for her, with a fellow pupil from her school days later noting that Camilla had always planned to wed a rich man.
Although Charles and Camilla had dated for a time, it was perhaps too early in life for Charles to consider marrying her. And there was another issue. Camilla wasn’t a virgin, and some royals considered that important. According to a 2018 Good Housekeeping article, Charles’ uncle Lord Mountbatten suggested that Charles should “sow his wild oats” but look for a “suitable attractive and sweet-character girl before she has met anyone else she might fall for” to wed.
And the prince did exactly that. When he was dating Lady Sarah McCorquodale, he met her younger sibling, Lady Diana Spencer in 1977, who was aged just 16 at the time. Charles and Diana became romantically involved in 1980. Lady Sarah seemingly wasn’t too upset about this development, however. Indeed, she later claimed that she had taken on the role of Cupid.
Charles married Diana in 1981, and among the guests was Camilla, although Diana apparently wasn’t keen on her being there. That was something of a harbinger of things to come, of course. Regardless, the young princess soon had something precious to occupy her time: their son William arrived in 1982, and then Harry came a couple of years afterwards.
Married life wasn’t enough for Charles, however, and by 1986 his romance with Camilla had rekindled. This didn’t escape Diana’s notice, either. Indeed, she would later tell biographer Andrew Morton that she’d challenged Camilla at a party, saying, “Camilla, I would just like you to know that I know exactly what is going on between you and Charles. I wasn’t born yesterday.”
Camilla didn’t receive that confrontation meekly, though. She’s said to have replied, “You’ve got everything you ever wanted. You’ve got all the men in the world to fall in love with you and you’ve got two beautiful children. What more do you want?” Diana then snapped back, “I want my husband.”
Moreover, the affair between Charles and Camilla became public knowledge when in 1992 a newspaper obtained recordings of their phone conversations. The spicy exchanges kicked off a scandal known as “Camillagate.” And it seemed that this was the death knell for the prince’s marriage. However, he’d later claim that he’d only cheated on Diana after their relationship had failed.
In 1995 Camilla was herself divorced after a couple of years’ separation from her husband. Diana, too, confessed that she’d strayed. In a bombshell BBC interview, she told Martin Bashir all about the difficulties that she felt Camilla had brought to her life. “There were three of us in the marriage,” she said. “So it was a bit crowded.”
When Charles’ divorce was finalized, there was some controversy over Diana’s royal title. The Queen, it’s said, was all for Diana keeping it, but Charles put his foot down and made his ex-wife give it up. William, then 14, reportedly told her, “Don’t worry, Mummy, I will give it back to you one day when I am king.”
However, William would never have the chance to fulfill his promise, as Diana’s life was cut short by a fatal car crash in Paris in 1997. This left the two princes, only 12 and 15, without a mom. After the accident, Camilla stepped back from the spotlight as the boys and the nation grieved for the much-loved Diana.
There’s no doubt that their mother’s tragic death hit the boys hard, of course. William would later share his feelings in a 2019 BBC documentary. “I think when you are bereaved at a very young age, any time really, but particularly at a young age, I can resonate closely to that,” he said. “You feel pain like no other pain.”
When a year had passed after Diana’s demise, Charles arranged for William and Harry to have a formal meeting with Camilla. But because of the recent passing of the boys’ mother, the couple decided not to reveal their romance to the media for the time being. The two were finally seen together as a couple publicly in 1999 when they both attended a birthday celebration in London.
While Camilla had become closer to the princes by 2000, their grandmother remained frosty. The Queen wouldn’t even go to the party to mark Charles turning 50 because Camilla would be in attendance. Later that year, however, she did go to another birthday celebration that Camilla at which was present, suggesting that she might be warming to her eldest son’s new partner. Meanwhile, a PDA in 2001 showed onlookers that the couple were no longer hiding their love.
The couple subsequently progressed to living together in 2003, when Camilla made her home with Charles in London’s Clarence House. This was a prelude to their eventual marriage. However, the announcement of their engagement provoked further controversy among the public and courtiers. Particular focus was given to the question of where they would marry.
In the end, the two tied the knot in Windsor Guildhall in April of 2005. Prince William was Charles’ best man, and Andrew Parker Bowles showed that he harbored no hard feelings as he was present, too. The Queen didn’t come, however, but she did show up at a subsequent religious service to mark the occasion.
So Charles and Camilla had finally made things official, after a romance that had spanned three decades. And William and Harry were right there among the celebrations. However, it might not have been all sweetness and light, as royal-watcher Robert Jobson would reveal.
In a 2006 book Jobson described a time of change that wasn’t quite as easy as it might have looked from the outside. “While Palace officials struggled to pull together the chaotic arrangements, they were forced to address a question they might rather have ignored,” he wrote. “What did Prince William and Prince Harry think of the wedding? Especially Prince William.”
Jobson then singled out the brother whom he thought was most important. “As the older of the boys, and the one most physically like his late mother, William was the de facto spokesman for both brothers,” he continued. “His blessing was the one that mattered most. The official line was that both boys were ‘delighted’ at their father’s happiness.”
That stance hadn’t convinced Jobson, however. “But after more than 15 years reporting on royal affairs, I have learned to be wary of official lines,” he wrote. And the reality, he believed, was rather more muted. He continued, “Sure enough, privately, their mood was more one of ‘acceptance’ than undiluted joy at the prospect of having Camilla as their stepmother.”
Given that the couple had been seen in public way back in 1999, it had been a long time before they married. Reportedly, Camilla’s loved ones believed that the whole process had taken much too long. But Charles was concerned about the feelings of his sons, especially as they were at such a young age.
Royal expert Penny Junor explained the delay in a 2005 book. “A not insignificant part of the reason why they had waited until 2005 to announce their engagement was a sensitivity towards the boys,” she wrote. “They didn’t want to foist a stepmother on William and Harry before they had fully grown up.”
“Accepting Camilla as a fixture in their father’s life has been difficult for them,” Junor continued. “Although they have been genuinely pleased to see him so happy, and genuinely like Camilla – and her children – the issue is complicated. The notion that their mother was a sacrificial extra in a long-standing love story between Charles and Camilla – a line most of the newspapers ran after their engagement – is hurtful.”
The reason that that idea would be particularly distasteful to the princes was clear, Junor pointed out. “They loved their mother and are fiercely loyal to her memory – and know that Camilla was the cause of her terrifying unhappiness,” she explained. And for one of Charles’ sons, feelings were especially strong. Junor added, “Harry has been particularly affected.”
Moreover, Camilla has been sensitive about the issues that her relationship might have caused the royal family. She’s gained a reputation for keeping out of royal family matters, in fact, and for not interfering in the princes’ private affairs. That doesn’t mean Camilla doesn’t have a caring side, however.
In July 2019 producer Juliet Rice, who’d made a documentary about the royal couple, said that people had gotten Camilla wrong. “There’s been this historical misconception about Camilla because of the circumstances surrounding Prince Charles’ marriage to Princess Diana,” she told Fox News. In fact, Camilla had taken on a new role.
“There are a lot of misconceptions about what really went on there,” Rice explained. “And throughout all that coverage, the 1980s and beyond, she’s never said a word. We didn’t talk to her about that, but it was nice to see her as a human, a relatively normal human being.”
The upshot was that Camilla had become someone the princes could lean on, according to Rice. “As the years go on, she’s becoming a great matriarch of the royal family,” the producer said. “I think she has become a great support system for the younger royals.”
At the time Rice talked to Fox News, the couple’s marriage was well established, having already lasted 14 years. So it’s no surprise that she said the pair have become “a really strong double act.” Indeed, she noted that the two have “great fun together.” It seems that Charles very much relies on his wife, too.
“Everyone in the film said she’s absolutely his rock,” Rice stated. “She’s also very down to earth; she’s a real British countrywoman: she loves her dogs, she loves her horses, she likes her gardening, and she’s incredibly relatable for that reason. She’s not grand in any way. And she’s also a real giggle.”
The producer also shared her belief that being able to laugh together was “one of the best ingredients for a good marriage.” And it’s not just the heir to the British throne who loves Camilla, if close friend of the royal pair, actress Joanna Lumley, is to be believed. She told Rice that the princes “adore” their stepmom.
Camilla apparently thinks so, too, Rice told Fox News. “She’s said that she’s seen all of this horrible press, all of this drama,” the producer stated. “But what gives her a sense of calm is that she knows the boys actually get on really well with her. William and Harry adore her. And her children get on extremely well with William and Harry.”
Indeed, in 2011 Camilla and stepdaughter-in-law Kate Middleton were seen out and about dining, accompanied by the daughter of Camilla and Kate’s sister. Some accounts even suggested that Camilla was sharing some tips with Kate. That would have been timely, as shortly after their lunch date, Camilla watched on as Kate wed Prince William.
And although Camilla’s debut engagement with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in November 2019 was one of the couple’s last royal duties, she had nonetheless been close to the pair. According to Vanity Fair, insiders said that Harry’s stepmom-in-law had been a “pillar of support” for him and his wife when they negotiated their withdrawal from royal life, in what would become known as “Megxit.”
Camilla had apparently been struck by a documentary in which Meghan had expressed her pain at the difficulties that she was facing. “[Camilla] wants everyone to get along and be happy. Her mantra is carry on and keep smiling,” a source told Vanity Fair. “She doesn’t want to see anyone struggling, and she is fond of Meghan. And she could be a very good ally, too.”
Camilla went with Harry and Meghan to a service of remembrance at Westminster Abbey shortly after the aforementioned documentary that unleashed the Megxit process. Camilla’s thoughts on the documentary aren’t clear, but sources did suggest that she’d subsequently contacted the prince and his wife.
“I think Camilla can easily empathize with Meghan because of what she went through in the media,” biographer Sally Bedell Smith told Vanity Fair. “At one stage, no one was more beleaguered by the tabloids than Camilla. But she was shrewd enough to know that antagonism would get her nowhere.”
“Meghan could learn an enormous amount from Camilla,” Smith added. “I think Camilla is genuinely a kind person and while there are many differences between the two of them, they have both been on the receiving end of some very negative press. The thing Camilla learned was how to cultivate a relationship with the press. I have watched her talk to reporters, be friendly with the photographers and win over the tabloids who had once tried to ruin her.”
Life has gotten easier for Camilla, then, and it seems that she really is fitting into the royal family. Indeed, during 2012 the Queen honored her with a damehood and shared a carriage with her. Moreover, a few years later, Camilla was pictured at one of the Queen’s residences, Balmoral, as she marked a decade of marriage to Charles. And not long afterwards, she was seen on the Buckingham Palace balcony in a traditional group shot of the royals.