Who Is The Real Camilla, The Reluctant Queen?

She’s been elevated from wicked stepmother to the newly crowned Queen. But who is the real Camilla? Anna Pasternak investigates...


by Anna Pasternak |
Published on

Operation golden orb has been a resounding success. This advance planning of King Charles III’s coronation, which came to glittering fruition on 6 May, has secretly been in motion for decades. Underpinned, always, by Charles’s desire that the woman he has long loved becomes Queen. The soulmate whom he has held dear for 52 years, his ‘darling Camilla’, whom he married in 2005, has remained ‘non-negotiable’ to him.

Key players of Operation Golden Orb from the Government, church and Clarence House must have scratched and shaken their heads nearly 30 years ago, terrified that the damning presence in Charles’s life of the then reviled divorcee, Mrs Parker Bowles, would scupper any chances of a successful coronation. Yet the slow, stealth and stunning rehabilitation of Camilla from public enemy number one at the time of Princess Diana’s death in 1997, to the woman whom the late Queen gave her benediction to – stating on her platinum jubilee that it was her ‘sincere wish’ that Camilla should become Queen Consort – is almost Hollywood-esque in its happily regal ending.
In a slice of modern history embedded with love and redemption, Queen Camilla appeared alongside King Charles on coronation day, wearing Queen Mary’s crown sans the controversial Koh-i-Noor diamond. It seems almost unthinkable now to those of us who witnessed the War of the Waleses in the ’80s, when the divorce between Charles and Diana dominated the headlines, that the woman portrayed as the wicked witch who elbowed Diana from the marital picture is now Queen.

Yet it’s important to remember that it was Charles who decided that he could not live without Camilla, not the other way around. And now we can see that he was right. Camilla, heroically supportive of Charles and, critically, un-neurotic, is a crucial ballast to the monarch. And thus the stability of the monarchy. King Charles, prone to self-pitying introspection (and public petulance over leaking pens) will be a far better and more grounded King with no-nonsense Camilla as his Queen.

It’s easy to dismiss Camilla, with her throaty sense of humour – endearingly, she is often seen in fits of giggles – as a laid-back Sloane, happy to walk in Charles’s shadow. She’s pitch perfect in public – never seeking the limelight but with her aristocratic aplomb (her mother, the Hon Rosalind Cubitt was the daughter of Lord Ashcombe and her father, Major Bruce Shand, a dashing war hero) – putting everyone at ease. However, this selfless behaviour and emotional containment requires impressive internal discipline. It used to be said that Camilla was lazy and loved nothing more than to smoke cigarettes in her dressing gown in her garden late into the morning – yet there is nothing indolent about her grasp of sense of self.

Camilla is not to be underestimated. No member of the Windsors who not only survives but thrives in the Machiavellian world of the royals and their all-powerful courtiers should be. Camilla is immensely potent, not just because she is Queen, but because she understands the vicious machinations of monarchy. She has Charles’s back, as well as the ear and respect of his advisors. To succeed in the House of Windsor you have to have an inscrutable facade, keep schtum about what you really feel, worship at the altar of public duty, while appearing to enjoy yourself at the most mundane events. No one exemplified this complex persona better than the late Queen. Camilla and Kate are, sensibly, following her example.

Yet Camilla is no royal patsy as she has shown in her bold charitable choices. Patron of over 90 charities, she champions those that support victims of rape, sexual abuse and domestic violence. Her admirable passion for literacy is evident with her online book club and The Queen’s Reading Room, a charitable organisation that helps build community around reading. All of which makes Camilla seem relatable, as opposed to regally remote and out of touch. There’s nothing starchy about Camilla. She feels more emotionally accessible than the late Queen and less brittle than Kate, our future Queen. More fun, even.

A devoted mother of two, to Tom and Laura, and grandmother of five, Camilla retreats whenever she can to her comfy old Wiltshire home for a breath of normality with her family. There’s something cooly modern about Camilla, who plays online games with her grandchildren, and communicates via the Houseparty app.

Yet, as in all happy-ever-after fairy tales, there lurks the threat of danger. Prince Harry damningly revealed in his memoir, Spare, that he and William had begged their father not to marry Camilla. William appears to have now fostered a pragmatic acceptance of her, as he and his father have tightened forces against Harry and his volatile truth bombs to secure the monarchy’s future. Yet there’s something unsettling about Harry’s views on his stepmother. ‘I had complex feelings about gaining a step-parent who, I believed, had recently sacrificed me on her personal PR altar,’ he writes. ‘In a funny way, I even wanted Camilla to be happy. Maybe she’d be less dangerous if she was happy?’

I would imagine that to have Camilla on side, as Charles does, is the greatest blessing. She will be a spectacularly successful Queen. But behind her twinkling eyes and apparent ease she has to have a backbone of steel. Which would make her the most terrifying foe. You don’t usurp Princess Diana and upset her son without having some aces up your sleeve. Cross her at your peril, as Harry has discovered. Her thorny stepson problem has yet to go away. But I know who my money is on.

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