In 1994 Jonathan Dimbleby published his authorised life of Prince Charles. Although occasionally reserved in his
pronouncements, Dimbleby was essentially voicing Prince Charles’s feelings to the world — as they stood in 1994. The
Prince opened files, authorised access and hoped that by this approach he could place much of the past behind him
and could proceed unencumbered into the future.
We must therefore take seriously anything that Dimbleby wrote about Camilla Parker Bowles, now the Duchess of
Cornwall. There is a line in that book that sums up the relationship: “In Camilla Parker Bowles, the Prince found
the warmth, the understanding and the steadiness for which he had always longed and had never been able to find with
any other person.”
Parker Bowles was always said to be the one element in the Prince of Wales’s life that was non-negotiable. They met
when they were both in their early twenties. As Camilla Shand, she was something of a girl about town, more worldly
than Prince Charles, devoid of his shyness, and fond of outdoor pursuits. She smoked, which he professed to dislike,
but in her case was prepared to overlook. She had an earthy quality. She had the confidence of her class, best
summed up as the Gloucestershire hunting set (though she came from Sussex). Her friends did not talk to gossip
columnists nor quest to appear in Tatler. If their pictures were published, it was not by their
manoeuvring. They were introduced to one another by Prince Charles’s Cambridge friend Lucia Santa Cruz, who pointed
out that Edward VII and Camilla’s ancestress, Alice Keppel, had been somewhat close to each other.
According to Dimbleby, she was “pretty, bubbly, and she smiled with her eyes as well as her mouth”. When he wrote
that “she did not preen herself”, what he meant was that she took scant interest in her appearance or clothes. They
evidently enjoyed unsophisticated humour, the Goons, and “silly accents and daft looks”. Evidently Prince Charles
“lost his heart to her almost at once”. Arguably, once the heart was lost, he entered into a long romantic saga,
frustrated by outside events, which was only resolved by his marriage to her in 2005, some 33 years later.
In 1972 the public image of the Prince of Wales was already in sharp contrast to the man himself. He was considered
the world’s most eligible bachelor, a kind of royal Action Man, with the world at his feet. But the truth was
different. He was wracked by inner turmoil of many kinds, one being that he never believed that anyone he might want
to marry would wish to marry him or take on the responsibilities that the position demanded, not to mention the
relentless media scrutiny. For his wife would one day be Queen at his side.
There was a further problem. The Prince was in the Navy, and in January 1973 he was destined to depart in HMS Minerva
for an eight-month stint at sea. He last saw Camilla in December 1972 and then he sailed away. They parted with no
assurance that the relationship would survive the eight months’ separation. This would be a cause of considerable
regret to the Prince in the ensuing years.
It would appear that Camilla took the view that she could never be Princess of Wales, since she would not be
considered suitable. She returned to Andrew Parker Bowles, who had been in her life before her brief encounter (six
months or so) with Prince Charles. Parker Bowles was a handsome cavalry officer in the Royal Horse Guards (the
Blues), a man devoid of the Prince’s inherent shyness, who did not hesitate to strike in amatory matters. He was to
prove something of a ladies’ man, with numerous society conquests, and before his marriage he had dated Princess
Anne. In every respect he was a more dashing suitor than her introspective Prince. By April she was engaged to
Prince Charles was devastated. He had enjoyed “such a blissful, peaceful and mutually happy relationship”. Now he
felt an acute sense of emptiness, made worse by the unwelcome news that his sister, Princess Anne, was to marry
Lieutenant Mark Phillips, which he denounced as a serious mismatch.
Prince Charles left the Royal Navy at the end of 1976. By now the press were hot on the heels of the idea that he
should find himself a wife. This intensified when he turned 30 in 1978, since he had unwisely declared that he had
thought 30 was a pretty good age for a man like him to take a wife. His 30th birthday passed and there was no
Andrew Parker Bowles was close to the Royal Family. His parents were close friends of the Queen Mother. The Queen
Mother frequently invited the Parker Bowles parents, Derek and Dame Ann, to stay, and later the names of Andrew and
Camilla Parker Bowles appeared in the visitors’ book of the Castle of Mey, the Queen Mother’s home in the extreme
north of Scotland.
Parker Bowles was rising in the Household Cavalry. He had played polo in Prince Charles’s team and was on his way to
becoming Commanding Officer of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment from 1981 to 1983, and Silver Stick from 1987
to 1990. He was part of the inner circle of guests of the Royal Family, and so too was Camilla.
It is hard to delve into the private marriages of others. There is little doubt that Andrew Parker Bowles was a
popular figure in royal circles and on the London social scene. This may have given Prince Charles the impetus to
resume his friendship with Camilla, by now the mother of two children, Tom (born in 1974, a godson of Prince
Charles) and Laura in 1978. Certainly, by 1979 she was his closest female confidante, and despite rumours that they
were having an affair he refused to sacrifice her to convention. He told Dimbleby that she was his “touchstone” and
his “sounding board”.
I remember being told at the time that Camilla Parker Bowles played a prominent role in sanctioning Lady Diana
Spencer as the Prince’s bride. Everyone was aware that he had to marry for dynastic reasons. On paper Diana was
perfect, an untarnished aristocrat brought up virtually in sight of Sandringham, the scion of a well-known family,
the Spencers, and very much in the mould of the Queen Mother, or so it seemed. Indeed, both her grandmothers, and
four of her great-aunts, were ladies-in-waiting to the Queen Mother. Lady Diana Spencer was no stranger to
Although contemporary sources, even within Clarence House, give contradictory versions of the circumstances of that
marriage, one thing is certain: Lady Diana Spencer was in love with Prince Charles. History would tend to confirm
that he was not in love with her. I remember a courtier at the time stating: “No one told her that love was not part
of the deal.” The Prince remained in thrall to Camilla, but he realised that he had to marry. In so doing he had to
give up Camilla — and he famously presented her with a bracelet stamped with the initials ‘GF’, standing for ‘Girl
Friday’. Unfortunately, Lady Diana Spencer found this present and was deeply upset by it. The balance of evidence is
that the Prince hardly saw Camilla for the next five years.
Meanwhile, his young bride, married in July 1981, did him proud by producing two fine sons, Prince William, in 1982,
and Prince Harry, in 1984. She became immensely popular in the media, eclipsing Prince Charles on his public
engagements. Presently one commentator began to wonder whether Prince Charles was in fact the only man in London
“not in love with her”.
But the Princess of Wales was convinced that her husband was continuing his affair with Camilla. Only in 1986, after
the marriage had irretrievably broken down, leaving Prince Charles describing himself as “in a kind of a cage,
pacing up and down in it, and longing to be free”, did he return to Camilla. The twice-broken love affair
It would, therefore, be fair to say that despite the reams of prose written about the so-called love between Charles
and Diana, in the end the real love affair was between Charles and Camilla. Nor was the Princess of Wales unaware of
this, famously stating in her 1995 Panorama interview: “There were three people in this marriage.”
Matters between the Waleses went from bad to worse, and regrettably both sides tried to present their side of the
story — the Princess collaborating with Andrew Morton on her 1992 book, the Prince talking to Dimbleby on television
and confessing his adultery with Camilla, and then the Dimbleby biography. The last straw in this unedifying process
was the Princess’s Panorama interview, in which she went so far as to suggest he would make a bad king. At
that point the Queen intervened and insisted that the formal separation that had taken place in 1992 become divorce.
They were divorced in 1996, and the Princess was killed in a car accident in Paris in August 1997.
In the meantime, Prince Charles had been vexing himself as to how to get Camilla Parker Bowles accepted by a hostile
Gradually Camilla was brought from the shadows, seen with him at public events, re-introduced to the Queen, and
finally, at the beginning of 2005, it was announced that the couple would marry. Their plans were beset by every
possible problem. In April they were married in a civil ceremony in the Guildhall, Windsor, with a service of
blessing in St George’s Chapel.
Some of her old friends say she desperately wanted to be married to Prince Charles. Others detected a hint of
laziness in her character that meant she would not be vindictive to those who had denigrated her in the past. She
had to take on royal duties and responsibilities, and even her sternest critics would find it hard to fault her in
the carrying out of those duties. Nor in the 10 years of her marriage has she made a single misplaced comment or
stepped out of line. Indeed, she is expert at saving the day when the Prince himself shows signs of tetchiness. She
covers well for him.
Though he will never be other than a somewhat troubled soul, he has been more generous in support of Camilla than he
ever was of his first wife, referring to her as “my darling wife” in speeches. Clearly the Queen likes her and she
has been given both the Royal Family Order and a GCVO (Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order). She
frequently wears the most extravagant of the Queen Mother’s jewels, including the five-strand diamond necklace
(bequeathed in 1942 by Mrs. Ronald Greville). Wisely, she kept her own home in Wiltshire, which serves as an
occasional bolt-hole from royal life.
So what kind of a king will Prince Charles be? The answer is that we don’t know. But when he becomes King, he becomes
in essence a new man. Bertie, Prince of Wales was considered a wastrel until he became Edward VII, and was soon one
of the most respected diplomatic monarchs in Europe.
Frances Donaldson wrote that the Duke of Windsor was three different men — a much loved and popular Prince of Wales,
a tetchy king with a huge problem on his mind, and an embittered ex-king as Duke of Windsor. The qualities of George
VI, formerly a shy Duke of York, only found full expression when he presided over a nation at war with Germany
between 1940 and 1945.
Then look at the transformation of the Duchess of Cornwall. Literally until the day of her wedding to the Prince in
2005, the media portrayed her as the hated mistress. Immediately afterwards she was seen as the supportive
Prince Charles often feels he has pulled a short straw in life. His mother, the Queen, will be a hard act to follow.
His son, Prince William, is popular, and every appearance of young Prince George is welcomed with gooey-eyed
delight. Prince Charles is held in high esteem by many who have worked with him on his projects. He is a man of
taste and culture, and his reign might prove most interesting. His potential may have a fascinating late-life
It is extremely unlikely that Prince Charles will behave as ‘King Charles III’ in the recent West End production —
forced to abdicate for being too political and refusing to sanction legislation passed by parliament. He is well
aware of the constitutional restraints placed on a monarch. For a long time he has realised that his principal
contribution to this country is as Prince of Wales.
This article originally appeared in Issue 41 of The Rake.