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Parker-Bowles, Camilla (1947—)

English woman romantically linked to the prince of Wales. Name variations: Camilla Parker Bowles. Born Camilla Shand on July 17, 1947, at King's College Hospital in London, England; eldest of three children of Bruce Shand (an army officer turned educational film representative) and Rosalind (Cubitt) Shand; attended Queen's Gate, London; married Andrew Parker-Bowles (a cavalry officer), in July 1973 (divorced 1995); children: Thomas Parker-Bowles; Laura Parker-Bowles .

The 30-year love affair between Camilla Parker-Bowles and Charles, prince of Wales, is often compared to that of Camilla's notorious great-grandmother Alice Keppel , the famous society beauty who was the mistress of King Edward VII from 1898 until his death in 1910. (Although evidence is circumstantial, it is widely believed that their union brought forth the writer Violet Keppel Trefusis and Camilla's maternal grandmother, Sonia Keppel Cubitt.) But unlike Alice's royal liaison at the turn of the century, Camilla's affair with Charles, played out in the tabloid-driven information age, has very nearly destroyed the reputation of the royal family.

Camilla, the eldest of three children (her sister Annabel Elliott is an antique dealer; her brother Mark Shand is an explorer), had an upper-class English upbringing which included a Sussex country home, private schools, and horses. Her father, Major Bruce Shand, a war hero, spent 16 years in the Queen's service as Clerk of the Cheque and Adjutant of the Yeoman of the Guard, and her late mother, Rosalind Shand , was a member of the Cubitt family; the Cubitts amassed a fortune building London's Belgravia district. "Milla," as Camilla is called by her friends, was not a distinguished student, preferring to be outdoors, hunting and shooting. Blonde and flirtatious, she was part of a cadre of young debutantes who frequented the polo matches at Windsor Park Green in the early '70s, and it was there that she met the unsophisticated, shy Charles. They had a great deal in common, and Camilla was a particularly good listener, something the young Charles needed at the time. There was also what one friend described as an "electric magnetism" between the two from the beginning. "It was like watching two steam trains heading towards each other at full pelt." Charles was so smitten that he considered marrying Camilla, but the Palace nixed any such idea, citing her torrid on-again, off-again affair with Andrew Parker-Bowles, a dashing cavalry officer. In 1972, Charles left for a Royal Navy tour in the Caribbean; by the time he returned, Camilla had married Andrew and was settling into the life of a country gentlewoman. It was a union that allowed both partners their independence. While Andrew pursued his military career and his friendships with other women, Camilla embarked on her own extramarital affair with Charles.

The prince's "fairy tale" marriage to Lady Diana Spencer was obviously doomed from the start. Purportedly, Charles went to bed with Camilla just days before the nuptials, telling her that it would be the last time they made love. Diana was said to have intercepted a gold bracelet engraved with the letters GF ("Girl Friday," Charles' nickname for Camilla) that Charles had purchased. For a long time, the powerful forces within Buckingham Palace kept the truth about the royal marriage hidden from the public, and Diana's enormous popularity took much of the spotlight off her frequently absent husband. With Andrew Morton's tell-all book, Diana: Her True Story, however, and the 1993 publication of the embarrassing so-called Camillagate tapes, revealing an intimate phone conversation between Charles and Camilla, the deception was over. Hounded by the press and vilified as the "other woman," Camilla hit bottom. Concerned for her husband and her children, as well as for herself, she lost 30 pounds in two months and was forced to flee her house. "For a time she thought she was the most hated woman in the country," said a friend. "She had the hate mail, she had crank calls, and though Andrew did his best to support her, his patience was wearing thin."

By 1996, both Camilla and Charles had divorced their respective mates, and Camilla had moved to Ray Mill house near Highgrove. Tensions had eased to the degree that the couple spent several evenings a week together, and enjoyed occasional afternoons puttering in Charles' extensive gardens. With the passage of another year, they felt confident enough to be seen together in public, and there was speculation about marriage. (The couple could not be married in the Church of England, nor could Camilla ever be queen, but they could be wed in a civil ceremony.) In July, Charles threw a 50th birthday party for Camilla at his country home, even inviting photographers to record her arrival, as well as her departure the next morning. Earlier in the month, The Daily Mail had asked, "Isn't it time we stopped hating this dignified woman?," although another tabloid accused the pair of "orchestrating a campaign to get public acceptance."

Following Diana's tragic death, Camilla once again took to hiding from public view, but slowly the couple emerged once again. In November 1998, Camilla hosted a gala birthday party for Charles at Highgrove, attended by a host of dignitaries as well as princes William and Harry, Charles and Diana's sons. Then in January 1999, the pair made their debut as an official couple, staging a long-awaited photo opportunity outside London's Ritz Hotel where they had celebrated Camilla's sister's 50th birthday. But the fate of the lovers is still very much in the hands of Charles' mother, Queen Elizabeth II , who ended her three-decades-long avoidance of Camilla when they were formally introduced on June 3, 2000.

sources:

Benson, Ross. Charles: The Untold Story. NY: St. Martin's Press, 1993.

Kantrowitz, Barbara, and Jean Seligmann. "A Royal Kodak Moment," in Newsweek. Vol. 133, no. 6. February 8, 1999, p. 57.

McGuire, Stryker. "The Lady in Waiting," in Newsweek. Vol. 132, no. 10. September 7, 1998, pp. 48–50.

"Nifty at Fifty," in People Weekly. Vol. 50, no. 20. November 30, 1998, pp. 130–138.

"Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles," in People Weekly. February 12, 1996, p. 171.

Seward, Ingrid. "Camilla Revealed," in Maclean's. Vol. 110, no. 34, August 25, 1997, pp. 48–50.

Wilson, Christopher. A Greater Love. NY: William Morrow, 1994.

suggested reading:

Graham, Caroline. Camilla: The King's Mistress. Contemporary, 1997.

Parker-Bowles, Camilla (1947—)

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