Not a wave or a word too much. For years, she has kept a low profile. Long vilified by the tabloids, Camilla Shand has yet managed to be accepted. Until becoming, on September 8, queen consort, that is to say non-regent, alongside her husband, King Charles III. Because she is his second wife, some believe that she should have been content with the title of “princess consort”. Despite their 17 years of marriage, the spouses had to wait last February for Queen Elizabeth II to agree to remove the doubt and express her “his sincere wish” for Camilla to become queen consort. Like a confirmation, albeit late but decisive, that the former pariah has finally earned her place.
However, according to the dogmas of the British monarchy, she should not have been alongside King Charles for the Queen’s funeral on Monday, September 19. When the two young people met in 1970, a marriage was impossible, even at this time when morals were freed. A crown prince can only marry a princess or an aristocrat.
Their paths first diverged when Charles enlisted in the Royal Navy in 1972 for an eight-month mission. For her part, Camilla Shand married in 1973 with officer Andrew Parker Bowles, with whom she had two children. But this union ended in divorce in 1995. “If royal principles had evolved earlier, fifty years ago when Charles first courted her…then things might have been a lot less tense for the royal family,” considers the highly respected Guardian*.
The royal family is desperate to marry Charles off when he returns from the army in 1973. “He was the immarryable prince”, recounts the historian specializing in the royal family Philippe Chassaigne. “At almost 32, he had to get married urgently, so we found Diana Spencer.” Aged 19, the young woman meets the criteria established by royalty. “She came from a very old aristocratic family, she was eligible”recalls Philippe Chassaigne.
Their marriage, celebrated with great pomp in 1981, is in bad shape. And Charles and Camilla resume their love affair. The scandal comes to light when the press reveals the very intimate telephone exchanges of the two lovers. “There were three of us in this marriage. It was a bit too much”tackles Lady Di in a BBC interview in November 1995. The Prince and Princess of Wales officially divorced in 1996.
After these revelations, the tabloids are unleashed against Camilla, whom they hold responsible for the failure of the marriage of Charles and Lady Di. Everything goes: his physique, his style of dress… “For a long time, she was presented as the rival. She was the lover, she was the ideal culprit”, recalls Richard Davis, professor of British civilization at Bordeaux Montaigne University. “Diana was beautiful and young, Camilla was older, there’s a lot of sexism in that.”
With Diana’s accidental death in 1997, tabloid attacks on Camilla resumed and British public opinion followed. “It was not easy, she confided last July to Vogue UK*, during one of his rare interviews. Nobody likes to be stared at all the time. But I think at the end of the day, I get over it and I continue to live. You have to go on living.”
Faced with attacks, Camilla does not react, does not respond, does not show herself. A posture that she still keeps today. Despite the harassment of the tabloids, she does not separate from Prince Charles. For him, his relationship with Camilla is “non-negotiable” with the queen, writes the BBC*.
Despite their love, it was impossible for the couple to formalize their relationship. “From the moment she was married and had two children, all that was possible for the royal family was that it remained an affair”, explains historian Philippe Chassaigne.
From that moment, a vast communication strategy begins. Orchestrated by Prince Charles’ advisers, it aims to rehabilitate Camilla in the public eye. The appearances of Camilla, who has always refused the title of Princess of Wales, too linked to Diana, are carefully chosen. In 1999, they appeared for the first time together and let themselves be photographed stealthily leaving from the birthday of Camilla’s sister, reports the BBC *.
Then, Camilla begins to appear more and more often in public with Prince Charles. She was presented to the Queen in 2000 and took part in Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee celebrations in 2002. “It was done very gradually, by scrutinizing the reactions”, assures Philippe Chassaigne.
“Charles has communicated a lot about the fact that his sons, Princes William and Harry, have become close to Camilla, continues the historian. The message was: if they accepted it, so did you.” After refusing to allow the prince to marry a divorced woman, the queen eventually agreed to allow Charles and Camilla to marry in a civil ceremony in 2005.
Camilla, helmet of white hair and benevolent relaxation, slowly imposed herself. Sponsor of dozens of associations, she has invested in subjects that are dear to her, such as reading or violence against women. She tries to visit shelters as often as possible when traveling abroad, she told the magazine. vogue*.
During the Covid crisis, she also launched a book club on Instagram, where she offers recommendations and involves authors. She is also interested in health, animals, and willingly talks about gardening. “Camilla is faultless”, believes Philippe Chassaigne. According to him, she understood the codes of the royal family very well. Starting with rule number one: don’t make waves. “Camilla does this wonderfully, explains the historian. She had an older practice of this medium, even if she is not of aristocratic ancestry.”
Little by little, the newspapers changed tone. the Telegram documented this reversal, in an article dated February* and titled “How the Duchess of Cornwall won the hearts of the public to become the future Queen Camilla”. The daily even claims that “Camilla can be Prince Charles’ mainstay, as Prince Philip was for the Queen.”
Succeeding Diana was not “not easy”recognized in February the tabloid Daily Mail, quoted by Le Figaro. “But with quiet dignity, easy humor and visible compassion, she rose to the challenge. She is, quite simply, Charles’ rock.”
“She is the ideal queen consort” even wrote the Sun*, in a surprising reversal of the jacket when the tabloid had regularly targeted her. “Camilla is not the woman who nearly destroyed the monarchy. She is the one helping to save it,” even dare another article* from the newspaper.
Camilla fits, even more than her husband, in the reserve line imposed by Elizabeth II. Against all odds, she is perhaps the one who best embodies the famous motto of the royal family. : “Never explain, never complain” (“never explain, never complain”).
But the road is still long. His popularity has picked up, but only reached 40% favorable opinions in the second quarter of 2022, according to a YouGov poll*. While her popularity might change now that she’s queen consort, her attitude is unlikely to change. True to form, Camilla is determined to continue her philanthropic work “as long as possible”. A strategy which, already at the time, had allowed Princess Diana to conquer the hearts of the British.
* These links refer to articles in English