How much do you really know about Camilla? For example, did you know that HRH her great grandmother Alice Frederica Keppel was the long term mistress of King Edward VII? If you’re interested in finding out more about the future Queen consort, read on to delve into her childhood and early years with Prince Charles.
Where did Camilla grow up?
Camilla Rosemary Shand was born at King’s College Hospital in July 1947 to a British Army major and his wife. The eldest of three children, Camilla enjoyed an idyllic childhood in The Laines, a large Grade 2 listed country house which was formerly a rectory.
The house was nestled into the lush greenery of a 5.7-acre country estate in Plumpton, East Sussex and provided the young Camilla with plenty of nature to play in.
The young Duchess-to-be’s parents were very relaxed about her upbringing and allowed Camilla, her younger sister Annabelle and their friends to take their ponies and gallop off into the downs by themselves. When tired of the country, Camilla could also visit her parents’ second home; a three-storey house in South Kensington.
Gyles Brandreth, a broadcaster and friend of Camilla, knew her when they were both young teenagers. “She was typical of upper middle class girls of her type and time,” he says in the documentary The Real Camilla: HRH The Duchess of Cornwall. “She was very pretty, she was very lively and she was very horsey.”
Young Camilla attended a co-ed prep school called Drumbrells, before going to the prestigious Queen’s Gate School in South Kensington. Camilla (also known as Milla) was reportedly very proud of her great grandmother’s relationship with the king. Former classmates say she waltzed into the classroom one day and said: “My great-grandmother was the lover of the King. We’re practically royalty.”
Camilla, who has been called a ‘tomboy’ and ‘a flirt’ by her classmates, graduated at sixteen before attending finishing school at Mon Fertile in Switzerland and Institut Britannique in Paris.
Camilla as a young woman
When she finished school, Camilla briefly worked as an assistant at Colefax and Fowler decorating firm, where she was allegedly fired for turning up late one morning after a dance. This was around the time she first met future husband Andrew Parker Bowels at a debutante party.
“She was fun, that was the thing about Camilla,” says Camilla’s biographer Penny Junor. “She made everybody laugh. She drank copiously, she smoked and she was up for anything.” Camilla spent her early 20s living in central London with another wealthy young lady, and her frequent visits to night clubs earned her a ‘party girl’ reputation.
Camilla & Prince Charles
Camilla may not have been an aristocrat, but she ran in the same circles as members of the Royal family. In 1971, Camilla met Prince Charles when he was just 23 years old. They were introduced by a mutual friend and Charles’ ex Lucia Santa Cruz at a dinner party.
The young prince was very taken with her and they enjoyed a whirlwind romance, but the pair parted ways after six months when Charles went overseas with the navy while Camilla reignited her relationship with Andrew.
According to her biographer, Charles’ mentor and surrogate grandfather Lord Mountbatten ruled out any future for the young couple. He was happy for them to have a fling, but was clear that the relationship was not destined for marriage.
The 1970s were still a time when the idea of a Royal marrying a ‘commoner’ was far more shocking than it is today, plus Camilla’s ‘party girl’ reputation and romantic history were in direct contrast to the Royals’ desire for Charles to marry a less experienced girl.
While Charles was in the West Indies, her on-and-off boyfriend Andrew Parker Bowles proposed to Camilla. Sources say Charles sent Camilla a letter the week before her wedding asking her not to go through with it, but it was too late.
“Prince Charles risked his reputation and position for the Duchess.”
The couple married in 1973 in a ceremony which was dubbed the ‘society event of the year’. The Queen Mother, Princess Margaret and Princess Anne all attended Camilla’s wedding, while Charles was invited but didn’t attend. The pair had their first child, Tom, when Camilla was 27, and their daughter Laura was born several years later. Prince Charles became Tom’s godfather and continued to spend time with the couple due to their numerous mutual friends.
Despite her children, luxurious lifestyle, hobbies and vibrant social life, Camilla was unhappy in her marriage because Andrew was a serial adulterer and would openly conduct affairs with Camilla’s friends under her nose.
“This was the real problem,” says biographer Penny Junor, “this is what sent Camilla back into the arms of Prince Charles.” Despite Camilla’s marriage, she remained close with the Prince and rekindled their romantic relationship in the late 1970s.
Did Camilla know Princess Diana?
Prince Charles, as heir apparent, was under a lot of pressure to tie the knot with a suitable woman. While he was dating her sister, Charles met a teenage Lady Diana Spencer and proposed after a couple of dates. The pair married in 1981 when Diana was just 19 years old and the Prince was 32.
“Diana seemed to be absolutely the girl for Charles,” says Penny Junor, “she was an aristocrat, the daughter of an earl, she was a virgin and she was an Anglican. Everybody encouraged him.”
Even Camilla, who had an on-off relationship with the Prince for almost ten years, encouraged Charles to propose to Diana. According to some sources, Camilla thought the young, quiet Diana Spencer would be a better choice than someone more fiery and outspoken.
Camilla and Diana were friendly during the first few years of the Princess of Wales’ marriage. According to Penny Junor’s biography, Diana and Prince Charles were frequent guests at Camilla and Andrew’s home and Diana, who had worked as a nanny in the past, helped Camilla with her children.
Diana said she found out for sure about the affair when she discovered a bracelet that the Prince of Wales had bought for Camilla. She confronted her husband’s mistress in 1989 at her sister’s birthday party. The Princess later said she was terrified, but she remained calm and apologised for being in the way as she told Camilla she knew about the affair.
Camilla allegedly told Diana “You’ve got everything you ever wanted. You’ve got all the men in the world in love with you and you’ve got two beautiful children, what more do you want?”
“I want my husband,” Diana responded.
Prince Charles risked his reputation and position for the Duchess. Their relationship has spanned almost fifty years and, while it hasn’t been the easiest or cleanest of journeys, the couple are finally able to be together out in the open as they enjoy their later years.
Learn more about Camilla’s life in The Real Camilla: HRH The Duchess of Cornwall on True Royalty TV.