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Camilla: from ‘most hated woman in Britain’ to respected royal

She has been branded a “Rottweiler” and “the most hated woman in Britain”, but on 6 May, the Queen Consort will be given a new title, that of Queen Camilla.

When her husband Charles III is crowned king and she takes on her new title, her “astonishing, decades-long transformation from toxic mistress will be complete,” said The Times. 

Who is Camilla, the Queen Consort?

The Queen Consort was born Camilla Rosemary Shand on 17 July 1947 at King’s College Hospital, in London. She came from an affluent, comfortable family; her father was an army major and wine merchant who married an aristocrat.

“Splice in some dogs and horses and this childhood, as if by magic, seems to have produced someone who is usually in a good mood. That is how school friends – indeed, all known associates – describe Camilla: optimistic, happy-go-lucky, untroubled,” wrote Zoe Williams in The Guardian.

The family estate in the East Sussex countryside had a paddock, an orchard and a pool, and Camilla described her summers there as “idyllic”, according to Sky News. She left Queen’s Gate school in South Kensington with one O-level, before attending finishing school in Switzerland.

Marriage and children 

Camilla returned to London in 1965 to a whirlwind of glittering high society events. She met Andrew Parker Bowles, a major in the Royal House Guards who played on Prince Charles’s polo team in 1966, and began dating him on and off for seven years. “Legend has it that she arrived at the party with one boyfriend and left with another – him,” said Hilary Rose in The Times. A few years later she met Prince Charles, but they called off their relationship after 18 months of dating.

Various explanations have been given. Charles’s decision to join the Royal Navy “was the catalyst” said Sky News, but The Guardian noted that others claim it was due to Camilla’s unsuitability in the eyes of the Royal Family because “she wasn’t a virgin”.

Camilla rekindled her relationship with Parker Bowles and they married in 1973. He was “serially, cheerfully, reliably unfaithful throughout”, said Rose in The Times, and it was the society wedding of the year, attended by the Queen Mother and also Princess Anne, one of his exes. They had two children, Thomas Henry and Laura Rose. But at Charles and Diana’s wedding in 1981, Diana noticed “a woman in a pale grey dress and pillbox hat” as she walked up the aisle, according to Sky News. It was Camilla.   

‘The most hated woman in Britain’

“So strong was her bond with the future king, it shattered both their marriages, outraged the establishment and saw her cast as a conniving marriage-wrecker,” said Caroline Davies in The Guardian.

A pivotal moment in their relationship was the infamous ‘Tampongate’ saga, a secretly recorded phone conversation between the pair, published in 1993. The leak contained salacious and embarrassing details of their long-standing affair, with “intimate details such as the prince declaring a wish to live inside Parker Bowles’s trousers and be reincarnated as a tampon”, said Reuters. But it also revealed their love for one another. “I’d suffer anything for you. That’s love. That’s the strength of love,” Camilla told Charles. 

After Princess Diana declared “there were three of us in the marriage”, in 1995, and dubbed Camilla a “Rottweiler”, the press branded the Queen Consort “the most hated woman in Britain”, a label she struggled to shake off. But “had Diana not died in that Paris tunnel on 31 August 1997, acceptance of Camilla as a future queen might have been far less of a battle”, said Davies in The Guardian. Although the uproar was beginning to die down, the tragic death meant the couple had to put their relationship on ice, and Camilla was forced to keep a low profile. “But she is resilient, she was brought up with this extraordinary sense of duty where you got on with it, don’t whinge, put your best face on and keep going, and it has stood her in very good stead,” a friend told The Times. 

Back into the fold

In 1999, Charles and Camilla went public with their relationship, eventually gaining the approval of his mother the Queen, who was said to be impressed by Camilla’s quiet sense of duty and passion for dogs and horses. “My son is home and dry with the woman he loves. They are now on the home straight; the happy couple are now in the winner’s enclosure,” the Queen said.

In 2005, Charles and Camilla were married in a civil ceremony at the Guildhall, Windsor. These days she is a “professional grandmother”, an aide told CNN, and a passionate campaigner for a number of causes, including her support for victims of domestic abuse.

It is the simple life she craves; she loves “cooking her own simple supper on the Aga leaning over the dogs, having it on a tray with a glass of wine, a dog on her lap, listening to The Archers or reading a book”, said The Times. 

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