From 'wicked witch' to 'fairy godmother': Queen Camilla's evolution, through her photographers' eyes

From Mrs. Parker Bowles to Duchess of Cornwall to Queen Consort to finally just Queen, Camilla’s path to the British throne alongside her husband, King Charles, has been eventful. Two Royal photographers have chronicled the journey.

Having started off as a Royal mistress, she is about to be Queen

Camilla, Queen Consort attends the State Banquet in honour of President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa at Buckingham Palace on November 22, 2022 in London.
Camilla, the Queen Consort, is seen attending a state banquet in honour of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa at Buckingham Palace in London on Nov. 22, 2022. (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

When the former Camilla Parker Bowles is regally invested and crowned Queen alongside her husband, King Charles III, this weekend, it will be the culmination of a remarkable transformation. 

Two years before her death in 1997, the late Princess Diana famously referred to Camilla as the "third person" in her marriage with then-Prince Charles.

The mistress label — and the derision that came with it — would stick for many years, including after Queen Elizabeth II gave Charles and Camilla's relationship her blessing and the couple married in 2005.

But those who have followed her evolution from a subject of ridicule to adulation say they believe with Saturday's coronation ceremony, the 75-year-old Camilla's identity transformation will be complete — and entirely earned. 

"She was the wicked witch, but now she's the fairy godmother," said Arthur Edwards, who has photographed members of the Royal Family for Britain's The Sun newspaper for the past 45 years.

"She will be out there [at the coronation] waving to the people and they will be screaming joyfully back that she has made it."

While opinion polls suggest Camilla still trails other Royals in popularity — including the late Queen's youngest son, Edward, and his wife, Sophie — her ratings have steadily improved over the years.

Over his long career, Edwards, who's now 82, has enjoyed a unique and privileged relationship with members of the Royal household, including the late Queen. On many occasions, he was the only outside photographer invited to accompany the family on special events and occasions.

Arthur Edwards sits alongside Camilla, then the Duchess of Cornwall,  during a break from a Royal visit to Indonesia in 2017.
Arthur Edwards sits alongside Camilla, then the Duchess of Cornwall, during a break in a Royal visit to Indonesia in 2017. (Courtesy Arthur Edwards)

But in a pre-coronation interview with CBC News at The Sun's offices in London, it was evident Edwards holds special affection for King Charles and Camilla — a respect that is reciprocated, he says.

"I call her ma'am, she calls me Arthur," said Edwards of his association with Camilla, who until the coronation remains Queen Consort.

'She's got real energy'

Following Diana's death, Charles famously hired Canadian-born public relations guru Marc Boland, who is often credited with helping rehabilitate Camilla's image.

But Edwards believes her subsequent success has had little to do with consultants. He argues it is due to a genuine interest in the causes she has championed.

The Royal Family's website says Camilla is either the patron or president of 90 charities, among them Coram Beanstalk, which advocates for children's literacy, and Brooke, an animal welfare organization.

Camilla, then Duchess of Cornwall, receives a kiss on her hand during a guided tour of Old Havana in 2019.
Camilla, then Duchess of Cornwall, receives a kiss on her hand during a guided tour of Old Havana, Cuba, in 2019. (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

"I think it was just pure hard work," said Edwards, listing the many charities Camilla has associated with. "I went to a prison where there were prisoners struggling to read and she encouraged them. She got thousands of books sent in."

"Osteoporosis, which her mother died of, she has been campaigning for that, along with many other charities she has embraced. And of course, she doesn't do things part-time — she gives everything," said Edwards. 

Another Royal photographer who's spent years trailing the couple around the world offers a similar assessment.

"She's got real energy," said Chris Jackson with Getty Images. "At an age where many people have retired, she's stepping up to the biggest job of her life."

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Jackson has just published a book of his favourite photos of Charles and Camilla over the years, called Charles III: A King and his Queen.

He told CBC News that collectively, the photos speak to the positive character traits in Camilla that will enable her to thrive in her new role.

Included among them are several images of Camilla wearing colourful, stylish face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Obviously, [COVID] was a negative, it wasn't something everyone enjoyed, but she embraced it and made it into a positive. She showcased different British designers' masks," said Jackson. "I thought that kind of summed up an element of her character and personality."

Tabloid fodder

The evolution of Charles and Camilla's relationship, including the scurrilous details of the breakdown of their previous marriages, have been a staple of Britain's tabloids for decades.

Few celebrity couples have had to endure as much unending and invasive publicity of their private lives.

The pair met and were close in the early 1970s, but ended up marrying other people — Camilla wed Andrew Parker Bowles in 1973 and Charles wed Diana Spencer in 1981.

Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall visits Wightman Road Mosque in North London on April 07, 2021 in London, England.
Camilla is seen in a mask while visiting Wightman Road Mosque in North London on April 07, 2021. (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Charles eventually admitted to having had an ongoing relationship with Camilla, in a famous 1994 interview with journalist Jonathan Dimbleby. A year later, Diana followed with her own confirmation on BBC's Panorama program, in which she said that the couple's marriage had been "crowded."

At the time, Diana was one of the best-known women in the world, globally admired for her significant charity work and garnering sympathy for her perceived mistreatment by Charles and members of the Royal Family.

By 1997, Camilla and Andrew Parker Bowles had divorced, as had Charles and Diana. That summer, Diana was killed in a high-speed car crash in Paris while trying to elude paparazzi.  

While Camilla and Charles were finally in a position to be together, Buckingham Palace proceeded carefully, keenly aware of the revered place that Diana's memory held for many.

It took a further eight years before the Queen gave her blessing to the union. It was only in February 2022, a few months before the Queen's death, that she revealed that she wanted Camilla to be known as the Queen Consort, "when the time comes."

Royal photographer Chris Jackson of Getty Images during a royal tour of Tanzania.
Royal photographer Chris Jackson of Getty Images is seen during a Royal tour of Tanzania. (Courtesy Chris Jackson)

Then in April, when the official invitations for the coronation were sent out, the "Consort" title had been dropped, leaving Camilla simply as Britain's soon-to-be new Queen.

Notably there has been little, if any, opposition among monarchy supporters to Camilla's upcoming title change.

'It was a really nice moment'

For Jackson, the Getty photographer, there have been many moments — and images — since Queen Elizabeth's death in September that have helped ensure Camilla's promotion to Britain's new Queen is a smooth one.

He says one of his favourites is a photograph of Camilla surrounded by stuffed Paddington Bears.

For her 70th Jubilee in June 2022, Queen Elizabeth memorably did a skit with the fictional children's character, where the pair bonded over tea at Buckingham Palace as they discussed a shared love of marmalade sandwiches

After her death, many admirers left stuffed Paddington Bears at the gates of Buckingham Palace and other Royal residences. They were subsequently collected and brought to Clarence House, where Camilla posed with them, and Jackson took her photo.

"I think this symbolized the respect that everyone had for Queen Elizabeth and the fact that the public had taken Paddington Bear to heart," said Jackson. "It was a really nice moment."

Camilla, Queen Consort,  poses at Clarence House with Paddington Bears left by admirers for Queen Elizabeth II after her death.
Camilla, Queen Consort, poses at Clarence House with Paddington Bears left by admirers for Queen Elizabeth II after her death. (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Arthur Edwards, who snapped one of the most famous photos of the Queen, standing on the Buckingham Palace balcony during her Platinum Jubilee, says he'll attempt to do the same thing during the coronation with Charles and Camilla.

Beyond the countless photos he has taken of the couple over the years, Edwards says it's the moments of personal interaction that he values most, and which have informed his views on Camilla.

"I did a program [on BBC Radio] called Desert Island Discs and I told a story about the King [Charles]," he said. "Three days later, I got a letter from Balmoral [Castle, one of the Royal residences]. It was a handwritten letter from Camilla that said, 'Dear Arthur, I'm in a flood of tears listening to all the wonderful things you said about my husband.'"

"She's not frightened to express her love for this man, and I think that alone tells you everything," Edwards said.

Arthur Edwards offers his condolences to King Charles and Camilla,  Queen Consort,  on the runway at RAF Northolt after the family returned to London following the Queen's death.
Arthur Edwards, left, offers his condolences to King Charles and Camilla, Queen Consort, on the runway at RAF Northolt after the family returned to London following the Queen's death in September 2022. (Courtesy Arthur Edwards)


Chris Brown

Foreign Correspondent

Chris Brown is a foreign correspondent based in the CBC’s London bureau. Previously in Moscow, Chris has a passion for great stories and has travelled all over Canada and the world to find them.

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