CBC In Depth
Camilla Parker Bowles, March 2, 2005. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
INDEPTH: THE ROYAL FAMILY
Profile: Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall
CBC News Online | April 18, 2006

Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, previously known as Camilla Parker Bowles, is a socialite by birth and by nature. Born into the English elite circle in 1947, Camilla Shand, like other girls of her station, was groomed for a place in society � as the wife of a wealthy aristocrat. Her reputation since childhood paints the picture of an outgoing, charismatic individual noted for her wit and a good sense of humour.

Her charisma, by all accounts, did not get lost on men who, as her friends and acquaintances say, have always liked Camilla. Still, if it weren't for the affection of one man in particular, the Prince of Wales and heir to the British throne, this reputation would have most likely stayed within the limits of Camilla's exclusive social circle.

But as it stands, Camilla is internationally known, living the life of a celebrity surrounded by intrusive public interest that makes her the subject of abuse and admiration all at the same time.

Growing up

The oldest of the three Shand children, Camilla grew up in the village of Plumpton in Sussex. Her mother, Rosalind, was a member of the Cubitt family, which founded the Cubitt construction company. Her father, Maj. Bruce Shand, was deputy lord lieutenant of East Sussex, the Queen's official representative in the county, as well as a wine merchant. He was a twice-decorated Second World War hero and known as the local master of foxhounds.

Reportedly, one of Camilla's favourite ancestors was Alice Keppel, the long-time mistress of Prince Charles's great-great-grandfather, Edward VII. According to Camilla's biographer, Caroline Graham, she was fascinated with Alice while growing up.

As one of her school friends recalls in Graham's Camilla, The King's Mistress, "She was particularly fond of telling the story that when King Edward was dying, Alice's position as his mistress was so widely acknowledged that the King's wife, Queen Alexandra, sent for Alice Keppel to join her at the King's beside as he passed away."

Her launch in society

Camilla was athletic, she enjoyed the outdoors and traditions like hunting and fishing. As a friend of hers recalls in Graham's book: "She wasn't particularly clothes-conscious; nothing's changed there. But she always exuded a sexy confidence over men. She was quite a flirt, she liked men."

When Camilla graduated from the fashionable Queen's Gate School for girls in London, she was ready for her debut in society. In 1965 after spending six months in Europe, she moved to London. She worked part-time as a secretary, devoting the rest of her time to a full social diary of country-house weekends and events like hunt balls.

As a friend of her recalls to Graham: "She was a very sexy girl. She never spent much time on her hair or her nails � they were always rather stubbly and bitten and dirty." But Camilla was definitely a success in her circle.


Camilla Parker Bowles, shown in a Nov. 20, 1995, photo. (AP Photo/Tim Ockenden)
Her relationship with Prince Charles

In 1970, she became an instant success with Prince Charles, as well. The pair met at a polo match where Camilla apparently said to the prince, "You know that my great-grandmother was your great-great-grandfather's mistress, so how about it?" This was the beginning of a romance that has spanned decades.

Charles and Camilla soon became inseparable and for a while they were the happy young couple seen in London's hottest spots together. Whether it was Camilla who was not ready for marriage, or Charles – or the Queen – this relationship did not end in a marriage proposal. In July 1973, Camilla married Andrew Parker Bowles, an attractive, well-connected colonel in the Household Cavalry.

Camilla's relationship with Charles continued as friendship. Charles was a regular guest at the Parker Bowles' home and became godfather to their firstborn. As a friend of Charles, Camilla knew Diana Spencer, whom Charles married in 1981, and reportedly approved of her.

Her connection with Charles seemed to fade over the first few years of his marriage with Diana. But in 1984, rumours began to surface that Charles and Diana were growing apart and that Camilla was back in Charles's life.

In 1994, on national television, the prince admitted adultery. Camilla and Andrew Parker Bowles divorced the following year. In 1996, Prince Charles and Diana's divorce was finalized. This is when the prince began easing Camilla into the role of his companion.


Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles face the cameras together outside the London Ritz Hotel. (AP Photo / Alastair Grant)
The tragic death of Diana in August 1997 forced Camilla to withdraw from public life to avoid the fury that sprang up against her. But away from the public spotlight, Charles and Camilla continued their relationship.

In July 1998, Prince William agreed to meet his father's partner for the first time, and the news was leaked to the press. Tabloids beamed with speculation about the encounter, reporting that after half an hour of tea and small talk Camilla said, "I really need a gin and tonic."

About six months later, Charles and Camilla made their first public appearance together outside the London Ritz Hotel, where they attended Camilla's sister's birthday party.

In February of 2005, 56-year-old Prince Charles and 57-year-old Camilla Parker Bowles announced their engagement. Facing reporters together at Windsor Castle, Camilla said the prince went down on one knee to propose. Her reaction? "I'm just coming down to earth."


Camilla's engament ring reportedly belonged to Charles' late grandmother, the Queen Mother. (AP Photo/John Stillwell)
Whether the recent years of careful planning and control of publicity surrounding this couple have paid off, or whether the public gave in to the romanticism of a royal wedding, Camilla's public approval has improved.

Perhaps the most surprising result of this is her new place in fashion. Camilla - endlessly slammed in the press for her at-best unpolished appearance - has been setting style trends. According to the Globe and Mail style section, even before the wedding, a British Vogue editor expressed her approval of a Burberry collection with the words: "Very Camilla Parker Bowles."




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