Prince Charles and Camilla: Their love story

Rebecca Taylor
·Royal Correspondent
·8 min read
The Prince of Wales and his new bride Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, with their families (L-R) back row Prince Harry, Prince William, Tom Parker Bowles and Laura Parker Bowles (L-R front row) Duke of Edinburgh, HM The Queen Elizabeth II and Camilla's fathe
Charles and Camilla on their wedding day with their families. (Getty Images)

Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, marked 15 years of marriage in 2020.

But their story goes back much further than their 2005 wedding day.

Season four of The Crown will bring in Emerald Fennell as Camilla who will be a listening ear, and more, to a frustrated Prince Charles who is married to Diana (Emma Corrin).

In real life, both Charles and Camilla were married to other people before they married one another, having been separated by circumstance as young adults.

Their first meeting and early years

Prince Charles first met Camilla Shand at a polo match in 1970.

Another version of their first meeting suggests they met at a party where Camilla told Charles: “My great-grandmother was the mistress of your great-great-grandfather. I feel we have something in common.”

Prince Charles chats to Camilla Parker-Bowles at a polo match. (Photo by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
Prince Charles chats to Camilla at a polo match. (Getty Images)

Charles, already the Prince of Wales and of course the heir to the throne, entered the Royal Navy in 1971, a decision which put the brakes on their blossoming romance.

They dated for about six months, but Charles did not propose.

There are differing accounts of why the couple never made it down the aisle the first time. One is that their short relationship came in the middle of Camilla’s longer-term on and off relationship with Andrew Parker-Bowles, who became her first husband.

Other accounts suggest that Camilla was seen as unsuitable by some people in the Royal Family.

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According to historian Bedall Smith, Camilla’s dating history was a strike against her, because the future king needed to marry someone “who at least appeared virginal”.

Their first marriages

Camilla Shand was the first to marry, tying the knot with Andrew Parker-Bowles in 1973.

4th July 1973:  Camilla Shand and Captain Andrew Parker Bowles outside the Guards' Chapel on their wedding day.  (Photo by Frank Barratt/Keystone/Getty Images)
Camilla Shand and Captain Andrew Parker Bowles outside the Guards' Chapel on their wedding day. (Getty Images)

According to some reports, pressure was mounting on them to get engaged, so Camilla’s father published the announcement in The Times to give them the hint.

It was a society event - the Queen Mother, Princess Anne, who once dated Andrew Parker-Bowles, and Princess Margaret all attended.

The couple stayed friends with Prince Charles, who they had both known before they married.

A few years on, and Charles met Lady Diana Spencer. She was just 16 when they met, and Charles was dating Diana’s older sister at the time. She later claimed credit for getting together.

Charles and Diana started dating in 1980 and announced their engagement the next year.

GREAT BRITAIN - FEBRUARY 24:  Lady Diana Spencer (later to become Princess of Wales) reveals her sapphire and diamond engagement ring while she and Prince Charles, Prince of Wales pose for photographs in the grounds of Buckingham Palace following the announcement of their engagement  (Photo by Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)
Lady Diana Spencer (later to become Princess of Wales) reveals her sapphire and diamond engagement ring while she and Prince Charles, announced their engagement (Getty Images)

Charles, then 32, comes under fire for his response during their engagement interview to the question “are you in love?” He said: “Whatever love is.”

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In July 1981 the young couple married in the royal wedding of the century at St Paul’s Cathedral.

Camilla attended their wedding, though it’s thought Diana didn’t want her to be there.

Charles and Diana had two children - William and Harry, and so did Camilla and Andrew - Tom, and Laura.

Charles, Prince of Wales, and his wife, Princess Diana (1961 - 1997), wave to the crowds following their wedding ceremony at St Paul's Cathedral, London, UK, 29th July 1981. (Photo by Princess Diana Archive/Hulton Royals Collection/Getty Images)
Charles and Diana married in July 1981. (Getty Images)

The affair begins

The Prince of Wales remained close to his former flame, and it’s reported that in 1986, they began an affair.

Diana is reported to have confronted Camilla in 1989, telling her: “Camilla, I would just like you to know that I know exactly what is going on between you and Charles. I wasn't born yesterday.”

She told of the confrontation in an interview with Andrew Morton.

Lady Diana Spencer and Camilla Parker-Bowles at Ludlow Races where Prince Charles is competing, 1980. (Photo by Express Newspapers/Archive Photos)
Lady Diana Spencer and Camilla Parker-Bowles at Ludlow Races where Prince Charles was competing in 1980. (Getty Images)

In 1992, the affair emerged, as a recording of an intimate conversation between Charles and Camilla came out. The tapes were dubbed “Camillagate”.

John Major, then prime minister, confirmed the royal couple had separated in 1992.

In Morton’s book Diana: Her True Story, Diana referred to Camilla as “the Rottweiler” and Camilla called the princess “that ridiculous creature”.

Morton’s book also claimed Camilla accompanied Charles on a trip to Zimbabwe in 1980, in which she did research for him including “climbed onto the back of a buffalo to test its mettle before Charles’s scheduled ride. Thrown and badly gored, Parker Bowles was taken to the hospital—but not before canceling the Prince’s jaunt”.

Divorce and confession

Two years after then Prime Minister John Major confirms the royal separation, Charles admits adultery.

The prince did a televised interview with Jonathan Dimbleby in which he admitted that he had been having an affair with Camilla Parker Bowles for some time.

Prince Charles, is interviewed by members of the welsh press, regrading the upcoming 25th anniversary of his Investiture of the Prince of Wales (01/07/1969), pictured at his private residence of Highgrove House, Doughton, Gloucestershire, Thursday 16th June 1994. (Photo by Neil Bennett/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)
Prince Charles admitted to an affair in 1994. (Getty Images)

As he makes the confession, Diana steps out to the Vanity Fair party in what became known as the “revenge dress”.

Camilla and Andrew Parker Bowles divorced in January 1995, and he remarried soon afterward.

Later in 1995, Diana did her own televised interview, in which she also admits she was unfaithful in her marriage to Charles.

Read more: Princess Diana 'nearly didn't go' to Vanity Fair party where she wore revenge dress, ex-butler reveals

It’s then she utters the famous line: “There were three of us in the marriage, so it was a bit crowded.”

Charles and Diana finalised their divorce in 1996.

Diana was killed in a car accident in Paris in 1997.

LONDON - NOVEMBER 20:  Diana, Princess of Wales, wearing a stunning black dress commissioned from Christina Stambolian, attends the Vanity Fair party at the Serpentine Gallery on November 20, 1994 in London, England.  The famous black "revenge dress" was a spectacular coup by the Princess, worn on the very evening that Prince Charles made his notorious adultery admission on television. (Photo by Anwar Hussein/WireImage)
Diana attending the Vanity Fair party in 1994 in what was dubbed the revenge dress. (Getty Images)

A public relationship

A year after Diana’s death, Charles introduces William and Harry to Camilla. They kept the relationship out of the public eye for a while, but made appearances together on rare occasion.

One of those was Camilla’s sister’s birthday party at the Ritz Hotel in 1999. They arrived separately but left together.

Camilla Parker Bowles and Prince Charles walk out of the Ritz January 28, 1999. More than 100 photographers took up positions outside London's Ritz hotel for the most elusive shot of all -- Prince Charles together with his long-time lover Camilla Parker Bowles. (photo by UK Press)
Charles and Camilla leave her sister's birthday party together in 1999. (Getty Images)

According to Good Housekeeping, the progress Camilla makes by getting to know Charles’s sons is not matched with getting to know the Queen. The Monarch even reportedly turns down an invitation to Charles’ birthday because Camilla will be attending.

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However they make it to the same event later in 2000, showing some improvement.

In 2001, the couple kiss in public for the first time - an important milestone in their relationship according to the BBC.

Britain's Prince Charles (R) kisses his companion Camilla Parker Bowles (L) at the National Osteoporosis Society's 15th Birthday Celebrations at Somerset House, London June 26, 2001. The party is hosted by Camilla, whose mother died of osteoperosis in 1994.    BR
Charles and Camilla kiss as he supports her at an event in 2001. (Getty Images)

It was also the first time the prince played a supporting role to his girlfriend.

In 2003, Camilla officially moved into Charles’s London home, Clarence House.

Engagement and wedding

In 2005, Charles and Camilla announced their intention to marry. While the news may have shown Camilla had gained royal acceptance, there was a tough political decision ahead, particularly around the venue where they can marry.

WINDSOR, ENGLAND - APRIL 09:  TRH Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, depart the Civil Ceremony where they were legally married, at The Guildhall, Windsor on April 9, 2005 in Berkshire, England.  (Photo by Georges De Keerle/Getty Images)
Charles and Camilla leaving their civil ceremony in 2005. (Getty Images)
WINDSOR, ENGLAND - APRIL 9:  (NO UK SALES FOR 28 DAYS) Prince William and Prince Harry arrive for the Civil Ceremony for the marriage between HRH Prince Charles & Mrs Camilla Parker Bowles, at The Guildhall, Windsor on April 9, 2005 in Berkshire, England. (Photo by ROTA/Anwar Hussein Collection/Getty Images)
William and Harry at their father's wedding. (Getty Images)

A change in the law in 2002 meant they could remarry, though the Church of England is not supportive of second marriages where the spouse is still living. Wanting to avoid any more controversy, they opted for a civil ceremony in Windsor Guildhall.

The Queen and Prince Philip did not attend, but did go to the couple’s blessing in St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle after the legal ceremony.

Life since then

Camilla has settled into royal life and quietly carved out a role for herself which has seen her win public approval after years of abuse.

She has known when to step forward and when to step back. In 2007, she opted not to attend the memorial for Diana, though saying she had been invited by Charles and the young princes.

EPHESUS, TURKEY - NOVEMBER 27:  Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and Prince Charles, Prince of Wales tour the library of Celsus built in AD 125 during a tour of the historical site of Ephesus on day two of a four day tour of Turkey on November 27, 2007 in Ephesus, Turkey. The Royal couple's tour will take in many historic and cultural sites.  (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
Camilla has been by Charles's side on dozens of royal tours, including Turkey in 2007. (Getty Images)

Releasing a statement she said: “I accepted and wanted to support them, however, on reflection I believe my attendance could divert attention from the purpose of the occasion which is to focus on the life and service of Diana. I'm grateful to my husband, William, and Harry for supporting my decision.”

There have been questions over the years of what Camilla will be called when the Queen dies and Prince Charles accedes to the throne. Officially, she may be Queen or Princess consort, though it’s reported she is not keen to use the title, out of respect for Diana.

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Britain's Prince Charles, Prince of Wales (L) reacts as Britain's Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall (C) tries out a one person air raid shelter during their visit to the London Transport Museum in London on March 4, 2020, to take part in celebrations to mark 20 years of the museum. - TfL was set-up in 2000 to bring Londons transport network together under one integrated body. (Photo by Victoria Jones / POOL / AFP) (Photo by VICTORIA JONES/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Charles and Camilla share a similar dry wit. (Getty Images)
EMBARGOED until 2200 Wednesday April 8, 2020. Conditions of use: Please credit: Clarence House. Not for use after 16/4/2020 and has to be used in conjunction with TRHís 15th wedding anniversary. The photograph is free of charge and must not be sold on. Handout picture dated 8/4/2020 of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall (known as the Duke and Duchess of Rothesay when in Scotland), who celebrate their 15th wedding anniversary Thursday, at Birkhall, their home on the Balmoral Estate.
Charles and Camilla released this image to celebrate 15 years of marriage. (Clarence House)

As the years have gone on, Camilla has been at Charles’s side for hundreds of royal engagements and family events, including the weddings of William to Kate and Harry to Meghan.

She has taken on her own patronages and roles too, particularly focussing on supporting victims of domestic abuse.

With their matching dry wit and humour and passion for the outdoors, Charles and Camilla have established themselves important and loved senior members of the Royal Family.

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