When the National Anthem was played in her honor this morning, it marked not only Queen Camilla’s 76th birthday, but also a rather dramatic change in fortune.
If the past year has been significant, with the death of the late Queen Elizabeth II, the accession of her husband Charles, and her own change in role from duchess to queen, the past 30 years have also been remarkable.
For much of that time, it seemed almost impossible that she would be recognized as anything more than a mistress, let alone crowned Queen in Westminster Abbey.
It’s a sign of the sensibilities she had to negotiate that after her 2005 wedding, she eschewed the title of Princess of Wales out of respect for her husband’s late ex-wife Diana, instead going by the rather less grand title of Duchess of Cornwall.
Charles (pictured left) and Camilla (pictured right) had an instant connection when they met in 1971, according to reports, but marriage was not considered a realistic prospect (pictured speaking during a polo match in 1975)
Camilla and Charles finally got married in 2005.
The journey from Queen Elizabeth calling her an “evil woman” to becoming queen has been an eventful one (pictured: King Charles and Queen Camilla during the coronation on May 6)
For some time it was believed that she would be known as ‘princess consort’ once her husband acceded to the throne.
But as the late Queen marked 70 years of rule last February, she publicly expressed her “sincere wish” that Camilla would be known as Queen Consort when the time comes.
It marked a big change of heart for Camilla who had once, reportedly at least, been described as “that wicked woman” by the late monarch.
Now known simply as Queen Camilla, she can look back with some satisfaction on a royal career, which got off to a disastrous start, despite being deemed “non-negotiable” by the king.
Some, including her stepson Prince Harry, have argued that the queen consort masterminded her reputation review, which once portrayed her as Britain’s most hated woman.
And she’s certainly managed to change the way many see her, since she first rose to fame and ever since she met Charles.
According to royal expert Tina Brown, Camilla, whose father was a highly regarded World War II veteran, grew up in an aristocratic environment, where she often rubbed shoulders with royalty.
Brown once said LBC that Camilla was seen as “tremendously attractive, tremendously earthy, funny, absolute catnip for men at all times.”
She added: ‘She was a very attractive woman, and she really could have married anyone. She was definitely extremely popular on…the single women’s circuit.
And so, when Charles met Camilla in the summer of 1971, he was instantly captivated by her, according to royal biographer Penny Juror, particularly as she was “not intimidated by him, not fawning or fawning.”
Despite their connection, Camilla was deemed unsuitable by important figures in the royal establishment and marriage was never really on the cards.
Instead, she married Andrew Parker Bowles, with whom she has two children, but the couple separated in 1995 after 22 years of marriage.
Meanwhile, Charles embarked on his own ill-fated marriage to Diana.
The two had originally been in a relationship in the 1970s, particularly in periods when Camilla’s on-and-off relationship with her future husband, Andrew Parker Bowles, was “off”.
But as both marriages came under pressure, Charles and Camilla began seeing each other again, and this was of particular consternation to Charles’s mother and grandmother.
It is said that the queen regarded Camilla as an adulteress who had led her unmarried son astray.
Instructions were issued that the then Mrs Parker Bowles would never be on the guest list for any formal event where the Queen was present.
Camilla’s ability to bring out the King’s lighter side has been cited as one of the factors in changing perceptions of her (pictured: the royal couple at the Mey Highland Games in 2008)
The royal has been praised for dealing with the public’s overwhelming anger towards her with humor, even signing a letter to Charles as “your devoted old man” as that was how she was often described (pictured: Lionel Richie, Camilla and Tom Jones during a 2019 tour of Barbados)
Charles and Camilla ‘came out’ as a couple after a 50th birthday party at the Ritz. The photographers were waiting as they left the London hotel.
The worst was yet to come.
In particular, there was the ‘tampongate’ scandal of 1989, in which transcripts of an intimate telephone conversation between the couple were made public.
The six-minute call was allegedly recorded by a radio amateur who claimed to have stumbled upon the couple’s conversation while flipping through audio channels and sold the recording to a tabloid.
During the call, the Prince talked about wanting to be close to Camilla on intimate terms and expressed a fear of being reincarnated as a tampon.
The transcript, which was also dubbed ‘Camillagate’, was so damning that, after reading it, Princess Diana declared ‘game, set and match’.
It was seeing Camilla as the usurper of the much-loved Princess Diana that led the public to hate her so much.
According to Tina Brown: ‘And the press went after her so cruelly. I mean, the really appalling sexist comments about Camilla, I mean, they used to call her, you know, old bag, old trout.
She added that Camilla would sign her letters to Charles ‘your devoted old bag’, since she has been labeled as such so often.
In fact, many believe that this humor and willingness to accept abuse is part of what has helped Camilla rehabilitate her image in the public eye.
Others believe that the queen consort’s influence on her husband has played a role in public acceptance of her.
Much has been said about Camilla’s sense of humor, with her ex-boyfriend Kevin Burke once describing her as “never quiet or shy” and always having “something funny” to say.
It seems that his enthusiasm is contagious; Charles, once formal and serious, facing the public, now smiles and laughs regularly with Camilla at his side. On a visit to Canada, the couple giggled as they watched traditional Inuit throat singers perform.
Robert Jobson, author of Charles at Seventy, said his wife brings him ‘balance’, adding: ‘She has a great sense of humour. As a result, he is smiling and laughing.’
And Camilla certainly seems genuine, with an old friend once describing her as “100 percent sure of who she is.”
“She had no side, she had no complexity,” they said. “She’s warm, witty, endlessly cheerful and she has the ability to laugh at everything and bring Charles out of his Eeyore’s sullenness.”
The leaked phone conversation between Charles and Camilla that became known as ‘tampongate’, with the story widely reported
Charles has described Camilla as ‘non-negotiable’, highlighting how important she is to him (both pictured in 1979)
Arguably, their rehab could be less of an accident to some degree and more of a design, thanks to the King’s efforts to improve the couple’s image after Diana’s death.
He hired a press secretary, described by royal expert Tina Brown as “quite resourceful and…sophisticated” to do just that.
The ‘Camilla Campaign’, which sought to endear itself to the public, reportedly began in June 1997, led by Mark Bolland, the public relations executive hired by Prince Charles in 1996 as deputy private secretary.
Reports say the communications specialist took every opportunity to portray Charles as both a loving father and a concerned single dad, while gaining public acceptance for Camilla, for example by highlighting some of her charity work.
This has included issues such as rape and sexual assault, domestic violence, literacy, and medical problems, including juvenile diabetes and muscular dystrophy.