How Camilla Parker-Bowles went from public enemy number one to national treasure

March 10, 2022
The Duchess of Cornwall with actor Emerald Fennell during a reception to mark International Women’s Day at Clarence House 
CREDIT: Reuters

As she proved during an event with her Netflix alter ego, the bullet-proof future Queen Consort has a sense of humour

In an extraordinary tale of love and redemption, Camilla Parker Bowles has transformed herself dramatically over the 50 years she has known Prince Charles. Now, thanks to the Queen’s Silver Jubilee message of crowning endorsement, she will become Queen Consort when Charles ascends the throne. This impressive evolution is due to Camilla’s strength of character, discretion, dignity and fortitude.

It was Charles who decided that he could not live without Camilla, not the other way around. It’s difficult to refuse a tenacious Prince of Wales who declares you “non-negotiable” – as Wallis Simpson discovered. We can now see that Charles will be a better, more fulfilled king with Camilla by his side. It once seemed unimaginable that she could ever become Queen, such was the bitter opprobrium towards her, but during their successful nearly 17-year marriage she has slowly and stoically proved herself to be a class act worthy of her coronet.

Heroically supportive of Prince Charles, Camilla has never sought the limelight. Key to her appeal is that she doesn’t take herself too seriously, yet manages to walk the tightrope of deference that Royal duties demand. Her glorious sense of humour is a mainstay of her character. Sometimes on official visits she’s literally clutching herself as she tries to stem hopeless giggles. Her guileless mirth is contagious. One gets the sense that she and Charles are going to howl with laughter together in the car home after.

This was perfectly encapsulated this week, when what could have been a moment of excruciating awkwardness became a towering triumph. During a speech at a reception for International Women’s Day at Clarence House, she directly addressed Emerald Fennell, the actress who plays her on the controversial Netflix series The Crown. 

‘It is reassuring to know that, if I should fall off my perch at any moment, my fictional alter ego is here to take over,’ she said, to laughs from the audience. ‘So, Emerald, be prepared!’ It is the first time a senior member of the Royal family has spoken so positively of the show, and the pair were seen chatting warmly at the event. How savvy and cool of Camilla to have embraced Emerald in this way.

Little wonder that her infamous wink went viral during President Trump’s 2019 state visit. In a spontaneous moment of levity, her earthy sense of fun ensured that the meeting with Donald and Melania was anything but frosty. As Charles ushered the presidential couple from the room, Camilla turned to her protection officer, her face creasing into an enigmatic smile, and winked. She was instantly crowned the ‘Queen of Sass’ on Twitter. 

There’s nothing arch or waxwork about Camilla. My guess is that it is her genuine love for and failsafe loyalty to Prince Charles which has enabled her to thrive amid the power plays of the Royal family. That Camilla is at ease amid the pomp and pageantry has endeared her to courtiers who see her not just as dependable but indispensable. Her shared sense of humour with the Queen has bonded her with our perspicacious monarch.

Just as we have been won over by Camilla’s authenticity and lack of precious entitlement, we have seen her style evolve from windswept, tweedy Sloane to sophisticated duchess in silky day dresses and classic courts. Ever since she nervously stepped out in Windsor on her wedding day in sensational pale blue silk and damask by Anna Valentine, with a Philip Treacy gold halo effect headpiece, she has found her formula for elegance and stuck to it. In floaty chiffon dresses by Fiona Clare, with socking pearls and toffee-sized jewelled clasps, she epitomises old-school chic without being a slave to fashion. It’s because she is at ease in her own skin that Camilla looks comfortable in her clothes.  

It used to be sniped that Camilla lacked ambition. Yet there is nothing indolent about her grasp of what Charles required of her. The emotional containment needed to ascend to our future Queen requires impressive internal discipline. That Camilla is secure within herself is the most stylish thing about her.  

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