The British tabloids once declared Camilla Parker Bowles to be the "most hated woman in Britain," according to NBC News. A bit sensationalist? Sure — but the Duchess of Cornwall was certainly a very unpopular figure after her affair with Prince Charles came to light in the early 1990s. And while Princess Diana’s marriage to Charles crumbled, her popularity reached new heights due to her charity work, accessibility, and un-Windsor like warmth. Diana had won the hearts of the people and became the wronged, wounded princess with Camilla cast as the villainous homewrecker.
Remarkably, Camilla has managed to endear herself to the British public over the last two decades. In 2017, NBC News went so far as to declare the duchess a "national treasure" due to her "down-to-earth" and jovial personality along with her empathetic nature. Camilla is viewed as a dutiful, hardworking royal and loving stepmother to Prince William and Prince Harry. Once known as the infamous "other woman," the duchess has seen her public image revamped in the press (e.g. Hello!, who now refers to her as Prince Charles’ "true love"). She may be "shady" no more, but once upon a time, the public saw Camilla Parker Bowles as the shadiest of them all.
Did Camilla only date Prince Charles to make her ex jealous?
Camilla Parker Bowles met Andrew Parker Bowles in 1966, and despite his womanizing reputation, the 19-year-old was completely smitten (per Vanity Fair). Unfortunately, the British army officer allegedly cheated on Camilla repeatedly throughout their on-again, off-again relationship. Although the duchess put up with her philandering boyfriend, she did have one Waiting to Exhale moment, according to biographer Penny Junor (via E!), "Camilla saw [Andrew’s] car parked outside the home of one of her best friends, and she let the air out of his tires."
In the early ’70s, Andrew began a secret, intimate relationship with Princess Anne. Camilla must have decided that when your ex is dating a princess, vandalizing his car for a second time just won’t cut it. So instead she sought "revenge" by dating a future king — who also happened to be Princess Anne’s brother. According to The Duchess: The Untold Story (via Express), "[Camilla’s] principal motivation was to have some excitement and make Andrew jealous."
While revenge may have been her initial motivation, Camilla and Charles clearly became infatuated during their 18 month affair. But Andrew was never completely out of the picture. In Camilla and Charles (via Elle), author Caroline Graham claims that Camilla told a friend at the time, "I love Charles very much but I simply can’t forget about Andrew … Is it possible to love two men at the same time?"
Camilla reportedly broke the Prince of Wales’ heart
It appears that Camilla Parker Bowles’ "revenge" plan to make Andrew Parker Bowles jealous worked. After Princess Anne and Andrew’s fling had run its course, the military man ran back to Camilla and asked for her hand in marriage in 1973. And while some may wonder if the duchess carelessly tossed Prince Charles aside, the truth is far more complex.
Yes, Camilla loved Andrew and "was stubbornly determined to marry him" (The Duchess, via Express). But she was also aware that a marriage proposal from Charles was highly unlikely, as the royal family would likely never approve of the relationship. In Battle of Brothers: William and Harry, author Robert Lacey wrote (per Marie Claire) that when Charles was deployed with the Royal Navy, he left knowing "that he wanted to marry Camilla . . . But he did not have the courage to tell her." Without Charles declaration of love, and knowing the realities of royal marriage traditions, Camilla accepted Parker Bowles’ proposal.
When news of the impending nuptials reached him, the Prince of Wales was said to have been utterly devastated. Per Marie Claire, "Charles wrote of his sadness to his uncle, Lord Montbatten, that ‘such a blissful, peaceful and mutually happy relationship’ had ended." According to royal biographer Penny Junor, the prince also wrote to Camilla one week before the wedding in an attempt to convince her "not to marry Andrew" (via the Daily Mail.)
Was the Duchess of Cornwall the ultimate frenemy?
In The Duchess (per the Daily Mail), Penny Junor noted that when Prince Charles began dating Diana Spencer, Camilla Parker Bowles not only approved, she even considered the 19-year-old to be "sweet and funny." Junor added, "At first, Diana liked Camilla and appreciated her friendship — a friendship that was genuine." However, their "friendship" soon soured after Charles proposed.
Season 4 of The Crown featured a lunch scene between Camilla and Diana that was so uncomfortable, viewers were dying to know if the meeting was fact or fiction. The awkward luncheon did occur, and Princess Diana recalled being sized up by Charles’ ex-girlfriend. Diana revealed in Andrew Morton’s biography Diana: Her True Story in Her Own Words that Camilla’s seemingly friendly invitation read, "Such exciting news about the engagement. Do let’s have lunch soon … I’d love to see the ring, lots of love, Camilla."
The Princess of Wales confirmed to Morton that the lunch meeting was "tricky" and that Camilla’s line of questioning revealed her "jealousy" and ulterior motives. Soon after, Diana realized that Camilla was certainly no friend. The princess told Morton, "I couldn’t understand why she kept saying to me, ‘Don’t push him into doing this, don’t do that.’ She knew so much about what he was doing privately and about what we were doing privately … Eventually, I worked it all out and found the proof of the pudding."
Camilla’s intimate gift to Charles left Diana ‘devastated’
The Princess of Wales knew before she even walked down the aisle that Camilla Parker Bowles and Prince Charles still held deep feelings for one another. Nevertheless, the wedding planning continued full steam ahead. And then, a few days before their 1981 wedding, Charles hand delivered a monogrammed bracelet that he had made for his ex-girlfriend. In Diana: Her True Story in Her Own Words, Dianna recalled that Charles’ inappropriate gift left her "devastated" and in a "rage."
It turns out that shady monogrammed jewelry was also Camilla’s forte. Diana recounted to Andrew Morton that during her honeymoon, she noticed Charles wearing some interesting cufflinks. While getting ready for a "white tie dinner," the Prince of Wales put on cufflinks that had "two C’s entwined." Diana confronted her husband asking, "Camilla gave you those didn’t she?" The prince responded defensively, "Yes, so what’s wrong? They’re a present from a friend."
If Camilla’s goal was to make Diana insecure, it worked. The princess and Charles had a huge fight, with Diana admitting that she felt "total jealousy." In fact, the jealousy took such a toll that the Princess of Wales told Morton, "I remember crying my eyes out on our honeymoon … At night I dreamt of Camilla the whole time."
Did Camilla single-handedly destroy Diana and Charles’ marriage?
It’s been largely assumed that the Prince and Princess of Wales separated due to Charles’ ongoing affair with Camilla Parker Bowles. Diana famously told journalist Martin Bashir in 1995, "Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded." The year before, Charles defended himself in his own televised interview, insisting that he was only unfaithful to Dianna once the marriage "became irretrievably broken down." Various media outlets, however, reported that Charles and Camilla began seeing each again in 1986 — only five years after his marriage to Diana.
While Camilla was undoubtedly a main factor in the split, others argue that Charles’ marriage to Diana would have failed even without the interference of Mrs. Parker Bowles. Various royal biographers have maintained that the Prince of Wales felt pressured by his family into choosing a bride and settling down. And while Diana was considered to be an acceptable choice, the Prince of Wales ultimately made the wrong choice by asking for her hand in marriage.
In Charles at Seventy: Thoughts, Hopes & Dreams, author Robert Jobson described Charles’ deep anguish and anxiety after the engagement announcement, claiming that as Charles got to know Diana, he realized that they had nothing in common and were "totally incompatible." Jobson further insisted that while the media painted Charles and Camilla as villains, "The bottom line is that their [Charles and Diana’s] ‘fairytale’ marriage . . . was doomed from the start."
Did Camilla call Princess Diana cruel nicknames behind her back?
It’s only natural that Princess Diana and Camilla Parker Bowles loathed one another. After her marriage to Prince Charles had completely fallen apart, Diana became vocal about her husband’s infidelity and her bitter unhappiness. In the book Rebel Prince: The Power, Passion and Defiance of Prince Charles, author Tom Bowers wrote that in public, Camilla "kept her head down" and attempted to ignore the negative scrutiny and fierce criticism (via the Daily Mail).
In private, however, Bowers alleged that the Duchess of Cornwall was "seething." He wrote, "Her friends, at least, were never in any doubt about what Camilla thought of her lover’s young wife. In the early days of the marriage, she’d dismissively called the Princess ‘a mouse’. Later, she’d refer to her as ‘that mad cow.’" Bowers also claimed that Mrs. Parker Bowles decorated one of her guest bathrooms with "unflattering cartoons" of the Princess of Wales.
Camilla wasn’t the only using nasty nicknames to describe her rival. Diana’s friend, Simone Simmons, wrote in Diana: The Last Word that the princess called her husband’s lover "the Rottweiler." Simmons claimed that Diana said the reason for the nickname was "because she [Camilla] looks like a dog — and because once she has got her teeth into someone she won’t let go."
The ‘Camillagate’ scandal was branded as ‘sick’ by Princess Diana
Camilla Parker Bowles was already disliked by much of the British public when Prince Charles and Princess Diana separated in 1992. And then, "Camillagate" happened. The Duchess of Cornwall was mocked and vilified by the press, and thoroughly loathed by Diana’s supporters.
In 1993, an explicit phone conversation between Camilla and the prince was leaked. The phone call, which Los Angeles Times reported was "recorded by an amateur radio buff who picked it up on high-tech scanning equipment," took place in 1989 (Camilla was also still married at that time). The call was sexual, a little odd, and very intimate. The same outlet reported that many in the press maintained that the conversation lent credence to the theory that Charles and Camilla had been lovers throughout his entire marriage to Diana.
The scandal, though perhaps relatively tame by today’s standards, proved utterly humiliating for the future king of England and his girlfriend. "The backlash was savage. Establishment figures normally loyal to future King and country were appalled, and some questioned the Prince’s suitability to rule," wrote Ken Wharfe, Diana’s former bodyguard in his memoir, Guarding Diana: Protecting The Princess Around The World (via the Independent). The book also noted that while Diana felt ultimately vindicated by the scandal, she found parts of the call to be "sick" and "genuinely shock[ing]."
Did Camilla ever apologize to Diana?
As far as the public knows, Camilla Parker Bowles never apologized to Princess Diana for her affair with Prince Charles. In Rebel Prince: The Power, Passion and Defiance of Prince Charles, Tom Bowers claimed (via the Daily Mail) that Camilla was unrepentant about her actions and considered Diana to be a hypocrite. The duchess allegedly told friends that while she only had "one lover," Diana had several.
Ironically, Princess Diana somehow ended up apologizing to her husband’s mistress in 1989. In "archival recordings" released by National Geographic, Diana recounted confronting Camilla about the affair: "She [Camilla] said to me: ‘You’ve got everything you ever wanted. All the men in the world fall in love with you and you’ve got two beautiful children, what more do you want?’ … So I said, ‘I want my husband.’"
The Princess of Wales probably wanted an apology as well, but Camilla refused to give her one. Instead, Diana reponded, "I’m sorry I’m in the way … and it must be hell for both of you. But I do know what’s going on. Don’t treat me like an idiot."