Queen Consort Camilla Parker Bowles has undoubtedly lived an incredible life, from her early beginnings as an outdoorsy child to becoming the wife to the king of the United Kingdom. The royal has been a controversial figure since her very public, highly scrutinized affair with King Charles III was swept up by the media during his marriage to Princess Diana, but that controversy didn’t get in the way of her eventually becoming queen consort. As David Haigh of Brand Finance told NBC News, "She’s done a very good job of just keeping her head down and doing good things. I think she’s done her penance over the last 25 years. That’s why the queen rewarded her for her loyalty."
As we have seen time and time again, marrying into the royal family is not exactly a breeze, but Camilla has stayed the course. She once told the Daily Mail, "I don’t think I’m tough but I do think I’m quite a strong character."
From the Duchess of Cornwall to queen consort, here is how Camilla Parker Bowles grew up to become part of the royal family.
She came from a wealthy household
Prior to being in the spotlight and claiming the title of queen consort, Camilla Parker Bowles came up in a wealthy family. The daughter of Major Bruce Shand and Rosalind Shand, she was raised in an estate called The Laines in the Plumpton village of East Essex. As noted by Christie’s International Real Estate, the sprawling property, which sits on five acres of land, was once a rectory.
Camilla’s parents were well off. Per The Guardian, her father not only found success as a wine merchant after serving in the British Army, but served as vice lord lieutenant of East Sussex for nearly 20 years. What’s more, as noted in Vanity Fair, Bruce’s family made money in the import business, while Rosalind was born into an aristocratic family and was a descendent of a very successful property developer. Per The Independent, the queen consort also started building her own wealth from a young age and once received an inheritance from her grandparents for £500,000.
While some well-to-do families tend to have a reputation for being distant and cold with one another, for Camilla and her kin, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Camilla Parker Bowles’ family was very close
Camilla Parker Bowles may have grown up in an extremely rich household, but it sure sounds like that home was anything but stuffy or cold. In fact, the members of the Shand family were as close-knit as can be, something that the queen consort attributes to her strong values and rock-solid character. Touching on her strength and her family, she once told the Daily Mail, "You have to be, but I think it also comes from my upbringing. We were brought up in a very happy family and I can’t whinge about my childhood because it was idyllic."
Camilla’s younger years really do sound like something out of a storybook. William Shawcross, a biographer just so happened to grow up with Camilla, told Vanity Fair that the queen consort’s mother, Rosalind Shand, was particularly involved in the lives of her children. Shawcross continued, "There were ponies, dogs, picnics. There was no pomp, no snobbery, but a lot of fun for all ages. The Shands were a happy clan."
Being outdoors with her many animals helped Camilla to become a bit of a tomboy in her youth, which helped her make friends with just about everyone.
Camilla Parker Bowles was a tomboy as a kid
By the time Camillia Parker Bowles was ten years old, she was sent to private school. It was at this time and place that her tomboyish personality started to blossom. The queen consort was confident and strong-willed as a young child, which attracted the attention of both her boy and girl classmates. In the Sunday Mirror, Broderick Munro-Wilson, a longtime friend of Camilla, stated, "She was into boys much quicker than other girls of her age. There was this daredevil element in her. There is a certain boldness required to go riding, hunting and jumping, and that shone through."
Unlike other girls in her age range, the queen consort was less interested in dressing up and being proper and more passionate about doing things outdoors, like hunting and horseback riding. "She could talk to boys about things that interested them. … She was never a girls’ girl. She was always a boy’s girl," Carolyn Benson, a classmate of the queen consort, once said, per "Game of Crowns."
A rarity among young ladies from wealthy, royal background, Camilla’s rough and tough attitude combined with her sharp-tongued humor eventually led her to her first husband, Andrew Parker Bowles.
Before King Charles, there was Andrew Parker Bowles
Camilla Parker Bowles may be most known for her romance with King Charles III, but prior to marrying the king, she had a lengthy marriage to Andrew Parker Bowles. According to Vanity Fair, the pair were introduced in the late 1960s. After they met, the two began an on-again, off-again relationship that lasted several years, amidst Andrew briefly dating Princess Anne and Camilla starting a relationship with Charles in the early 1970s.
Surprisingly, Camilla’s relationship with Charles initially happened due to spite and jealousy. Per The Times, royal biographer Penny Juror once explained, "[Camilla] was passionately in love with [Andrew] but he was a cad, he was bonking other people. … So when she was introduced to Charles and he thought she was pretty special… she thought ‘Andrew is at the moment off with Princess Anne, you know her brother, teach Andrew a lesson.’"
Soon enough, Camilla and Charles were in love with one another, but her less-than favorable reputation as a partier, combined with her lower social standing made their romance nearly impossible. So, in 1971, Charles joined the Royal Navy, and their relationship ended. In 1973, Camilla married Andrew, and the pair started growing a family shortly after.
She had two children with Andrew Parker Bowles
Following her marriage to Andrew Parker Bowles, Camilla Parker Bowles had her first child, Thomas "Tom" Parker Bowles, in 1974, just a little over a year after the couple said "I do," per Town & Country. Tom is known for being a food critic and writer based in London, as well as an author of multiple cookbooks, as reported by ABC News. The queen consort’s second child, Laura Lopes (née Parker Bowles), came four years after her first. Unlike her brother, Lopes has a passion for the arts. She interned at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, then went on to manage an art gallery in London and found her own gallery in Belgravia.
Camilla’s children have nothing but kind things to say about her. Tom told the "BBC Five Live" program (via Hello!), "She’s a brilliant grandmother. … I mean, she works incredibly hard. She’d be the first to say that she didn’t really have a job apart from being our mother, which she was very good at, and suddenly at age 55 she is working."
While the queen consort’s relationship with her children may have remained strong over the years, her marriage, on the other hand, became incredibly complicated when she resumed her courtship with King Charles III.
Her passionate love affair with King Charles
By 1978, King Charles III finished his naval career and was still an eligible bachelor. Camilla Parker Bowles was five years into her marriage and a mother of two. Despite the countless women Charles dated over the years, none quite made him as happy as Camilla, but she was married and the likelihood of her divorcing Andrew Parker Bowles was out of the question.
So, in 1980, Charles started courting Lady Diana Spencer, eventually proposed to her in February 1981, and married her in July of that year, per Vanity Fair. Their marriage was notoriously doomed from the start, as Charles was in love with Camilla and Princess Diana was essentially a third-wheel in her own marriage. Just five years after their wedding, Charles and Camilla started their affair in 1986, as reported by Town & Country.
Over the years, the pair did a terrible job at hiding their "secret" romance, with both Andrew Parker Bowles and Princess Diana well aware of the extramarital liaison. According to The Times, three years into the affair, Princess Diana confronted the queen consort at a party in 1989, telling her, "I know what’s going on between you and Charles and I just want you to know that." By 1992, the whirlwind affair between Charles and Camilla would be thrust into the spotlight following the release of an intimate phone call between the two.
Camillagate was considered a threat to the monarchy
Though King Charles III and Camilla Parker Bowles weren’t exactly great at hiding their affair, they did want to keep some things, such as intimate phone calls, private from the world. Unfortunately for the two, transcripts of sensitive phone calls were released to the public in 1992, as reported by the Los Angeles Times.
The scandal was dubbed "Camillagate" and subsequently exposed the affair to the public, though it was well known inside the royal family for years. In the recordings, which took place in December 1989, Charles and Camilla constantly exchange sweet nothings to one another, and at one point, the conversation turns explicit when the future king desperately pleads with the queen consort that he needs her multiple times a week. "Oh, God. I’ll just live inside your trousers or something," Charles said in the phone call, per The Mirror.
The repercussions of the scandal were vicious. Princess Diana’s personal protection officer, Ken Warfe, opened up about how bad it was in his book, "Guarding Diana: Protecting The Princess Around The World" (via The Independent)."The backlash was savage. Establishment figures normally loyal to the future King and country were appalled, and some questioned the Prince’s suitability to rule," he wrote. The release of the tapes not only posed questions about Charles’ ability to take over the throne, but as the LA Times previously noted, it also made the royals reevaluate their security measures, causing quite a stir in the media.
Camilla and Andrew Parker Bowles divorced
Despite having knowledge of his wife’s affair with King Charles III, Andrew Parker Bowles was particularly affected by the "Camillagate" event. According to Express, Parker Bowles understandably felt embarrassed by the spectacle, which led to the two mutually filing for a divorce on January 11, 1995. In a joint statement obtained by The Washington Post at the time, the pair said in part, "We have grown apart to such an extent that, with the exception of our children and a lasting friendship, there is little of common interest between us, and we have therefore decided to seek divorce."
King Charles and Princess Diana, on the other hand, publicly separated in 1992, though the pair didn’t divorce until four years later in August of 1996, per History. With Camilla officially divorced and King Charles’ divorce following just a year later, the pair were finally able to take their relationship to the next level and go public, though the move didn’t come without difficulty.
She and Charles went public after his divorce
King Charles III and Princess Diana’s tumultuous marriage officially came to an end in August of 1996. Touching on the divorce, Princess Diana told the BBC (via Vogue), "We had struggled to keep it going, but obviously we’d both run out of steam." No longer a married man, Charles now had the freedom to start a formal relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles and take their relationship out of secrecy.
When Princess Diana died in a car accident in 1997, however, Charles strategically put his plans of publicly introducing Camilla as his partner on hold, as reported by Vanity Fair. Instead, the two kept their relationship under wraps. Behind the scenes, however, the couple were fighting for acceptance in the royal family. Prince William, Charles and Diana’s oldest son, allegedly had an awkward first meeting with Camilla in 1998, which led the latter to request a gin and tonic afterwards, per The Irish Times. A then 13-year-old Prince Harry, who was very close with his mother, was not present for the meeting.
After two years of building trust and a solid reputation among the royals, Charles and Camilla went public in January 1999 and were photographed leaving a party at the Ritz Hotel, as reported by Insider. Afterwards, the two started to attend more events in public and jointly show support for one another.
Camilla was officially accepted as royal when they married
King Charles III and Camilla Parker Bowles were together, publicly and officially, for nearly six years before getting married on April 9, 2005, according to the BBC. The couple had the support of the royal family behind them for the special event, with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip, along with Princess Anne, and Princes Andrew and Edward in attendance for the blessing, per People.
Following the marriage ceremony, Camilla was officially given the title of Her Royal Highness, the Duchess of Cornwall, and started meaningful work with her new royal connections. Among her many duties, the queen consort has taken charity work very seriously since officially being integrated into the royal family. She is president of Britain’s National Osteoporosis Society and brings awareness to the debilitating condition which took the lives of both her mother and grandmother as reported by Now to Love. Alongside her work with the society, Camilla has also dedicated her time to causes involving animal welfare, literacy, and domestic violence. "She believes it is crucial that she can use her influence to make a difference for women," a senior source with the Belfast Telegraph once revealed.
Her dedication to important causes and work in the royal family helped many to warm up to her, especially Queen Elizabeth. The pair’s improved relationship over the years helped Camilla earn the title of queen consort after Queen Elizabeth died in September 2022.
Camilla Parker Bowles became queen consort
After a 70-year reign, Queen Elizabeth II died on September 8, 2022. With Elizabeth’s eldest son, Charles, next in line to the throne, he immediately took the title of king, while Camilla Parker Bowles received the title of queen consort. As queen consort, Camilla serves as a counselor of the state.
The decision to give Camilla the title of queen consort came in February of 2022, during Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee. In a letter addressed to the public, the queen announced the decision, writing, "When, in the fullness of time, my son Charles becomes King, I know you will give him and his wife Camilla the same support you have given me; and it is my sincere wish that, when that time comes, Camilla will be known as Queen Consort as she continues her own loyal service."
While she holds the title of queen consort, Camilla has not had an official coronation as of this writing. The ceremony is scheduled for May 6, 2023, and both King Charles III and Camilla will be crowned during the event, per the BBC.
Her reputation has changed
The road to becoming queen consort has been a long and rocky one for Camilla Parker Bowles. Deemed a controversial figure for her involvement with King Charles III — a relationship many believe played a primary role in his divorce from Diana — she was made out to be a villain in the media. And on top of all the criticisms of her character, her outward appearance was picked apart for years. As NBC News noted, Camilla’s standing with the public got so bad, that she was even once considered to be the "most hated woman in Britain."
Despite her difficult and complicated history as a public figure, a majority of Brits support her and her new title. According to a 2022 YouGov poll, 53% of the population are on board with Camilla as the queen consort. Though Princess Diana’s death and legacy will never be forgotten, it looks like most of the British public has accepted the union between King Charles and Camilla, and thus support the transformation of a once rigid monarchy with a new queen consort as its face.