Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles’s love story has been anything but conventional. Despite marrying Diana Spencer, the Prince never got over his former girlfriend—and against all odds, Charles and Camilla got their happy ending 35 years after they first met. Here’s how their twisty, turn-y love story played out.
Camilla Shand is born on July 17th, making her 16 months older than Prince Charles Philip Arthur George, born November 14, 1948. The daughter of a British Army officer, Camilla grows up socializing with royals (her childhood home was recently for sale) and attends Queens Gate school in London and finishing schools in Switzerland.
Charles and Camilla meet for the first time at a polo match at Windsor Great Park, a royal park. They discover that they both love polo and the outdoors and have the same sense of humor. Camilla jokes about the fact that her great-grandmother had had an affair with King Edward VII, saying, “My great-grandmother was the mistress of your great-great-grandfather. I feel we have something in common.” They begin dating, but Charles leaves to serve in the Royal Navy for eight months. When he returns, Camilla is engaged to someone else.
In July, Camilla marries Andrew Parker Bowles, an Army cavalry officer seven years older than she is—and who had previously dated Prince Charles’s sister, Princess Anne. They go on to have two children, Tom and Laura Parker Bowles. Charles and Camilla are still friends—in fact, Prince Charles becomes Tom’s godfather.
Charles, 31, begins dating Lady Diana Spencer, 18. The Prince had briefly dated her older sister, Lady Sarah Spencer, who takes credit for the match, saying, “I introduced them—I’m Cupid.”
Charles proposes to Diana on February 6. (One report suggests that he popped the question in Camilla’s garden.) After the news breaks on February 24, he makes a slightly jarring comment when a television interviewer asks him and Diana if they’re in love. Diana blushes and says, “Of course;” Charles adds, “Whatever love means.” But he sounds more smitten in newspaper interview at the time: “I feel positively delighted and frankly amazed that Di is prepared take me on.”
On July 29, with an estimated 750 million people watching around the world—and with Camilla reportedly in attendance—they marry in St. Paul’s Cathedral. They have two sons, Prince William, born in 1982, and Prince Harry, born in 1984, but their relationship soon becomes rocky.
According to, he begins an affair with Camilla that year.
Diana confronts Camilla, approaching her at a party and saying, “I know what’s going on between you and Charles and I just want you to know that. She said to me: ‘You’ve got everything you ever wanted. You’ve got 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.’ And I said, ‘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.”‘
In June, Andrew Morton’s book Diana: Her True Story is released; the Princess of Wales had recorded multiple tapes for the freelancer writer, and its publication shocked the world, thanks to its explosive stories about Diana’s jealousy over Charles’s involvement with Camilla. Questions arise about whether Charles could be king if he was divorced and remarried—under the strictures of the time, he wouldn’t be allowed a second marriage in the Church of England, as the King is the secular head of the church. In December, Prime Minister John Major announces that Charles and Diana had officially separated.
In January, a transcript of a suggestive, secretly-recorded 1989 phone conversation between Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles (known as Camillagate) is first published in an Australian magazine and a German tabloid. British tabloids redact the most explicit (and embarrassing) elements of the private call. The news breaks only a month after transcripts of a secretly-recorded call between Diana and a man named James Gilbey (in which he calls her by the nickname Squidgy) were published.
Prince Charles had allowed a documentary filmmaker to follow him for a year and a half in the hopes of repairing his reputation, damaged by the stories of adultery. When the documentary airs, one portion has the opposite effect. The filmmaker, Jonathan Dimbleby, asks Charles if he was “faithful and honorable” during his marriage to Diana. Charles says, “Yes, yes…Until it became irretrievably broken down, us both having tried.” The Prince also discusses Camilla, calling her “a great friend of mine,” he said. He adds, “She has been a friend for a very long time—and will continue to be a friend for a very long time.”
In January, Camilla and Andrew Parker Bowles announce that they will divorce. In November, Martin Bashir does a televised interview with Diana where he asks if Camilla was a factor in the breakdown of her marriage. She says sadly, “Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.”
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Charles and Diana’s divorce is finalized.
Shortly after Charles hosts a 50th birthday party for Camilla at his country home, Highgrove, Diana dies tragically in a car accident in Paris. As the world mourns the loss of the People’s Princess, Charles, along with Diana’s sisters, flies to Paris to bring Diana’s body back to England.
Charles, Prince Philip, Princes William and Harry, and Diana’s brother walk in the funeral procession as mourners line the streets and pile flowers in front of Diana’s residence at Kensington Palace. Due to the overwhelming outpouring of grief for Diana, Charles pauses his campaign to introduce the public to his relationship with Camilla.
Charles gradually resumes the process of legitimizing his relationship. He confirms a report in a British tabloid that Camilla met Prince William, and the papers speculate that she will meet Prince Harry soon as well. However, the Queen doesn’t approve of the previously-adulterous relationship, and declined to attend a private 50th birthday party for Charles because Camilla would be there.
In January, Charles throws a 50th birthday party for Camilla’s sister at the Ritz Hotel in London. He and Camilla arrive separately but leave the party together in full view of crowds of reporters and photographers ready to capture them appearing in public together for the first time. Later that year, she and Charles vacation in Greece with Princes William and Harry.
Charles and Camilla still face the hurdle of getting the Queen’s official approval. At last, she accepts an invitation to an event at Highgrove—a 60th birthday party for the King of Greece—knowing Camilla would be there. It’s interpreted as a sign that she accepts the relationship.
The couple move into Clarence House. The Royal Family make it known that British taxpayer money won’t be used to decorate Camilla’s rooms.
In February, Charles and Camilla, announce their engagement 35 years after they first met. On April 8, they marry in a civil ceremony with Prince William as the best man. The Queen does not attend the wedding, but does go to the reception afterward. In order to have Diana remain as the only Princess of Wales, Camilla gains the title Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall.
Questions remain about what title Camilla would receive when Charles becomes King. Because Camilla seen as part of the reason Charles’s first marriage ended, the official royal position was she would receive the title of Princess Consort instead of Queen. But in an interview with Brian Williams, when asked, “Does the Duchess of Cornwall become Queen of England if and when you become the monarch?” the Prince answered, “That could be.” After an uproar in England, the Palace responds by saying nothing had changed and Princess Consort was still the intended title for Camilla.
On June 9, Camilla (as well as Prince William) is named to the Privy Council, a group of the Queen’s most senior advisors. Reports speculate that the Queen wanted to ensure that they both will be present when Charles is named the King after her death.
On May 27, approaching her 70th birthday, Camilla gives an interview to the Daily Mail where she refers obliquely to her affair with Charles and the press attention that came with it. “It was horrid. It was a deeply unpleasant time and I wouldn’t want to put my worst enemy through it. I couldn’t have survived it without my family.” Asked if she is good at moving on, she says, “Most definitely, yes.”
The couple self-isolate at Birkhall, their home on the Queen’s Balmoral estate, amid the coronavirus pandemic. Charles tests positive for the virus, but experiences a mild case and recovers quickly; the couple is reunited after they complete their respective quarantines. To mark their 15th wedding anniversary, the couple release a photo of themselves outside Birkhall with their dogs Bluebell and Beth.
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