After her marriage broke down, Princess Diana used every weapon in her arsenal to vilify her husband’s mistress. Pictured: Charles and Camilla at the Ritz in 1999
After her marriage broke down, Princess Diana used every weapon in her arsenal to vilify her husband’s mistress, an upper-middle-class housewife from Wiltshire.
She briefed media contacts against her, famously confronted her at a high-society party and then went on television, eyes dramatically rimmed with kohl, to denounce her as a marriage-wrecking adulteress.
And how did Camilla Parker Bowles react to this extraordinary barrage? She kept her head down, taking care to be neither seen nor heard in public. Yet behind the scenes, she was not only seething but preparing to launch a counter-attack.
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’.
Indeed, Camilla’s true feelings about Diana could be gleaned simply by asking to use the guest lavatory at her home, Ray Mill, in Wiltshire. While Charles’s loo in nearby Highgrove featured cartoons of himself, her own was festooned with unflattering cartoons of his wife.
In the one and only confrontation between the two women, Diana’s anger was evenly matched by the older woman’s fury — but Camilla was better at hiding it.
Both she and her husband, Andrew Parker Bowles, had been among the guests invited to a smart birthday party in 1989 at Lady Annabel Goldsmith’s house in Ham, near Richmond. Then, Diana had arrived unexpectedly.
The Prince and Princess of Wales attend a welcome ceremony in Toronto at the beginning of their Canadian tour, October 1991
In private, Camilla let rip. Diana, she told friends, was poorly placed to complain. After all, Camilla herself had just one lover, while the Princess was ‘working her way through the Life Guards’. Pictured right: Diana and Camilla in 1980. Left: Diana at Christie’s
The Princess was already well ahead in the battle for hearts and minds when her secretly recorded interview was shown on Panorama in 1995 (pictured)
‘Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded,’ she said in the interview (pictured). This devastating indictment effectively forced Camilla into seclusion for a year, while Charles doggedly continued with his scheduled appearances
Determined to emerge from the shadow of Diana — who’d conquered America in 1985 — Camilla decided, with Bolland’s help, to make a solo trip to Manhattan. Pictured: Diana in South Korea, 1992
While the rest of the room fell suddenly silent, she challenged Camilla to leave Charles alone.
Anxious to avoid a public scene, Camilla controlled her emotions. Then, coolly, she took the Princess to task for ‘unacceptable behaviour in a private house’.
In private, however, she let rip. Diana, she told friends, was poorly placed to complain. After all, Camilla herself had just one lover, while the Princess was ‘working her way through the Life Guards’.
It was an astonishingly bitchy remark, but Diana was equally adept at underhand thrusts. ‘Charles is obsessed by Camilla’s t**s, and I haven’t got t**s as big as Camilla’s,’ she told one journalist.
The Princess was already well ahead in the battle for hearts and minds when her secretly recorded interview was shown on Panorama in 1995. ‘Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded,’ she said.
This devastating indictment effectively forced Camilla into seclusion for a year, while Charles doggedly continued with his scheduled appearances.
Soon after the Panorama programme, he visited a market in Croydon, South London, where he ate jellied eels and met locals in a pub. The media totally ignored his visit.
Yet, on the same day, spectators and journalists had besieged Diana at a Paris fashion show, and she’d ended up dominating the world’s headlines. Dejected, the Prince ordered his private secretary to send him only cuttings with good news.
‘Mama down the road,’ he told a visitor, ‘reads newspapers; I don’t. It would drive me mad.’
Instead, he listened to Radio 4’s Today programme while on his exercise bike. Occasionally, enraged by an item, he’d throw an object at the radio. The set frequently had to be repaired.
Unlike Charles, however, Camilla was gearing up for a battle. Her lover’s approval ratings in the polls had crashed to less than 10 per cent, and she knew the future looked bleak.
The way things were going, she feared, Charles risked buckling under the pressure — or even failing to inherit the crown.
Princess Diana wearing a deep red at a state reception in Melbourne, Australia in October 1988
So in 1996, she turned to Hilary Browne-Wilkinson, the solicitor who’d recently handled her divorce from Andrew Parker Bowles, asking for advice on what could be done.
This led to a dinner at St James’s Palace with Charles, Browne-Wilkinson and her husband. Camilla didn’t hold back. Diana, she told her guests, was a ‘wretched woman’ who was creating havoc by refusing to adopt a dignified silence.
Her solicitor agreed, talking sympathetically about Camilla’s frustration at being cast as a self-seeking adulteress while Diana basked in popular esteem.
‘I’m not this awful person,’ Camilla complained. ‘I just wish someone would do something about it.’
It was Browne-Wilkinson who suggested hiring Mark Bolland, the well-connected 29-year-old director of the Press Complaints Commission, as a spin-doctor. Prodded by Camilla, the Prince agreed.
When the two men met, Bolland was offered the post of assistant private secretary. His sole purpose, Charles told him, would be to reverse Camilla’s image as his privileged, fox-hunting mistress, make her acceptable to the public and overcome the Queen’s hostility to them being together.
Later, Camilla took Bolland aside to offer some friendly advice. ‘Never push Charles too hard,’ she said. ‘Always remember his terrible childhood, and how he was bullied at school and by his parents.’
Bolland took this advice on board. Although he’d later be blamed for underhand machinations, he never embarked on a project without consulting Charles and Camilla. In fact, much of what he did would be at their suggestion.
It was Browne-Wilkinson who suggested hiring Mark Bolland (pictured with Charles), the well-connected 29-year-old director of the Press Complaints Commission, as a spin-doctor. Prodded by Camilla, the Prince agreed
Royal biographer Penny Junor, who has described herself as ‘the most hated woman in Britain’
And it quickly became clear that Camilla was often the one pulling the strings. Just a few weeks into Bolland’s new job, she was contacting him — as well as Browne-Wilkinson and Charles’s lawyer Fiona Shackleton — up to six times a day to discuss the next steps in their campaign to improve her image.
And when Charles called Bolland with instructions, it would often be immediately after he’d had an agitated exchange with Camilla.
‘You know, Mark,’ the Prince would say, in what became a familiar routine, ‘I think people should be told about . . .’
At other times, he’d be fixated on the harm he felt his ex-wife had done to him, and make derogatory remarks about her sanity.
Diana, he would say, was badly educated, without any O- or A- levels, and lacked self-discipline; nor did she have any interest in theatre, poetry, music or opera. (In fact, she loved opera and ballet, and played the piano daily.)
Blair’s breezy informality prompted a pained response
Eeager to please, newly elected Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair wore a tweed suit on his first visit to Balmoral and instructed his wife Cherie, although anti-royalist, to be on her best behaviour.
After meeting Charles, Blair judged him to be a mix of traditional and radical: both princely and insecure, nervous about the public’s reaction towards him and uneasy about informality. Later, Blair wrote him a letter, starting ‘Dear Prince Charles’ and signed ‘Yours ever, Tony’.
This got a pained response. The Prince’s private secretary called Downing Street to stipulate that, in future, Charles wanted Blair’s letters to start ‘Sir’ and to end ‘Your obedient servant’.
Blair’s private secretary replied that he refused to ask the Prime Minister to change his style.
Yet despite all Charles and Camilla’s best efforts, her star remained undimmed. At the end of 1996, in a poll of 3,000 people, Charles was voted the most hated royal, just above Camilla.
Media spin was not enough: something more had to be done. After some discussion, the Prince decided to co-operate with Penny Junor, a journalist who was planning to write a book sympathetic to Camilla. Bolland agreed to be the go-between on most issues, but excluding Diana.
And, to launch Camilla, she was to host a fundraiser on September 13, 1997, for the National Osteoporosis Society (her mother had suffered from the condition). And this would mark the start of a five-year campaign to transform her from adulteress into a suitable wife for the heir to the throne.
Invitations were duly sent to 1,500 people, including pop stars and other celebrities. Everything seemed set. Then came news of Diana’s car crash in Paris.
Hours after Diana’s death, Robert Higdon — the chief executive of Charles’s charity foundation in America — called an acquaintance at Balmoral, where the Royal Family was staying.
‘What shall we do?’ he asked.
‘Nothing,’ came the reply. ‘Our worries are over.’
Elsewhere in the castle, Charles was chanting: ‘They’re all going to blame me, aren’t they? The world’s going to go completely mad.’
In the hours after the Princess’s death, he was paralysed by guilt. One of the Queen’s courtiers claimed that even his sons were critical of him for what had happened to their mother.
According to some courtiers, Charles dithered about going to Paris until his mother told him: ‘I think you should get out there.’
Others recalled that he insisted, against the Queen’s wishes, on flying to France to bring back the body. The media, relying on Bolland, who was at Balmoral, reported that the Prince had taken control.
In the hours after the Princess’s death, he was paralysed by guilt. One of the Queen’s courtiers claimed that even his sons were critical of him for what had happened to their mother. Pictured: Flowers outside Kensington Palace after Diana’s death
Ten months after Diana’s death, however, Camilla was heartily fed up with being left in the cold. Pictured: Mourners outside the palace after Diana’s shocking death
As the nation mourned, Charles became increasingly angry about the status his ex-wife had gained in death. She was being mythologised, despite being ‘a nutter’.
As for Camilla, she retreated to Ray Mill. ‘She’s a wreck,’ Charles told a friend.
In the past, he also remarked — half-jokingly — he would have been sent into exile and his lover committed to a dungeon.
To Camilla herself, he wailed that she shouldn’t have to ‘suffer all these indignities and tortures and calumnies’. Both of them knew, however, that the campaign to make her acceptable had to be suspended.
‘Emphasise service, one’s duties and contribution,’ Charles told his staff. ‘And please keep pushing them.’
Ten months after Diana’s death, however, Camilla was heartily fed up with being left in the cold. She was mollified, however, when Charles arranged for Prince William to meet her — in defiance of the Queen, who still disapproved of her.
William was assured that the meeting would remain private, but Camilla’s assistant accidentally leaked it. In the furore that followed, all bets were off: some even blamed Charles’s mistress indirectly for his wife’s death.
This could not be tolerated. Orchestrating another fightback, Camilla and Bolland arranged for a journalist that Camilla knew to write a flattering article about her in The Sunday Times.
How Prince Charles dealt out his own Mafia kiss of death
At Highgrove and St James’s Palace, Prince Charles presided over what amounted to a feudal court.
Long-term employees whom he valued were granted a home, to which Charles would then pay a visit — a welcome sign of their place in the hierarchy.
Other favoured retainers were invited for dinner or to a garden party at Highgrove.
Lesser mortals received gifts, graded by his opinion of their importance. These would range from whisky glasses engraved with his motif to designer salt and pepper grinders.
At Highgrove and St James’s Palace, Prince Charles presided over what amounted to a feudal court
A typed letter, signed by Charles, was viewed as a very good sign, but the greatest trophy of all was a handwritten message in black ink.
What his employees feared the most was an expression of His Royal Highness’s displeasure. This was often signalled by the absence of a ‘please’ or ‘thank you’.
Worst of all was when the Prince blanked an employee. Everyone knew that — like a Mafia don’s kiss of death — this amounted to an overt threat to the courtier’s job, income, school fees and self-respect.
After dismissal, there was nothing. And there were plenty of casualties — from the Prince’s assistant private secretary, Mark Bolland, to the head of his charity foundation in America, Robert Higdon — who found themselves cut off without even so much a Christmas card to acknowledge years of loyalty.
Being blanked was ‘so hurtful’, I was told by many of them.
It was Charles’s way of making it clear that they were no longer useful. For him, loyalty was a one-way street.
Among other things, it ‘revealed’ that, at a recent meeting at Buckingham Palace, the Royal Family had agreed as a priority to normalise Camilla’s position in the royal household.
In fact, her name hadn’t even been mentioned during the meeting.
Next, Charles, Camilla and Mark Bolland met at Highgrove to construct another campaign. The first hurdle, they agreed, was to demythologise Diana by portraying her as a manipulative hysteric.
And, here, they were fortunate. Since Diana’s death, Penny Junor had recast her book to portray the Princess as an unbalanced and unfaithful wife, suffering from borderline personality disorder, who had compelled Charles to return to his true love.
When told this, Charles agreed. ‘We must get this out,’ he said.
Publicly, however, he claimed in a statement that he had ‘not authorised, solicited or approved’ Junor’s book.
Although Charles was at last seeing Camilla openly again, few were aware of the peculiarity of their domestic arrangements.
Camilla in her official role as patron of the National Osteoporosis Society welcoming Prince Charles with a kiss
Day to day, she preferred to live 17 miles from Highgrove in Ray Mill, a slightly shabby farmhouse bought after her divorce for £850,000. The Prince’s home, she complained, was too tidy and perfect.
‘It’s too small and too “Charles”,’ she told her friends. ‘I can’t touch a thing,’ adding that ‘Charles is always working, working, working’.
So Camilla alternated between staying overnight at Highgrove or St James’s Palace, and returning to Ray Mill — which also suited Charles. He even chose to sleep in a separate bedroom when they were under the same roof.
If she happened to be at Ray Mill when Charles had a sudden bout of melancholia or self-doubt, Camilla would be summoned by his valet, Michael Fawcett. Regardless of the hour of the day or night, she’d drive to Highgrove.
Thankfully, she could always make him laugh — or, in her words, ‘jolly him along’.
In return, Camilla no longer had to worry about surviving on the £20,000 a year she received in alimony. Charles paid off her overdraft, stabled her horses, provided a car and gave her increasing amounts of cash. Best of all, she didn’t have to find a job.
‘She has never worked in her life, commented Bolland, ‘and is terrified of being on public display. A member of her family described her to me as “the laziest woman to have been born in England in the 20th century”.’
In the opinion of some courtiers, however, Camilla was not lazy in one respect. She was tireless in her quest to establish herself.
Determined to emerge from the shadow of Diana — who’d conquered America in 1985 — Camilla decided, with Bolland’s help, to make a solo trip to Manhattan.
Propelling herself into the limelight was a gamble, but it was preferable to giving in to Buckingham Palace officials, who wanted her kept out of sight. The ‘Dark Side’, she called them.
On a green tour (in a jet chartered for £700,000) with the prince of hypocrisy
All too often, Prince Charles has seemed oblivious to the contrast between what he preaches and what he practises.
To the public, he presented himself as a worthy citizen, so concerned about making economies and saving the planet that he’d ordered bricks to be put in all his cisterns to conserve water.
This was all very well — but a quick glance at just one year of his travels exposes him as something of a hypocrite.
At the beginning of 2009, he chartered a jet for a ten-day ‘environmental tour’ of Chile, Brazil and Ecuador. Leaving aside the contribution this made towards global warming, the cost was £700,000.
Two months later, he flew in a chartered Airbus A319 to Italy and Germany to promote the British government’s climate change policies. The cost was £80,000 — considerably more than the £15,000 he would have paid for scheduled flights.
As usual, his justification was convenience and his inordinate amount of luggage — including his own organic beef and other special foods that he’d brought along for himself.
On his return, he used the royal train for a five-day ‘green’ tour to encourage young people to ‘tread more lightly on our planet’. That journey cost £90,000.
Soon afterwards, he travelled to a conference in Manchester on the royal train — pulled by a steam engine that produced 90 times more carbon dioxide than a family car.
His love of luxury travel is by no means Charles’s only Achilles heel when it comes to practising what he preaches.
In a video broadcast in 2013, he extolled the countryside’s ‘spiritual’ dimension, waxing lyrical about ‘the tractors in the fields, the skilled workers, the livestock, the growing crops and the landscape’s biodiversity, now so much under threat from climate change, diseases and insensitive development’.
Shortly afterwards, he allowed the Duchy of Cornwall to sell 55 acres of prime farming land in the Tregurra Valley, east of Truro, for a housing development, a Waitrose supermarket and a huge car park.
‘Prince Charles must have the skin of a rhinoceros not to recognise the hypocrisy of it,’ complained the farmers who grew winter feed and grazed their cattle on that land.
Readers of Country Life magazine were also puzzled. In the November issue that year, he’d written about the ‘folly’ of losing agricultural land to developers, and condemned supermarket chains for squeezing the incomes of farmers.
Yet self-interest appeared to overrule any sympathy that he might have felt for the farmers.
In another video message, recorded for Earth Day (on April 22) and delivered on behalf of the World Wildlife Fund, he urged people to turn off their lights for the sake of the environment.
That same day, he flew 80 miles from Highgrove in Gloucestershire to Ascot in Berkshire aboard a helicopter based at Farnborough in Hampshire — a round-trip of 250 miles.
Charles himself was dubious about the four-day trip in 1999, just two years after Diana’s death. But he allowed Camilla to persuade him.
By the time she’d arrived in New York, however, the Prince was wavering again. This time, it was because his friend Nicholas Soames had warned him the visit was generating too much publicity.
But when Charles told Camilla what Soames had said, she reacted with uncontrolled anger. ‘I won’t stop it. It’s my life and it’s the right thing to do,’ she barked down the phone. Both Mark Bolland and Michael Fawcett were with her in her suite at the Carlyle Hotel at the time, but she didn’t care who witnessed the argument. In truth, they admired her scathing dismissal of Charles’s doubts.
The trip had been meticulously planned. First, a three-hour flight on Concorde; then, as soon as she’d touched down, she’d been whisked off by a rich financier to spend two days recovering from the journey at his home in East Hampton on Long Island. A poor traveller, Camilla always insisted on ‘acclimatisation’ after a flight — even one that took only three hours.
From East Hampton, a helicopter flew her to Manhattan, where Robert Higdon — chief executive of Charles’s charity foundation in America — was waiting.
BBC boss who told Charles his taste was execrable
At the Bath Festival in 1999, Prince Charles took exception to a concert of Bartók and Schoenberg compositions.
The sound of them was ‘like scraping a nail over a blackboard’, he complained to John Drummond, the BBC music controller.
After a pause, Drummond said cuttingly: ‘Your taste in music is as execrable as is your taste in art and architecture.’ As the two men continued to argue, the Lord Lieutenant of Somerset, who had accompanied the Prince to the concert, became anxious.
‘You must stop this,’ he urged one of Charles’s courtiers. ‘Interpose your body between them.’
But the Prince was laughing. ‘I’m enjoying this,’ he said. ‘I like John. No one’s honest with me like that.’
After that, she plunged into a round of high-profile parties and charity events. Higdon arranged for the visit to be hyped in New York’s society columns. Privately, he felt that Camilla would have been better off staying at home. ‘It wasn’t the right time,’ he concluded. ‘It didn’t feel right for Camilla; it was too soon.’ She was ‘not great’ with Americans. Even worse, he claimed, she lacked get-up-and-go.
‘For her to get up in the morning and survive until nightfall is a major effort. It was even hard for her to get out of bed. She tries her best to do nothing during the day,’ he said.
‘The biggest problem was persuading her to dress up for a big occasion. The effort was overwhelming. Camilla was p****d off by the whole thing. It was horrible, a disaster.’
But, gradually, Camilla’s battle was being won. As the years passed, she appeared at various high-profile parties with Charles and was snapped accompanying him to the theatre.
The public, meanwhile, were drip-fed positive stories. That brooch she was wearing? It was a love-token given to her by Charles. Even trivial details were helping to alter perceptions.
No expense was spared to transform Camilla’s rather dowdy appearance with designer clothes. And her wisest tactic of all was to keep her mouth shut. So successful was the campaign that by 1999, 17 months after the Paris crash, Charles felt sufficiently emboldened to order his spin doctor: ‘Let’s risk the biscuit.’
After leaking details of where they’d be on a cold January night, they posed together for the first time, at the door of the Ritz Hotel in London.
Amid a thunderclap of flashing lights, more than 200 photographers and TV crews captured Camilla’s radiant smile.
She had good reason to be happy. Having once been one of the most hated women in the kingdom, she was now well on her way to becoming a queen.
REBEL Prince: The Power, Passion and Defiance of Prince Charles by Tom Bower is published by William Collins tomorrow, £20. © Tom Bower 2018. To order a copy for £14 (30 per cent discount), visit mailshop.co.uk/books or call 0844 571 0640. P&P free on orders over £15. Offer valid to March 31, 2018. Plus, get an additional 5 per cent off this title when you redeem through MyMail.co.uk