To Charles’s intense annoyance, the Queen disapproved of his relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles, even when they were both divorced. In the gripping third part of our serialisation of a new biography of Prince Charles, Britain’s top investigative author reveals how a frustrated and angry Prince decided to have a late-night showdown with his mother at Balmoral . . .
On A late summer’s evening at Balmoral, Charles decided the moment had finally come. He was going to confront his mother and demand, once and for all, that she end her continued hostility to the woman he loved, Camilla Parker Bowles.
For years, both the Queen and her mother had refused to have anything to do with Charles’s mistress. Not only did they not want her present at any royal function, either formal or informal; they actively disapproved of her, and of Charles’s relationship with her.
Tensions: The Queen with Charles and Camilla on their wedding day in Windsor on April 9, 2005
But by the summer of 1998, Camilla was growing increasingly annoyed with Charles’s continued insistence that she must keep a low profile.
‘You’re off to the theatre with friends, so why can’t I come?’ she’d snap. She also wanted to meet William and Harry, and to be able to join Charles on holiday — and could see no reason, almost a year after Diana’s death, why that shouldn’t happen.
However, as the Prince knew better than anyone, there was no possibility of bringing their relationship out into the open without the Queen’s approval.
Princess Margaret, who sympathised with him, had tried to intercede on his behalf. But the Queen had told her sister she didn’t want to meet, or even talk about, Camilla.
So, exasperated by what he termed an intolerable situation, and egged on by Margaret, he approached his mother one night in her sitting room at Balmoral.
He asked that she soften her antagonism so he could live openly with Camilla. His hope was that the Queen, who rarely interfered, would at least not directly forbid it.
But on that evening she’d had several martinis, and to Charles’s surprise she replied forcefully: she would not condone his adultery, nor forgive Camilla for not leaving Charles alone to allow his marriage to recover.
She vented her anger that he had lied about his relationship with what she called ‘that wicked woman’, and added: ‘I want nothing to do with her.’
Met with a further hostile silence, Charles fled the room. In his fragile state, her phrase — ‘that wicked woman’ — was unforgettable. Tearfully, he telephoned Camilla. In fact, the Queen’s disapproval of Camilla wasn’t limited simply to moral grounds. She was also nervous that her character, exposed in the infamous ‘Camillagate’ tapes six years earlier, was that of a shrewd mistress.
Prince Charles, The Prince of Wales and The Duchess Of Cornwall, Camilla Parker-Bowles pose for the Official Wedding photograph with their children and parents
‘Oh darling, I love you . . . I need you all the week, all the time,’ Camilla had gushed. The much less savvy Diana never made such over-the-top declarations.
Charles was distraught. As far as he was concerned, his mother had shown that she had little concern for his happiness.
Carried away by a gust of tenderness towards himself, the Prince complained that neither Diana nor the Queen had ever sympathised with his needs. His mother even stopped him moving into Clarence House, then his grandmother’s home, after his 1992 separation from Diana.
Why? Because the Queen felt that he had to be reprimanded — and, in any case, the prospect of Charles entertaining Camilla in a palace shared with the 92-year-old Queen Mother was offensive to her. Instead, he was given St James’s Palace, a cold, comfortless dwelling. To make matters worse, Charles’s beloved grandmother had also remained implacably opposed to Camilla.
Was Camilla truly smitten by Charles?
Looking back over their three separate affairs, some members of their circle have questioned the degree of Camilla’s attachment to Charles.
Their first dalliance had taken place in the early 1970s, six years into Camilla’s on-off relationship with Andrew Parker Bowles, a captain in the Blues and Royals. Aware that her boyfriend had lovers on the side, she’d begun sleeping with the Prince.
Andrew Parker Bowles knew, and was unconcerned. Camilla had actually laughed with him about Charles, saying he was an emotionally immature boy, suitable for a fun fling.
It was Parker Bowles she was obsessed by and when he finally proposed, choosing her as the best of the bunch of his current girlfriends, she accepted. A week before their wedding, Charles rang from the Caribbean, where he was serving on a Royal Navy ship. Sounding desperately lonely, he asked whether she was sure about marrying, but didn’t propose himself.
After ending the call, Camilla immediately repeated the conversation to her fiance. They told each other that Charles felt isolated and depressed because his sister Anne had just married Mark Phillips.
From the outset, the Parker Bowles marriage was unusual. Army officers expected their wives to play their part in regimental life, tolerate regular relocations of home and maintain appropriate standards in dress and housekeeping.
Among her husband’s fellow officers, however, it was known that Camilla avoided all that — not least because, as Andrew admitted to his friends, ‘she’s bone idle’.
Instead of basing himself in their untidy country home, he decided to live in London during the week, where he was soon having successive affairs. So when Camilla resumed her dalliance with Charles in 1979, he again made no objection.
Even then, many of her friends felt, Camilla was not genuinely in love with the Prince, though she was flattered by his attentions. And then came her final affair with Charles, which began while he was married to Diana.
Even Mark Bolland, who served as Charles’s assistant private secretary for six years and became very close to Camilla, was unsure that it was ever truly a big love story.
Was it instead, he wondered, a case of two middle-aged people, at the tail end of their marriages, finding each other a convenient staging post?
Neither the Queen nor the Queen Mother would allow Camilla even to be present in the same room as them.
Both, however, pointedly welcomed her ex-husband Andrew Parker Bowles to receptions, race meetings and house parties.
Princess Margaret wasn’t the only one who’d tried to make them see reason. The Earl of Carnarvon, the Queen’s racehorse trainer and close friend, had volunteered to act as a go-between.
Unfortunately, that had been a disaster. After talking to the Queen, he’d subsequently switched to her side.
Charles had also recruited Angus Ogilvy, the husband of Princess Alexandra, to speak up for Camilla. And, rather dramatically, Ogilvy had informed the Queen that her son would neither compromise nor surrender.
Nothing made any difference. The Prince boiled with frustration.
Ironically, it was Diana’s infamous Panorama interview in 1995 that convinced the Queen that Camilla needed to go. More than 22 million people had watched as the Princess not only questioned Charles’s suitability to be king, but intimated that he’d slept with his mistress on the night before the royal wedding.
‘There were three of us in the marriage, so it was a bit crowded,’ she said memorably. After the broadcast, the Queen and Prince Philip — neither of whom Charles viewed as well-meaning advisers — told him that he could not rebuild his image nor dampen the controversy about the succession until he broke with Camilla.
His misery deepened, and under pressure from his mother he agreed that he and Diana should divorce.
Racked by self-doubt, he telephoned friends for reassurance, often talking well into the night. He mainly sought consolation in long calls with his divorce lawyer, Fiona Shackleton, and Camilla. ‘No one else,’ he later remarked, ‘was willing to lift a finger to help me.’
By December 1996, Charles felt that the entire House of Windsor was ranged against him. During the Christmas holiday that year, he brooded over his suspicion that his brothers, Edward and Andrew, were plotting his downfall.
Andrew, he believed, had been spreading poison about Camilla to the Queen and Prince Philip.
Now, mindful of Diana’s prediction on Panorama that he would never be king, Charles convinced himself that Diana and Sarah, Andrew’s estranged wife, were hatching plans to replace him as heir — by announcing that on the Queen’s death, or abdication, Andrew would be Regent until William was 18, when he would take over.
‘Andrew wanted to be me,’ Charles later told his assistant private secretary, Mark Bolland, who acted as his spin doctor. ‘I should have let him work with me. Now he’s unhelpful.’
As FOR Anne, his sister had aggravated the situation; instead of mediating between her siblings, she had criticised Charles for his adultery.
‘She’s one to talk,’ he said, irritated by her Goody Two-Shoes image. ‘Look at her past.’
The couple’s engagement was duly ‘welcomed’ by the Queen, though few could be sure what she really thought. Thereafter, the wedding plans hit one embarrassing snag after another
Anne, he declared, had enjoyed an intimate friendship with Andrew Parker Bowles at the same time that Charles was with Camilla.
By the end of the Christmas holiday, Charles had decided to ignore his parents and continue his relationship with Camilla.
So when Prince Philip wrote his son a private letter, urging him not to marry her, Charles didn’t keep it to himself. Instead, he angrily read it out loud to his spin doctor, urging him to leak it to a newspaper — which Bolland duly did.
On another occasion, Charles dared to tell his mother’s private secretary, Robert Fellowes, that the Queen ‘needed to move with the times’.
Unsurprisingly, the Prince’s advice was ignored.
Fellowes had no sympathy for Charles and Camilla. ‘Those two are the most selfish people I’ve ever met,’ he said.
As for the Queen herself, by 1997, she was feeling battered. ‘I cannot believe what’s happening to me,’ she confessed to an adviser, after describing her continuing struggle with Charles.
Philip, her most loyal ally, offered little comfort. He merely encouraged her distrust of Charles and reinforced her anger towards Camilla.
Relations between the two palaces at times descended into farce. When Charles held a fundraising dinner at Buckingham Palace in the Queen’s absence, he knew that she’d object if Camilla sat at his table.
The solution? Her name was kept off the seating plan, and she came in late — to slip into a seat opposite her lover.
‘While Ma’am is away, the mice will play,’ Charles told his guests.
After the showdown with his mother at Balmoral, Charles’s tactics became more sophisticated.
In 2000, he invited her to a 60th birthday party for King Constantine of Greece, knowing full well that she’d be loath to miss it — even though Camilla would be there. He was right: the Queen agreed to come, though she made it clear that she’d refuse to be introduced to his lover.
It WAS the Queen’s firm belief that Charles would not marry Camilla in her lifetime. Yet, in 2005, he proposed marriage to his mistress, by then aged 57
‘For Her Majesty, she does not exist,’ one courtier commented.
It was the death of the Queen Mother, in 2002, that finally led to a turning-point in the Queen’s attitude.
Initially, she’d decided that Camilla couldn’t be invited to the funeral, because the Queen Mother had disapproved of her so strongly. But she changed her mind after hearing Charles’s emotional tribute to her mother on TV.
And so, she relented — a little. Camilla, she conceded, could be present at the funeral as ‘a friend of the Queen Mother’, but not as Charles’s partner.
It WAS the Queen’s firm belief that Charles would not marry Camilla in her lifetime. Yet, in 2005, he proposed marriage to his mistress, by then aged 57.
The couple’s engagement was duly ‘welcomed’ by the Queen, though few could be sure what she really thought. Thereafter, the wedding plans hit one embarrassing snag after another.
First, Charles’s private secretary announced that the couple would have a civil ceremony at Windsor Castle, followed by a blessing by the Archbishop of Canterbury in St George’s Chapel.
The day Fergie chased Charles around Highgrove with a bible
When Fergie asked Prince Charles to her ex-husband’s 40th birthday party, he turned the invitation down flat.
It wasn’t because he wanted to upset Andrew, but because he couldn’t bear his former sister-in-law. Eight years after Fergie had been photographed topless while her ‘financial adviser’, Johnny Bryan, sucked her toes, Charles had still not forgotten her vulgarity.
Charles’s dislike of his one-time sister-in-law had escalated after she had chased him around Highgrove carrying a Bible, begging to be allowed to swear her innocence of her reported misbehaviour.
Within days, however, it emerged that three separate Marriage Acts specifically forbade the marriage of any member of the Royal Family in a register office. Charles could be married only in a church — yet the Anglican Church would not unite two divorcees.
On top of that, he’d ignored the fact that civil marriages must be held in public places. Windsor Castle was the Queen’s private home, which meant it was out of the question.
In the end, to limit the royals’ embarrassment, the Prime Minister Tony Blair and Charles Falconer, the Lord Chancellor, decided simply to overlook the statutes, and permit Charles and Camilla to be married in a register office after all.
The next cause for consternation was a YouGov poll that revealed the majority of Britons preferred William as the next king, and only 16 per cent welcomed Camilla as the next queen.
Yet Charles’s private secretary, Michael Peat, had already categorically denied that she’d ever be queen. After Charles’s accession, he’d announced, Camilla would be named princess consort instead.
He was wrong. Government lawyers quietly admitted that the marriage would not be morganatic — that is, a marriage between people of unequal social rank, which prevents a husband’s titles and privileges passing to the wife.
This meant that on the Queen’s death, Camilla could, and would, become queen.
To minimise public displeasure in the meantime, Buckingham Palace briefings described her as an ‘unwilling bride’ and ‘a bundle of nerves’ who’d gladly remain in the shadows — silent and supportive — and had no ambition to be queen.
In a similar vein, courtiers gave the impression that Charles had dithered about marriage until the Queen herself had persuaded him of the importance of averting a constitutional crisis if he were still unmarried at time of the succession. As supreme governor of the Church of England, he could not ‘live in sin’.
The wave of disinformation about Camilla being a protesting bride was soon ridiculed. This was a woman, her critics riposted, who’d always posed as reluctant.
There was no mistaking the Queen’s frostiness towards her future daughter-in-law. During the weeks leading up to the big day, she excluded Camilla from both royal ceremonies and official dinners
To get her way, she’d feigned resistance to marrying Charles; then she’d hesitated about accepting a royal title; and now she was pretending to oppose being crowned queen.
It was all nonsense.
Certainly, she relished the prospect of her new title. As Duchess of Cornwall, she’d rank above Princess Anne and Sophie Wessex, both of whom would be expected to curtsey to her and to acknowledge that no one could leave a room before her.
The final ignominy in the run-up to the wedding was the Queen’s unexpected disclosure that she wouldn’t be present at the town hall ceremony.
Charles was inconsolable. In every spare moment, he phoned friends and sympathetic officials to complain about his fate.
‘He needed to get things off his chest,’ recalled one person on the list for regular tirades. ‘He needed to let off steam. He would go on forever, far into the night.’
On top of declining to attend the ceremony, the Queen had also rejected Charles’s proposal for a glittering dinner party for 650 guests at Windsor Castle. Anxious to avoid any controversy, she decreed that it would have to be a modest celebration.
Then she vetoed Charles’s plan for his former valet and fixer Michael Fawcett — whom the Queen disliked — to supervise it.
Still, the Prince was at least allowed to choose the guest list for the reception, which included those loyal friends — the Palmer-Tomkinsons, the Marquess of Douro, the Earl and Countess of Halifax and the Duchess of Devonshire — who had allowed their homes to be used by the couple after Diana’s death, when they were trying to keep their relationship secret.
Wallowing in gloom during the run-up to his wedding, Charles was asked, half-jokingly, by one of his friends whether the Queen might abdicate. ‘No,’ replied Charles, taking the question at face value. ‘Can you imagine her looking out of the window of Clarence House and waving to me as I paraded in a carriage down The Mall?’
Meanwhile, there was no mistaking the Queen’s frostiness towards her future daughter-in-law.
During the weeks leading up to the big day, she not only excluded Camilla from both royal ceremonies and official dinners, but also remarked that there was very little special Welsh gold left to make Camilla’s wedding ring.
‘There won’t be enough for a third wedding,’ she pointed out.
On the morning of April 9, a small, enthusiastic crowd cheered outside Windsor’s register office. After the marriage, which was witnessed by Charles’s three siblings, the Prince and his bride shed a few tears as they went on to St George’s Chapel in the castle for the archbishop’s blessing.
The Queen looked serious as the archbishop asked: ‘Will you, his relatives, his friends and supporters, support the Prince in his marriage vows and his loyalty for the rest of his life?’
As she emerged into public view, she smiled then walked briskly to a side-room. The Queen was, as planned, just in time to watch the Grand National with Camilla’s ex-husband and other racing enthusiasts.
Afterwards, Charles looked warily at Andrew Parker Bowles as the Queen entered the reception. There was a call for silence.
‘I have two important announcements to make,’ she said. ‘I know you will want to know who was the winner of the Grand National. It was Hedgehunter.’
How Mandy left Charles plagued with self-doubt
Prince Charles and Peter Mandelson at a garden party
He may have been known as ‘The Prince of Darkness’, but Camilla was charmed by Labour spin-doctor Peter Mandelson when she was introduced to him at a dinner party.
Not long after the 1997 General Election, he was duly invited to lunch at Highgrove to meet the Prince of Wales.
Camilla was in high spirits. Recalling election night, she informed Mandelson that she’d worn a red dress to a dinner with friends, telling them: ‘I’m dressing for the future.’
Then Charles weighed in with his prime concern: what did Labour ministers think of him, he asked.
Mandelson reassured him that they saw the Prince of Wales as hard-working and civilised, with a deep social conscience.
However, he added, ‘some people have gained the impression you feel sorry for yourself, that you’re rather glum and dispirited. This has a dampening effect on how you are regarded.’
Charles looked stunned. After Mandelson had left, he turned to Camilla and asked her beseechingly: ‘Is that true? Is that true?’
‘I don’t think any of us can cope with you asking that question over and over again for the next month,’ she replied.
‘Well, then,’ said Charles, ‘how about for just the next 20 minutes?’
After the laughter subsided, she continued: ‘Secondly, having cleared Becher’s Brook and The Chair and all kinds of other terrible obstacles, they have come through and I’m very proud and wish them well. My son is home and dry with the woman he loves. They are now on the home straight; the happy couple are now in the winners’ enclosure.’
Amid the cheers of approval, few noticed that the Queen had not once mentioned Camilla by name. Nor did she speak to her during the party.
‘I can’t believe it,’ the new bride repeated to her friends in the room. ‘I can’t believe it.’
The Queen was also noticeably cool towards her son. As for Charles, he hadn’t appreciated her wedding gift.
She’d given him a brood mare as a wedding present, and a promise to cover her with a stallion and pay the expenses for the foal. Perhaps she forgot that Charles wasn’t interested in racing.
After her speech, the Queen again went into the side-room to watch a replay of the big race. To her irritation, the event hadn’t been recorded. ‘Someone forgot to push the right button, Ma’am,’ explained a nervous courtier.
At this point, the Queen headed for the exit, passing Michael Fawcett — the servant closest to Charles — on the way. ‘Oh look,’ she said loudly to Philip, ‘there’s Fawcett. He’s got so fat.’
Charles was waiting for her on the steps outside. ‘That went rather well,’ said the Queen.
‘Yes,’ Charles replied.
‘We’re leaving now.’
‘Oh, I really want a picture of us all.’
The Queen stood for just 52 seconds, then, without another word, walked away.
After she’d left the wedding reception, Charles turned to Billy Tallon, known as ‘Backstairs Billy’, who’d been the Queen Mother’s favourite steward.
‘If only Grandmama could have been here and seen this,’ he said.
‘If she’d been alive,’ Tallon replied, ‘you couldn’t have married.’
REBEL Prince: The Power, Passion and Defiance of Prince Charles by Tom Bower is published by William Collins on Thursday, priced £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 is free on orders over £15. Offer valid until March 31, 2018.
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