From ‘wicked woman’ to Queen: As Camilla turns 76, we look back at her royal journey

When, this morning, the National Anthem was played in her honour, it marked not just Queen Camilla’s 76th birthday but a quite dramatic turn-around in fortune.

If the past year has been significant, with the death of the late Queen Elizabeth II, the accession of her husband Charles and her own change in role from duchess to Queen, the preceding 30 years have also been remarkable.

For much of that time it seemed scarcely possible she would be acknowledged as anything other than a mistress, let alone be crowned Queen in Westminster Abbey.

It is a sign of the sensitivities she had to negotiate that after their 2005 wedding, she eschewed the Princess of Wales title out of respect for her husband’s late former wife Diana and was known by the rather less grand title of the Duchess of Cornwall instead.

Charles (pictured, left) and Camilla (pictured, right) had an instant connection when they met in 1971, according to reports but marriage was not judged a realistic prospect (pictured speaking during a polo match in 1975)

Camilla and Charles eventually tied the knot in 2005

Camilla and Charles eventually tied the knot in 2005

The journey from being called a 'wicked woman' by Queen Elizabeth to becoming Queen has been eventful (pictured: King Charles and Queen Camilla during the coronation on May 6)

The journey from being called a ‘wicked woman’ by Queen Elizabeth to becoming Queen has been eventful (pictured: King Charles and Queen Camilla during the coronation on May 6)

It was believed for some time that she would be known as ‘Princess Consort’ once her husband acceded to the throne.

But as the late Queen marked 70 years of rule last February, she publicly expressed her ‘sincere wish’ that Camilla be known as Queen Consort when the time came.

It marked quite a change of heart for Camilla had once – reportedly, at least – been described as ‘that wicked woman’ by the late monarch.

Now known simply as Queen Camilla, she can look back at some satisfaction at a  royal career, which had a disastrous start – despite being considered ‘non negotiable’ by the king.

Some, including her step son Prince Harry, have argued that the Queen Consort masterminded the overhauling of her reputation, which once saw her described as the most hated woman in Britain. 

And she certainly has managed to change how many view her, since she first came to prominence, and since she first met Charles.

According to royal expert Tina Brown, Camilla, whose father was a very well-regarded Second World War veteran, was brought up in an aristocratic milieu, where she often rubbed up against royalty.

Brown once told LBC that Camilla was seen as ‘wildly attractive, tremendously earthy, fun, absolute catnip to men at all times’.

She added: ‘She was a very appealing woman, and she could have really married anyone. She was definitely extremely popular on…the single woman circuit.’ 

And so, when Charles met Camilla in the summer of 1971, he was taken with her instantly, according to royal biographer Penny Juror, particularly because she was ‘not in anyway overawed by him, not fawning or sycophantic’. 

Despite their connection, Camilla was deemed unsuitable by senior figures in the Royal establishment and marriage was never really on the cards. 

Instead, she tied the knot with Andrew Parker Bowles, with whom she has two children, but the couple split in 1995 after 22 years of marriage.

Meanwhile, Charles embarked on his own ill-fated marriage with Diana.

The two had originally had a liaison in the 1970s, particularly in periods when Camilla’s on-off relationship with future husband Andrew Parker Bowles was ‘off’.

But as both marriages came under pressure, Charles and Camilla started to see each other once again – and this was a cause of particular dismay to Charles’s mother and grandmother. 

The Queen is said to have regarded Camilla as an adulteress who had led her bachelor son astray.

Instructions were issued that the then Mrs Parker Bowles was never to be on the guest list for any formal event at which the Queen was to be present.

Camilla's ability to bring out the King's lighter side has been cited as one of the factors in how she has changed perceptions of her (pictured: the royal couple at the Mey Highland Games  in 2008)

Camilla’s ability to bring out the King’s lighter side has been cited as one of the factors in how she has changed perceptions of her (pictured: the royal couple at the Mey Highland Games  in 2008)

The royal has been praised for dealing with the overwhelming public ire towards her with humour, even signing letter to Charles as 'your devoted old bag' as that was how she was often described (pictured: Lionel Richie, Camilla, and Tom Jones during a 2019 tour of Barbados)

The royal has been praised for dealing with the overwhelming public ire towards her with humour, even signing letter to Charles as ‘your devoted old bag’ as that was how she was often described (pictured: Lionel Richie, Camilla, and Tom Jones during a 2019 tour of Barbados)

Charles and Camilla 'came out' as a couple following a 50th birthday party at the Ritz. Photographers were waiting as they left the London hotel

Charles and Camilla ‘came out’ as a couple following a 50th birthday party at the Ritz. Photographers were waiting as they left the London hotel

Worse was to come.

Notably, there was the 1989 ‘tampongate’ scandal, which saw transcripts of an intimate phone conversation between the couple made public.

The six-minute call was supposedly taped by an amateur radio enthusiast who claimed to have stumbled across the pair’s conversation while moving between audio channels, and sold the recording to a tabloid.

During the call, the Prince spoke of wishing to be close to Camilla in intimate terms – and expressed a fear of being reincarnated as a tampon .

The transcript, which was also referred to as ‘Camillagate’, was so damning, that after reading it Princess Diana reportedly declared ‘game, set and match’.

It was seeing Camilla as the usurper of the much-beloved Princess Diana that led the public to dislike her so much.

According to Tina Brown: ‘And the press went after her with such viciousness. I mean, the really appalling sexist comments about Camilla – I mean, they used to call her, you know, old bag, old trout.’

She added that Camilla would sign her letters to Charles ‘your devoted old bag’, as she been been labelled as such so often.

In fact, many believe that this humour, and the willingness to take the abuse, is part of what has helped Camilla rehabilitate her image in the public eye.

Others believe the Queen Consort’s influence on her husband has played a role in the public’s acceptance of her.

Much has been said about Camilla’s sense of humour, with former boyfriend Kevin Burke once describing her as ‘never tongue-tied or shy’ and always having ‘something amusing’ to say.

It seems her enthusiasm is infectious; once buttoned-up and serious, public-facing Charles now regularly grins and laughs with Camilla by his side. On a visit to Canada, the couple famously dissolved into giggles while watching traditional Inuit throat singers perform.

Robert Jobson, author of Charles at Seventy, said his wife brings him ‘balance’, adding: ‘She has a great sense of humour. As a result he’s smiley and laughing.’ 

And Camilla certainly comes across as genuine, with a longtime friend once describing her as ‘100 per cent sure of who she is’.

‘She had no side, no complexity,’ they said. ‘She is warm, witty, endlessly cheerful and has the ability to laugh at everything and tease Charles out of his Eeyore grumpiness.’

The leaked phone conversation between Charles and Camilla that became known as 'tampongate', with the story reported widely

The leaked phone conversation between Charles and Camilla that became known as ‘tampongate’, with the story reported widely

Charles has described Camilla as 'non negotiable', highlighting how important she is to him (both pictured in 1979)

Charles has described Camilla as ‘non negotiable’, highlighting how important she is to him (both pictured in 1979)

Her rehabilitation, could arguably be less of an accident to some extent, and more of a design, thanks to efforts by the king to improve the couple’s image after the death of Diana.

He hired a press secretary, described by royal expert Tina Brown as ‘quite resourceful and…sophisticated’ to do just that.

According to reports, ‘Campaign Camilla’, which sough to endear her to the public, began in June 1997, led by Mark Bolland, the PR executive hired by Prince Charles in 1996 as an assistant private secretary. 

Reports says the communications specialist took all opportunities to show Charles as a loving father and concerned single parent, while winning public acceptance for Camilla, by, for example, highlighting some of her charity work.

This has included issues such as rape and sexual abuse, domestic violence, literacy and medical issues including juvenile diabetes and muscular dystrophy.

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