Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles’s love story has been anything but conventional. Despite marrying the young, beautiful Diana Spencer, the Prince never got over his older former girlfriend—and against all odds, Charles and Camilla got their happy ending 35 years after they first met. Here’s how their 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. (She will eventually attend Queens Gate school in London and finishing schools in Switzerland.)
Camilla, 4, and her 3-year-old sister Annabelle, at a wedding in 1952; Prince Charles the same year.
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 previously dated Prince Charles’s sister, Princess Anne. Camilla and Andrew 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.
Camilla Shand marries Major Andrew Parker-Bowles, July 4, 1973.
Charles, 31, begins dating Lady Diana Spencer, 18. The Prince briefly dated her older sister, Lady Sarah Spencer, who takes credit for the match, saying, “I introduced them—I’m Cupid.”
Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles walk with their friend Lady Sarah Keswick In 1979; Charles and Diana in 1981.
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 a newspaper interview at the time: "I feel positively delighted and frankly amazed that Di is prepared take me on."
Diana Spencer and Prince Charles ride in a carriage after their wedding at St. Paul’s Cathedral July 29, 1981 in London.
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 gets divorced and remarried; under the strictures of the time, he wouldn’t be allowed a second marriage in the Church of England, and the king is the secular head of the church.
In December, Prime Minister John Major announces that Charles and Diana have officially separated.
Prince Charles and Princess Diana on their last official trip together, a visit to Korea.
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".
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."
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.
Prince Charles, Prince Harry, Diana’s brother Earl Spencer, Prince William and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh during Princess Diana’s funeral in London.
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 declines to attend a private 50th birthday party for Charles because Camilla will 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 enjoy a night out.
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 will be there. It’s interpreted as a sign that she accepts the relationship.
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.
Charles and Camilla on their wedding day with their families, left to right: Prince Harry, Prince Philip, Prince William, Queen Elizabeth, Camilla’s father Major Bruce Shand, and her children Tom and Laura Parker Bowles.
Questions remain about what title Camilla will receive when Charles becomes King. Because Camilla is seen as part of the reason Charles’s first marriage ended, the official royal position is for her to 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 answers, "That could be." After an uproar in England, the Palace responds by saying nothing has changed and Princess Consort is still the intended title for Camilla.
On the balcony after Will and Kate’s wedding in 2011, Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall are photographed with Carole Middleton and Camilla’s granddaughter, Eliza Lopes, who was a bridesmaid.
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 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.”
Charles and Camilla visit the Grand Mosque on the first day of a Royal tour of the United Arab Emirates in 2016.
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.