Review: Vivien Horler
The Duchess – the untold story (William Collins/ Jonathan Ball)
In the late 1960s Camilla Shand, the woman who was to become Prince Charles’s second wife, had a boyfriend called Andrew Parker Bowles.
He was a “deb’s delight”, the sort of man young upperclass British girls fancied rotten. He was good-looking, charming, a polo player and an officer in the Household Cavalry.
He was fond of Camilla, but then he was fond of a lot of girls. Camilla was determined to marry him. The early years of their relationship marked what journalist and biographer Penny Junor describes as the beginning of “a long torturous romance”, because he couldn’t resist other women, many of them Camilla’s friends.
A young Chilean historian, Lucia Santa Cruz, lived in the flat above Camilla in London’s Belgravia, and felt sorry for her. Santa Cruz happened to know Prince Charles, then 22 and with no girlfriend, and in 1971 introduced the pair.
“Now you two be very careful, you’ve got genetic antecedents,” Santa Cruz told them. “Careful, CAREFUL!
Santa Cruz was quite right. Some 70 years earlier Camilla’s great-grandmother, the famous beauty Alice Keppel, had for 12 years been the favourite mistress of Charles’s great-great grandfather, King Edward VII, son of Victoria.
Morality was more relaxed in those days – the king was married, but he cheerfully paraded Alice at his side in public. Queen Alexandra even welcomed her to Windsor Castle.
The family history might have helped, but Charles was charmed by Camilla. She was not overawed by his position, but was natural, easy and friendly, and laughed at the same silly things he did. Charles was soon seriously in love for the first time.
But for Camilla, Andrew was THE one, despite the fact that he was having a fling with Charle’s sister, Princess Anne. That was never going to come to anything. Not much was likely to come from the relationship between Charles and Camilla either, because the royal family didn’t think she was aristocratic enough to become queen, and nor was she a virgin.
So in March 1973, when Charles was away in the West Indies in the Royal Navy, Andrew proposed to Camilla and she accepted.
Camilla assumed marriage would stop Andrew’s wandering eye, but of course it did nothing of the sort.
Junor says, contrary to Diana’s claims and popular opinion, Camilla and Charles did not resume their affair until Charles and Diana’s marriage had broken down irretrievably, and that she re-entered his life as a lover only after they had separated.
Public opinion was very much in Diana’s favour after the royal split, and in an effort to present himself as a decent and hard-working man, Charles gave a television interview in which he admitted he had committed adultery while still married to Diana.
This programme caused a sensation and, says Junor, led directly to Andrew, the man who had so thoroughly played around throughout his marriage, divorcing Camilla; to Diana’s devastating Panorama interview (“there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded”), and to the royal divorce.
As we all know, a lot of water has flowed under Tower Bridge since then, and today Charles and Camilla are happily married.
Junor believes that both Charles and Diana were damaged by their childhoods: Charles grew up with distant, chilly parents who rarely praised him; and Diana’s mother left the family before Diana was 10.
As a result, throughout their lives both craved affection and admiration and on occasion went to inappropriate lengths to seek it.
Poor Diana died without ever finding the happiness she wanted; luckily for Charles he has Camilla. She has turned out, somewhat unexpectedly, says Junor, to be a real asset to the royal family.
She has become a hard-working patron of several causes other royals shied away from, such as osteoporosis, domestic abuse and Rape Crisis, and she has given Charles encouragement and belief in himself he had never had before, so that he is relaxed and happy. When Charles becomes king, she will be “the strength behind the throne”, says Junor, adding: “I suspect history will be a kinder judge of their story than their contemporaries have been.”
The book is an easy and pleasant read, although the pace slows towards the end when Junor goes into Camilla’s public works. But if you’re interested in the British royal family, you’ll enjoy it.
- This review also appeared in Weekend Argus on Sunday today.