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Inside King Charles III and Camilla's complicated love story, from instant attraction to countless scandals

Inside King Charles III and Camilla's complicated love story, from instant attraction to countless scandals
  • King Charles III and Queen Camilla have known each other since 1970.

  • There was an "instant attraction," but they didn't get married until 2005.

  • There were secret affairs, love letters, and a famous princess in between.

King Charles III and Camilla first met in 1970, when he was 22 and she was 24.

King Charles III and Camilla Parker look at each other.
Charles and Camilla at the 2004 Mey Games in Caithness, Scotland.Christopher Furlong / Staff / Getty images

Charles and Camilla were introduced by Lucia Santa Cruz, a mutual friend who had been one of his first love interests after they met at Cambridge University, Evening Standard reported.

The pair hit it off immediately. According to The Washington Post, Camilla introduced herself to the future king with the line: "My great-grandmother was the mistress of your great-great-grandfather. I feel we have something in common."

Charles and Camilla's friendship turned romantic over the course of 18 months.

King Charles III walks with Lady Sarah Keswick and Camilla Parker Bowles in 1979.
Charles, Lady Sarah Keswick, and Camilla in 1979.Tim Graham / Contributor / Getty Images

Royal expert Marlene Koening, who wrote about Charles and Camilla's relationship for BBC's History Extra, told Business Insider that the pair were instantly attracted to each other. She said the young prince pursued Camilla with "elaborately-worded love notes and late-night telephone chats," and he loved that she enjoyed life in the country "with horses and hunting."

But their love story wasn't easy — even in the very beginning.

Charles and Camilla at a polo match in 1972.
Charles and Camilla were photographed at a polo match in 1972.Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

As Koenig reported, Camilla had been dating Andrew Parker Bowles (who also briefly dated Charles' sister, Princess Anne) on and off since she was 17. And there was no chance a senior royal, much less the future king, could marry a woman who wasn't a virgin.

"The number one rule, before the looks or the breeding of a potential royal spouse, was that she be a virgin first and foremost," royal historian Thomas Mace-Archer-Mills told Refinery29. "This rule has always been strictly observed for women marrying senior royals — it was a condition of marriage."

Charles' godmother later told royal biographer Gyles Brandreth, who wrote the 2007 book "Charles & Camilla: Portrait of a Love Affair," that a marriage between the pair wouldn't have been possible in the '70s because "Camilla had a history, and you didn't want a past that hung about."

When Charles left England to serve in the Royal Navy, Camilla didn't wait for him.

Camilla's wedding to Andrew Parker Bowles
Camilla married Andrew Parker Bowles on July 4, 1973.Frank Barratt/Keystone/Getty Images

The young couple had one last weekend together in December 1972. Charles wrote to his great-uncle Louis Mountbatten (lovingly referred to as "Uncle Dickie" by the royal family), that it would be "the last time I shall see her for eight months," according to Koenig. Months later, Camilla and Andrew were engaged.

When Charles heard the news, the "broken-hearted Prince of Wales locked himself in his cabin for two days and nights and refused to emerge for meals," Susanna de Vries wrote in her 2018 book "Royal Marriages."

Charles and Camilla stayed friends as she became a mother and he searched for his future queen.

Charles and Camilla photographed together in 1979.
Charles and Camilla in 1979.TIM GRAHAM/Getty Images

According to Koenig, Charles was linked to several women before Princess Diana, including her sister Lady Sarah Spencer. But that relationship went south in 1978 when, during a ski trip with Charles in Switzerland, Sarah had lunch with two British journalists and told them she didn't love the prince "and wouldn't marry anyone I didn't love — whether he were a dustman or the King of England."

Charles and Diana's courtship was as quick as their engagement.

Charles and Princess Diana in 1980
Charles and Princess Diana in 1980.©Pool Photograph/Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images

Charles was introduced to Diana in 1977, while he was still dating Sarah and had come to stay at her family's estate. The prince would later say during his and Diana's engagement interview that he remembered thinking Diana was a "very jolly and amusing and attractive 16-year-old" when they first met. In 1978, Charles invited her to his 30th birthday party.

A tragedy in 1979 brought Charles and Camilla closer than ever.

Prince Charles, Prince Philip at Dickie Mountbatten's funeral
Charles (left) and Prince Philip attending the funeral of Earl Louis Mountbatten in London on September 9, 1979.Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In August 1979, Uncle Dickie was assassinated by the Irish Republican Army. According to Koenig, Charles turned to Camilla for comfort after he learned the news.

"Camilla was the only person to whom he could talk about anything," Koenig wrote in the History Extra article. "She was his best friend, his soulmate, and, after the death of his great-uncle, lover."

Koenig said this second affair with Camilla lasted until Charles and Diana became engaged in 1981.

It was Camilla who encouraged Charles to propose to Diana.

Charles and Princess Diana pose in the grounds of Buckingham Palace following the announcement of their engagement in 1981.
Prince Charles and Princess Diana's official engagement portrait.Tim Graham/Getty Images

Charles and Diana reconnected at a mutual friend's barbecue in 1980, according to Koenig.

"It was Diana's innocence and her sympathetic nature that first caught Charles' attention," Koenig wrote in History Extra. "They saw each other, on and off, for the next few months."

In September 1980, Queen Elizabeth — at Charles' request — invited Diana to stay at Balmoral, her beloved summer home in Scotland (and where she spent her final days).

Camilla was also at Balmoral and Charles sought her advice "as he weighed the pros and cons of a marriage with Diana," Koenig said.

Charles and Diana's July 1981 nuptials became known as the "wedding of the century." But trouble was already brewing on their honeymoon.

Princess Diana Wedding
Princess Diana and Prince Charles on their wedding day at St. Paul's Cathedral on July 29, 1981, in London, England.Anwar Hussein/Getty Images

Diana discovered love letters between Charles and Camilla, according to Evening Standard, as well as cuff links with two intertwined C's that Camilla had given the prince. When Diana confronted Charles, he said they were a gift from a friend.

It was a moment that Diana would later recall in the tapes she sent to Andrew Morton for his biography, "Diana: Her True Story — In Her Own Words."

"Boy, did we have a row," Diana said in the tapes. "Jealousy, total jealousy — and it's such a good idea the two C's, but it wasn't that clever in some ways."

By 1986, Charles and Diana's marriage had collapsed. It wasn't long before he reconnected with Camilla.

Camilla and Princess Diana photographed at Ludlow Racecourse.
Princess Diana and Camilla Parker Bowles at Ludlow Races to see Prince Charles compete in 1980.Express Newspapers/Archive Photos

Diana knew of the affair and later told Morton that she confronted Camilla about it, saying she was "terrified" of her husband's lover.

"I said, 'I know what's going on between you and Charles and I just want you to know that,'" Diana said in an excerpt that was published in People. "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.'"

Andrew Morton's biography of Princess Diana was published in 1992, making it clear her royal marriage was hardly a fairy tale. Then, "Camillagate" happened.

Princess Diana and Charles in 1992.
Princess Diana and Charles in 1992.Getty Images

In January 1993, not long after Charles and Diana separated, conversations between him and Camilla that had been taped in 1989 were leaked to the press — including the infamous moment when the prince told his mistress that he wanted to be her tampon.

"The trouble is I need you several times a week," Charles told Camilla. "I'll just live inside your trousers or something. It would be much easier."

"What are you going to turn into, a pair of knickers?" she replied. "Oh, you're going to come back as a pair of knickers."

"Or, God forbid, a Tampax," Charles quipped. "Just my luck!"

Camilla and Andrew Parker Bowles got a divorce in 1995. Charles and Diana followed a year later.

Camilla Parker Bowles at the Ritz in London 1995
Camilla attends a party at the Ritz in London in 1995.Julian Parker/UK Press via Getty Images

Royal expert Kristen Meinzer told Business Insider that much of Charles and Diana's misery through the '80s and '90s could've been prevented if he had been "a little bit more like his mother."

"You know who married who they loved? The Queen," Meinzer said. "There was some pushback on her marrying Philip, but she did it anyway. She married who she wanted, even though there was some resistance."

"If Charles would've married Camilla from the start, everyone would've been happier in the long run," she said.

Charles threw Camilla a lavish 50th birthday party in July 1997. A month later, Princess Diana died in a tragic car accident.

Princess Diana tribute Kensington Palace 1997
A sea of flowers outside the gates of Kensington Palace before Princess Diana's funeral.David Giles - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

Charles had hoped to slowly bring Camilla into the royal fold after his divorce was finalized with Diana.

But after Diana's death in August 1997 — and the outpouring of grief that followed from fans all over the world — things had to change. Koenig told Business Insider that the royal family knew it would be bad optics for Charles to be seen with Camilla.

Charles and Camilla didn't make another public appearance together until 1999.

Camilla, Queen Consort, and King Charles III at The Ritz Hotel In London in 1999.
Camilla and Charles at The Ritz Hotel In London in 1999.Tim Graham / Contributor / Getty Images

The couple were photographed leaving Camilla's sister's birthday party at the Ritz Hotel. A year later, Camilla joined Charles on a trip to Greece with Prince William and Prince Harry.

The couple moved in together in 2003. Two years later, Charles and Camilla finally got married.

Charles and Camilla photographed on their wedding day.
The then-Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall on their wedding day on April 9, 2005.Hugo Burnand/Pool/Getty Images

According to Koenig, the Queen gave a toast at the couple's reception at Windsor Castle. In front of 800 guests, she spoke of the "terrible obstacles" the couple had overcome.

"They have come through and I'm very proud and wish them well," she said. "My son is home and dry, with the woman he loves."

King Charles and Queen Camilla were crowned during the coronation on May 6, 2023.

King Charles III and Queen Camilla on the balcony of Buckingham Palace after their coronation.
King Charles III and Queen Camilla on the balcony of Buckingham Palace after their coronation.Leon Neal/Getty Images

Charles assumed the title of King Charles III following Queen Elizabeth II's death in September 2022, and he and Camilla were crowned in May 2023 following a period of mourning.

The couple were crowned at Westminster Abbey, where Queen Elizabeth and Prince William's weddings were held.

Charles wore the same crown that had been used at his mother's coronation 70 years prior. Camilla was crowned with Queen Mary's Crown, which had been reset with diamonds that belonged to Queen Elizabeth.

 

 

The couple have remained by each other's side amid Charles' recent cancer diagnosis.

Charles and Camilla in January 2024
King Charles III departs with Queen Camilla after receiving treatment for an enlarged prostate at The London Clinic on January 29, 2024.Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Camilla is said to have visited Charles every day while he was in the hospital undergoing treatment for an enlarged prostate in January.

On February 5, Buckingham Palace announced that Charles had been diagnosed with cancer. The palace did not disclose the type of cancer in a statement shared with Business Insider but said the issue was discovered during the prostate procedure. Charles and Camilla attended church in Sandringham together on February 18, and the king has been photographed on multiple occasions since, though the palace said he would refrain from "public-facing duties" while receiving treatment.

Read the original article on Business Insider