Camilla, the second wife of Prince Charles, became queen consort with the accession of her husband to the throne, a consecration wanted by Queen Elizabeth, but which took more than 20 years.
For a long time, the British considered her a homewrecker, for having been the mistress of Charles when he was married to Princess Diana. And her future title had been the subject of countless debates, before Elizabeth II decided in February 2022 on the occasion of her 70th birthday, expressing “the sincere wish” that Camilla would be known “as Queen Consort” when Charles acceded to the throne.
For years, Camilla, 75, has worked tirelessly for the British crown, with dozens of engagements per year, to the point that she has become an essential cog in the wheel.
In January 2022 the Queen made her a “Dame of the Order of the Garter”, the most prestigious of British chivalry.
But it took time to the one who is known as the Duchess of Cornwall since her marriage to Charles in 2005, to get there.
The reluctant queen had not come to their civil wedding in Windsor.
Princess Diana, who had very quickly understood that Camilla was the great love of Charles’ life, had nicknamed her the “Rottweiler”, a nickname that would follow her for years.
Divorced, mother of two adult children and grandmother of five young teenagers, Camilla, with her white hair helmet and benevolent relaxation, slowly imposed herself. Sponsor of dozens of associations, she has invested in subjects that are dear to her such as reading, or violence against women: she tries to visit shelters as often as possible during her trips abroad, she recently told Vogue magazine.
During COVID-19, she also launched a book club on Instagram, where she offers recommendations and brings in authors.
She is also interested in health, animals, also talks about gardening.
Her sense of duty, her simplicity and her humor have slowly overcome some of the reluctance.
Her popularity has rebounded, but she remains one of the least liked members of the royal family, at only 40 percent favorable, according to a 2022 YouGov poll.
Fewer than half of Britons last year wanted her to become queen.
Yet many recognize the positive impact she has had on her husband.
“People realize that Camilla is ideal for Charles and that they work wonderfully well as a team,” royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliams tells AFP.
A War of the Welsh
Being in the eye of the media all the time “is not easy” she also confided in this rare interview with Vogue last July. “No one likes to be watched all the time and criticized… but I think in the end I got over it […] You have to keep living”.
Despite their busy schedules, she tries to share a moment with her husband each day, even if it’s just to read a book by herself in the same room. “It’s very relaxing,” she says, “because you know you don’t have to do the talking.
Born into the upper middle class, the eldest daughter of a former officer turned wine merchant, Camilla Shand grew up in Sussex, before attending the best private schools in London, then Switzerland, before studying French literature in Paris for six months. She met the prince in 1971, without belonging to the nobility, she navigates in the same circles as Charles. She is passionate about horseback riding, a common trait with the Queen.
She even has some ties to the royal family. Great-granddaughter of Alice Keppel, one of the mistresses of King Edward VII, Charles’ great-grandfather.
They had a brief affair, but the prince joined the Royal Navy and Camilla married one of his admirers, Major Andrew Parker Bowles.
A few years later, she encouraged the still single Prince of Wales to marry Diana, in 1981.
While both are still married, they resume their affair. The tabloid press will publish some of their intimate telephone conversations, in a “Wales war” as ruthless as humiliating.
With the divorce of Charles and Diana in 1996, Camilla can begin to appear alongside Charles. But the death of the princess, in August 1997, sends her back into the shadows.
Prince Charles then launched a real campaign of seduction to get her accepted: the appearances of Camilla, who has always refused the title of Princess of Wales, too related to Diana, are carefully calibrated.
To be accepted by the royal family, and by the sons of Charles, Princes William and Harry, will not have been easy.
When others at her age would aim for a deserved retirement, she was determined to continue her philanthropic work for as long as possible. You can’t give up when you’re in the middle of something, she says.