When, this morning, the national anthem was played in her honour, it was not only Queen Camilla’s 76th birthday, but quite a dramatic twist in fortunes.
If the past year has been significant with the death of the late Queen Elizabeth II, the accession of her husband Charles, and the transition of her own role from duchess to queen, the previous 30 years have been significant as well.
For much of that time it seemed likely that she would be recognized as anything other than a concubine, crowned Queen at Westminster Abbey.
It was a sign of the sensitivity she had to negotiate that after their 2005 wedding, she gave up the title of Princess of Wales out of respect for her husband’s late ex-wife Diana, and was instead known by the less grand title of Duchess of Cornwall.
Charles (pictured, left) and Camilla (pictured, right) had an instant connection when they met in 1971, according to reports but marriage was not considered a realistic possibility (pictured talking during a polo match in 1975)
Camilla and Charles finally tied the knot in 2005
Queen Elizabeth’s journey from being called a ‘wicked woman’ to becoming queen has been eventful (Image: King Charles and Queen Camilla at the coronation on May 6)
For a time it was believed that she would be known as ‘Princess Consort’ when her husband ascended the throne.
But as the late Queen marked 70 years of reign last February, she publicly expressed her ‘deep wish’ that Camilla be known as Queen Consort when the time comes.
It marked quite a change of heart for Camilla – allegedly, at least – described by the late King as ‘that wicked woman’.
Now known simply as Queen Camilla, she can look back on some satisfaction in a royal career, which got off to a disastrous start – although the King does not consider her ‘negotiable’.
Some, including her stepson Prince Harry, have argued that the Queen Consort planned to overhaul her reputation, which once described her as Britain’s most hated woman.
And she must have been able to change how many people see her, since she was first introduced and first met Charles.
According to royal expert Tina Brown, Camilla, whose father was a well-known World War II veteran, was raised in an aristocratic environment, where she often railed against the monarchy.
Brown once told LBC that Camilla was seen as ‘wildly attractive, extremely earthy, witty, always the absolute catnip to men’.
He added: ‘She was a very attractive woman and she could have married anyone really. She must have been hugely popular on the…singles circuit.’
And so, when Charles met Camilla in the summer of 1971, he was immediately taken, according to royal biographer Penny Juror, particularly because he was ‘in no way overwhelmed, dazzled or intimidated by her’.
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 began his own ill-fated marriage to Diana.
The two first dated in the 1970s, particularly during the period when Camilla’s on-off relationship with future husband Andrew Parker Bowles was ‘off’.
But as both marriages came under strain, Charles and Camilla began seeing each other again – and this was particularly frustrating for Charles’ mother and grandmother.
The queen regarded Camilla as an adulteress who had led her bachelor son astray.
Orders were issued that the then Mrs. Parker Bowles would never be on the guest list for the Queen to attend any formal event.
Camilla’s ability to bring out the lighter side of the King has been cited as a factor in how she has changed perceptions of him (Image: Royal couple at the Highland Games in May 2008)
The royal has been praised for dealing with overwhelming public anger towards her with humour, even signing letters to Charles as he was often described as ‘your devoted old bag’ (Image: Lionel Richie, Camilla and Tom Jones visit Barbados 2019)
Charles and Camilla ‘stepped out’ as a couple after a 50th birthday party at the Ritz. Photographers were waiting as they left the London hotel
Worse was to come.
Notably, there was the ‘Tampogate’ scandal of 1989, where transcripts of an intimate phone conversation between the couple were released.
The six-minute call was allegedly taped by an amateur radio enthusiast, who claimed to have stumbled upon the pair’s conversation while flipping between audio channels, and sold the recording to a tabloid.
During the call, the Prince spoke of his desire to get close to Camilla on intimate terms – and expressed his fear of being reincarnated as a tampon.
The transcript, also referred to as ‘Camilagate’, was so damning that Princess Diana declared ‘game, set and match’ after reading it.
It was seeing Camilla as a usurper to the much-loved Princess Diana that led the public to dislike her so much.
According to Tina Brown: ‘And the press went after him with such mischief. I mean, really horrible sexist comments about Camilla – I mean, they used to call her, you know, old bag, old trout.’
He added that Camilla would sign her letters to Charles ‘your devoted old bag’, as she has often been labelled.
In fact, many believe that this humor, and willingness to take offense, is part of what helped Camilla restore her image in the public eye.
Others believe that the queen consort’s influence over her husband played a role in her public acceptance.
Much has been said about Camilla’s sense of humour, with ex-boyfriend Kevin Burke once describing her as ‘never tongue-tied or shy’ and always saying ‘something funny’.
It seems his enthusiasm is contagious; Once buttoned-up and serious, the public-facing Charles now regularly smiles and laughs with Camilla by his side. On a visit to Canada, the couple famously burst into laughter while watching traditional Inuit voice singers perform.
Robert Jobson, author of Charles at Seventy, said his wife brought him ‘balance’, adding: ‘She has a great sense of humour. As a result he smiles and laughs.’
And Camilla certainly comes across as genuine, with a long-time friend once describing her as ‘100 per cent sure of who she is’.
‘He had no side, no complicity,’ they said. ‘She is warm, witty, endlessly cheerful and has the ability to laugh at everything and tease Charles out of his squeamishness.’
The leaked phone conversation between Charles and Camilla became known as ‘Tampogate’, the story was widely reported.
Charles describes Camilla as ‘negotiable’, highlighting how important she is to him (both pictured in 1979)
Her rehabilitation may, arguably, have been less of an accident and more of a design, thanks to the king’s efforts to improve the couple’s image after Diana’s death.
He appointed a press secretary, described by royal expert Tina Brown as ‘quite resourceful and… sophisticated’.
According to reports, the ‘Camilla’ campaign, which sought to endear her to the public, began in June 1997 under the leadership of Mark Boland, appointed by Prince Charles in 1996 as an assistant private secretary.
Reports say that the communications specialist took every opportunity to portray Charles as a loving father and concerned single parent, while winning public acceptance for Camilla, for example, by highlighting some of her charity work.
These include rape and sexual abuse, domestic violence, literacy and medical issues including juvenile diabetes and muscular dystrophy.