Queen Camilla's Relationship With The British Press And How She Turned It Around

If there was (and still is) a queen of people's hearts, it's the late Diana Spencer. Appropriately dubbed the people's princess throughout her lifetime, Diana brought the royal family to its knees with her sharp wit, her dedication to speaking her truth, and her warm demeanor when interacting with the public. She was not the tiaras, gloves, formality, and coldness that so many associate with the royals; she was controversial, yes, but beloved by many who saw her as the jolt that the firm needed to be brought into the 21st century. Her tragic death in 1997 galvanized the public and the press, and many have firmly remained on her side since. It's no wonder, then, that Camilla Parker Bowles — the other woman in Diana's marriage to then-Prince Charles — was absolutely ripped to shreds.

Camilla has been on the scene since the 1970s and her early relationship with Charles was short-lived. Quickly deemed an inappropriate match for the future king due to her dating history and bold demeanor, Camilla went on to marry Andrew Parker Bowles, but her relationship with Charles never truly faded. Naturally, the press caught wind of her affair with Charles and ran with it, dominating the headlines for decades and dragging her in the process. Camilla's relationship with the British press has been incredibly complex, riddled with stress and drama, but has somehow come out the other side intact and mutually beneficial. We're here to break it all down.

Charles and Camilla's affair was the worst kept secret from the press from the very beginning

When a young Prince Charles was in the dating scene, his path crossed with Camilla Parker Bowles' in an impactful way. It was the 1970s, and everyone was waiting for him to tie the knot. He eventually did, but with a young Diana Spencer, and it seemed as though their fairytale wedding was everything the royal family wanted. Many royal watchers know that Diana found evidence of Charles' ongoing relationship with Camilla shortly before the wedding (via Cosmopolitan), and to say that the affair was the worst kept secret in Britain is a serious understatement. 

Though the Waleses made it through the 1980s (albeit barely), the 1990s brought a new level of hostility between them, and by 1992, the press caught wind of just how serious Camilla and Charles' relationship was. It was shocking when journalist Andrew Morton released "Diana: In Her Own Words" that same year. The princess recorded herself speaking about her experiences, and it was at this point that she addressed Camilla and Charles' affair head on.

"I said, 'Camilla, I'd just like you to know that I know exactly what's going on,'" Diana recalled of when she confronted Camilla about the affair. "And she said, 'I don't know what you're talking about.' And I said, 'I know what's going on between you and Charles, and I just want you to know that. ... Don't treat me like an idiot.'"

The tabloids dragged Camilla over the fire in 1993 with this embarrassing story

Prince Charles and Diana Spencer formally separated in 1992, though the palace made it clear that divorce was not on the table — certainly not for the future king of England. The following year, however, Camilla Parker Bowles' relationship with the British press took a turn for the worse, and Charles was caught up in the scandal. 

Dubbed "Tampongate," the press got a hold of a private conversation between Charles and Camilla that took place in 1989 (via TIME Magazine). The exchange was ... explicit to say the very least, and was recorded by a civilian who kept ahold of it for years. During the phone call, Charles said that he wanted to "live inside [Camilla's] trousers," and went on to say that he wished he was a tampon so he could stay in her forever. Yes, the king of England said that, everyone. 

By the time the recording made its way to Richard Scott, the editor of The Mirror at the time, he was worried that releasing its contents would further ignite the fuel between Charles and Diana and damage the royal family. Queen Elizabeth II was also reeling from the fire that engulfed Windsor Castle, leaving the firm incredibly unstable. But when Diana and Charles separated in 1992, it was open hunting season, and the contents of the call were released in January 1993. Unsurprisingly, Camilla became public enemy number one.

Charles finally admitted his affair in 1994, and the press had a field day with Camilla

When Prince Charles and Diana Spencer announced that they were separating in 1992, Charles remained rather tight-lipped about his ongoing affair with Camilla Parker Bowles. About a year and a half later, however, he finally addressed his infidelity during his famous sit-down interview with Jonathan Dimbleby. Dubbed the interview that "stunned the nation" (per The Guardian) at the time of its airing, the conversation ranged in topics before finally landing on Charles' relationship with Camilla. When asked if he had remained "faithful and honorable" during his marriage, Charles quipped, "Yes, until [the marriage] became irretrievably broken down, us both having tried" (via RadioTimes).

Such an admission was certainly shocking, and it's no wonder that Camilla received the sharp end of the British press' stick as more and more information about her affair with Charles became public. Speaking to You Magazine in 2017 about that period of time, Camilla got candid about the press attention and just how all consuming it really was.

"I couldn't really go anywhere. But the children came and went as normal — they just got on with it, and so did great friends," she said, before reflecting on just how difficult it was to be trapped inside her own house. "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," she remarked.

Camilla earned a reputation, and a nickname, amid the War of the Waleses

The early 1990s not only solidified that Prince Charles and Diana Spencer's marriage was going downhill fast, but if the British press were to have any say, it was all Camilla Parker Bowles' fault. Admissions, the separation, "Tampongate," the Jonathan Dimbleby interview — everything had been accumulating. By the mid-1990s, Camilla was dubbed "the most hated woman in Britain" by the tabloids. Charles, almost predictably, referred to Camilla as a friend during his expository interview, saying, "She is a great friend of mine. She has been a friend for a very long time — and will continue to be a friend for a very long time." However, the press had a very different idea about the actual nature of their relationship.

Of course, any royal watcher knows that the British media and the members of the royal rota are notoriously brutal, but Camilla was certainly positioned to take the brunt of the backlash. Roddi Vaughan-Thomas, the PR executive at OBS, discussed just how targeted Camilla was during this period of time, telling NBC News that her reputation amid the War of the Waleses added fuel to an already burning fire.

"[She was] evil Camilla," Vaughan-Thomas said of Camilla's reputation as things between Charles and Diana continued to dissolve throughout the 1990s. "She was seen as the person who was driving the wedge between the fairy tale princess and the Prince of Wales."

Scrutiny about Camilla increased tenfold after Diana's infamous BBC interview

Without a doubt, 1995 changed everything for Prince Charles and Diana Spencer's marriage. After years of tension, infidelity, and warring narratives playing out in the press, Diana sat down with the BBC's Martin Bashir for what would become one of, if not the most infamous interviews a member of the royal family has ever given. 

Speaking about the realities of her marriage in a way that she never had before, Diana addressed Camila Parker Bowles specifically, uttering one of her most famous lines. Asking her if Camilla was the reason for her marriage's demise, Diana simply said, "Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded." If Camilla wasn't already the press and public's enemy number one, she was now.

Diana went on to share even more intimate details about her life and marriage to Charles, discussing her struggle with an eating disorder in detail and how it was a reflection of her husband's affair with Camilla. "It was a symptom of what was going on in my marriage. I was crying out for help, but giving the wrong signals, and people were using my bulimia as a coat on a hanger. They decided that was the problem: Diana was unstable," she said. "The cause was the situation where my husband and I had to keep everything together because we didn't want to disappoint the public."

Camilla came under intense fire after Charles and Diana got divorced in 1995

With dueling interviews, the revenge dress, and Diana Spencer's sit-down with Martin Bashir, Queen Elizabeth II finally implored her and Prince Charles to pull the plug on their marriage. Not only was Charles' ongoing affair with Camilla Parker Bowles the main narrative surrounding the Waleses, but it was also starting to negatively impact the standing of the royal family with the public. 

Thus, Charles and Diana agreed to get divorced in a move that no one truly thought would take place for a couple within the royal family, let alone the future king (per Vanity Fair). As for Camilla, she got divorced from her husband, Andrew Parker Bowles, the previous year, giving the British press even more of an opportunity to credit her as the reason for Charles and Diana's split.

Years later, in an interview with British Vogue, Camilla reflected on what that period of time was like for her. Facing backlash from the press in epic proportions, Camilla shared that Charles' own divorce helped calm tensions slightly, but it was still a horrible time for her. "I was scrutinized for such a long time that you just have to find a way to live with it," Camilla said. "Nobody likes to be looked at all the time and, you know, criticized and...But I think in the end, I sort of rise above it and get on with it. You've got to get on with life."

Charles and Camilla had to change press tactics after Diana's 1997 death

One could say that the world stood still when the news of Diana Spencer's death broke. She was an extraordinary woman, and losing her so quickly was tragic. Though she was divorced and moving on from her time within the guise of the royal family, Diana was still a beloved public figure, and her reputation alone had caused Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles to think very carefully as to how to proceed with their relationship in the public eye. Their plan of becoming "transparent" with their romance and finally dating, however, was tossed out the window when Diana died in 1997, and the press didn't really get wind of the couple until the following year.

It wasn't until July 1998 — almost a year after Diana's death — that Prince William met Camilla for the first time. The meeting was confirmed by the palace to The Guardian at the time, with the publication asserting that such an introduction would galvanize Charles and Camilla's renewed plan to introduce her to the press and public in a new light.

"Meetings between the children and Mrs. Parker Bowles are a private family matter, which we are not prepared to discuss, and we hope for their sakes, the media will now leave this very personal matter alone," a spokesperson said at the time, but of course, the press attention didn't go anywhere.

The press' eyes were on the couple during their first public event in 1999

After Diana Spencer's death in 1997, the royal family's popularity started going downhill, in addition to Camilla Parker Bowles'. Their silence following Diana's death definitely rubbed the public and press the wrong way (via the Washington Post), and by the time the members of the family started to reemerge, it became clear that the royal rota was watching their every move. "Camilla was the focus because Diana died, there was a vacuum, and everyone wanted to talk about the evil Camilla," Roddi Vaughan-Thomas, the PR executive at OBS, told NBC News of the period of time that followed Diana's passing.

With such a contentious press environment, it made sense that the palace took additional steps to consider Camilla's reputation and ways in which to heal the public's perspective on her. By 1999, she and Prince Charles made their first public appearance together, attending Camilla's sister's birthday party. What began to transpire was not just a couple in love, but one that was kept apart for so many years, finally able to be with each other. It was a press tactic that, surprisingly, seemed to work.

"You could look at their story as one of the greatest royal love stories, albeit controversial, of all time," expert Camilla Tominey told NBC News of the changing perspective of Camilla in the press. "Here are two lovers that can't be together and yet years later, they ultimately did end up together."

Charles found an unusual ally when rehabilitating Camilla's image in 2002

By 2002, Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles were getting a bit more comfortable with their status as boyfriend-girlfriend, but the public and the press certainly weren't on their side. Many were still reeling from Diana Spencer's death, and saw Camilla as the main reason why her seemingly fairytale marriage didn't last. To make matters worse, Queen Elizabeth II was also not a fan of the romance, and she implored Sir Michael Peat, Charles' then-new private secretary, to break up the prince and Camilla.

"I don't think the prince was happy with the way things were, but he couldn't see a way of making it work. He'd been through a lot of bad times with the public, and I think he was probably nervous about putting himself back in a negative situation, damaging the monarchy, and he didn't know whether he could persuade the queen to accept [Camilla]," an insider told Vanity Fair of Charles' concerns as things continued to dissolve between Camilla, the press, and the family. "I think he thought all of these things insurmountable, and he really didn't know what to do. The prince is too diffident and nervous, and I think he was scared."

Surprisingly, Charles found an unlikely ally in Peat. The private secretary realized that breaking up the couple wasn't going to happen, so he became the most fervent supporter of Charles and Camilla finally tying the knot after so many years together.

Time was the biggest component of Camilla's changing relationship with the press

By the time Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles got married in 2005, her image in the eyes of the press and the public had improved. To some, she was still the woman who divided Charles and Diana Spencer for good, but to others, she was the woman who finally made Charles happy. Her changing reputation was thanks to a very carefully thought-out strategy on behalf of the palace, as well as her public display of respect towards Diana. Though she was entitled to it, Camilla never used the Princess of Wales designation publicly, given how synonymous it was with Diana. Such an intentional tactic paid off, and experts spoke to NBC News about just how radical Camilla's press transformation really was.

"Her image has been transformed, a carefully managed makeover, and they have done a fantastic job rehabilitating her [reputation]," Roddi Vaughan-Thomas, the PR executive at OBS, said. His take was supported by Melanie Bromley, chief news correspondent for E!, who explained that the most important aspect that aided in Camilla's changing relationship with the press was, in fact, time.

"It has taken decades," Bromley said. "It was a gradual process. For years we knew they were together but Camilla was not beside him at official events. She was not shoved down the public's throat. The palace took baby steps when it came to their public life together."

Camilla was dubbed the press' favorite royal in 2018

It was a turn for the better that no one saw coming, but by 2018, Camilla Parker Bowles was referred to as the press' favorite member of the royal family. Yes, you read that correctly. It was thanks to the palace's intentional rollout, the healing power of time, and Camilla's down-to-earth personality that really worked its magic, and an anonymous royal reporter went as far as to comment for Vanity Fair about the kinship the royal rota and Camilla shared after years of turmoil, stress, and collective grief.

"[Camilla is] my favorite royal, by a country mile," the reporter said. "She knows all our names, she fosters a sense that we're all in this together. She always gives you a little gleam in her eye and will find a moment to look at our cameras." The correspondent went as far as to compare Camilla to Prince William and Princess Catherine, who they deemed as incredibly image obsessed and controlling when it comes to the ways in which they're covered by the media.

"I think the way Camilla has turned public perception is honestly by appearing a very normal person, which she is," Roya Nikkah, the Sunday Times royal correspondent, further told NBC News about Camilla's impressive transformation in the eyes of the press. "She is very down to earth. She doesn't have those stuffy airs."

Camilla has been accused of using the press to her advantage, notably by Prince Harry

Camilla Parker Bowles went from the whispered-about other woman, to the press' biggest target, to the down-to-earth royal who was fun to interact with, to one of the royal rota's most fervent allies. In fact, Camilla's relationship with the British press has evolved so much since her early days on the royal scene that Prince Harry accused her of leaking conversations to reporters, asserting that she "[got] into bed with the devil" — i.e. the tabloids — in order to improve her own reputation.

"That made her dangerous because of the connections that she was forging within the British press," Harry told CBS News (per WSAZ NewsChannel 3) amid his press tour for his expository book, "Spare." "There was open willingness on both sides to trade information. And with a family built on hierarchy, and with her on the way to being queen consort, there was gonna be people or bodies left in the street."

His claims were a far cry from the statements that the prince had made in the past about Camilla. Going as far as to say that "William and I love her to bits" back in 2005 (via the Sydney Morning Herald), Harry didn't shy away from discussing Camilla in his book and the dedication that he will always have to his late mother.