The recent uproars in the Royal Family, like Prince Andrew’s scandal and Harry and Meghan’s shocking departure, are testing the British monarchy, but these scandals far from the family’s first dose of controversy. Back in the 1980s, Camilla Parker Bowles rocked the monarchy as Prince Charles’s “other woman” before the illicit couple finally wed 34 years after they first met. Here are 50 regally real facts about Camilla Parker Bowles, the Duchess of Cornwall.
Camilla Parker Bowles Facts
1. Talk to the Hand
Tense relationships between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law are almost guaranteed, but Camilla Parker Bowles and Queen Elizabeth’s bad blood took things to the next level. The Queen once referred to Parker Bowles with a devastating insult: she called her “that wicked, wicked woman.” Talk about an awkward family dinner…
2. Getting High
Parker Bowles’s ticket into British high society came via her father, Major Bruce Shand, who held the official title of Vice Lord Lieutenant of East Sussex. Try finding that job description on Indeed.
3. Wannabe Royalty
Parker Bowles’s great-grandmother was Alice Keppel, who had a sordid connection to Prince Charles’s kingly ancestor. Keppel and Edward VII were secret lovers, and Parker Bowles loved to brag to her classmates at Queen’s Gate School that her family was “practically royalty” because of the notorious association.
Evidently, being a royal mistress ran in Camilla’s genes…
4. Curiouser and Curiouser
Parker Bowles says that she genuinely likes people, and that “other people’s lives are so much more interesting than one’s own.” She says her curiosity benefits her royal life because she likes to “(get) information out of people,” and “the stories that come out, (she) could write a book about.”
5. Green Acres
Parker Bowles grew up frolicking around a splendid estate, surrounded by just under six blissful acres of the English countryside. When she was a kid growing up on the Shand family’s estate, Parker Bowles’s dad would occasionally take his daughter fox hunting for kicks. Guess the bouncy castle wasn’t invented yet.
6. Secret Romps
Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles carried out one of the most notorious affairs in British history. As such, the creative and nefarious methods they used to sneak around are now the stuff of legend. While both were married to other people, Charles would instruct his valet to disable his palace’s alarm system and ruffle the bed in Camilla’s official room. This way, she could sneak into Charles’ chambers…and everyone would think she slept in her own quarters. Sneaky, sneaky.
7. Just a Milla-second
When she reached full-time schooling age, Parker Bowles was enrolled in the very prestigious Queen’s Gate School in London’s South Kensington. The posh kids quickly nicknamed young Camilla as “Milla” and described her as a self-assured “tomboy” with a “boisterous sense of humor.”
8. Not The Prince We Need, But The One We Deserve
Prince Charles would often visit Camilla at her royal residence (provided her husband was away, of course) though he used some mysterious methods to sneak in and out. Camilla would get her staff to turn off all the lights as her lover drove in, and Charles would make sure to leave before the sun rose the next morning. These nighttime trysts earned Charles an eerie nickname: “The Prince of Darkness.”
9. Duty Bound
No wonder Parker Bowles adored the antics of her great-grandmother, Alice Keppel—it sounds like Parker Bowles inherited Keppel’s cheeky sense of humor. Keppel was known to describe her “duty” as a royal mistress with some choice words. The King’s energetic lover once said, “my job is to curtsy first, and then jump into bed!”
10. Focused on Fun
Lynn Redgrave, of Britain’s esteemed Redgrave acting family, remembers Parker Bowles from Queen’s Gate school, and she recently revealed her real opinion of Britain’s most famous mistress. According to Redgrave, Parker Bowles “wanted to have fun, but she also wanted to marry well because, in her mind, that would be the most fun of all.”
Well, it took a while, but Parker Bowles did it!
11. Oh How She Shines
A news outlet cattily described Parker Bowles as having a “lantern jaw” in her tomboy youth, but hey, not being outrageously beautiful came in handy. Other girls weren’t threatened by Camilla, and her humor, confidence, and ability to talk to everyone made her a shining favorite—especially with the boys. Lantern-jawed ladies, strut your stuff.
12. Devilishly Sweet 16
By the time she graduated at age 16, Parker Bowles was a skilled flirt with “sexy confidence over men,” according to classmates.
13. The Dark Horse Claps Back
Aristocratic young girls of Parker Bowles’s generation were tacitly obliged to bag wealthy husbands. Her friends quickly scored engagements—her flatmate, Virginia Carrington, even landed Parker Bowles’s uncle, a real estate tycoon. Apparently, someone snidely asked Parker Bowles why “she hadn’t been quite so fortunate.” Camilla had the perfect comeback. She confidently snapped, “I’m holding out for a king.”
14. Diamonds Are a Duchess’s Best Friend
Parker Bowles’s stunning engagement ring from Prince Charles features a one-of-a-kind, emerald cut, five-carat diamond solitaire surrounded by six diamond baguettes. The ring was handed down to Charles from his beloved grandmother, The Queen Mother. That ring was a long time coming, so it’s probably a good thing that Charles didn’t skimp.
15. Paging MI5
After Princess Diana and Prince Charles shocked the nation with their divorce, Parker Bowles decided that being Charles’ mistress wasn’t good enough. She wanted to be Queen. As the royal family strategized to figure out a way to make the public accept Parker Bowles into the monarchy, they came up with a codename for their efforts: “Operation PB” AKA “Operation Parker Bowles.”
Um, real sneaky.
16. Call Me Maybe
Parker Bowles holds so many official titles that ordinary folk may well be confused about what to call her. She’s Her Royal Highness, the Duchess of Cornwall, and the Duchess of Rothesay. But if you ask me, Camilla’s most colorful nickname came from her mortal enemy: Princess Diana. She called Parker Bowles “The Rottweiler.” Ouch.
17. Hold That Thought
Because Parker Bowles married Prince Charles, she’s legally entitled to be called the Princess of Wales. In a wise move, Parker Bowles declined that particular honor, which is forever associated with her rival, the late Princess Diana. Sometimes, true power is seen in the things we don’t do, instead of the things we fight for.
18. Must Love Dogs
While Queen Elizabeth II prefers purebred Corgi dogs, Parker Bowles has extended her love of canines to two Jack Russell terriers—and in a sweet gesture, both of her dogs are rescues. Her four-legged family members are named Beth and Bluebell. She adopted the pups from the Battersea Dogs & Cats Home after they were abandoned.
19. Five Year Itch
By 1986—five years and two sons into their marriage—the relationship between the Prince and Princess of Wales was irreparably damaged. Charles sought comfort from Parker Bowles, and they began the affair that would rock the monarchy forever.
20. Working It
Following her marriage to Prince Charles in 2005, Parker Bowles immediately leapt into action. She has assumed president or patron roles at over 90 charities. Because of her busy schedule, it’s estimated that the Duchess of Cornwall spends barely a third of her life at home. The rest of her time is spent as a working royal around the world.
21. The Health Guru
Beat it, nicotine gum. After developing a persistent cough and allergy symptoms, Parker Bowles finally kicked her three-decade-long cigarette habit under the guidance of Dr. Mosaraf Ali, an expert on integrated health and alternative healing (translation: total new age guru.) Parker Bowles and Prince Charles are known as Ali’s most loyal clients (translation: priceless free publicity.)
22. I Do, Pass the Tissues
A girl’s wedding should be the best day of her life, but on Camilla’s big day everything went wrong. On April 9, 2005, she woke up feeling so sick that she was almost immobile. She had come down with a wretched case of sinusitis and it was only when her sister Annabel threatened to wear Camilla’s wedding dress herself that Camilla forced herself to get out of bed and walk down the aisle.
23. Even Stevens
If you feel bad for Camilla’s ex-husband Andrew Parker Bowles, maybe check those worries at the door. When his wife was messing around with Prince Charles, Andrew was very busy sowing his seeds with multiple mistresses. It’s like they say: The couple who cheats together…gets an amicable split after decades of their unhappy marriage?
24. Her Greatest Tragedy
In 1994, Camilla Parker Bowles’ entire world changed. Her mother Rosalind tragically passed away due to osteoporosis, but that’s not even the worst part. Years later, Parker Bowles revealed the awful truth. She wrote, “Seeing someone you love die slowly, in agony, and knowing nothing about the disease that killed them is heartbreaking.”
Now Parker Bowles honors her late mother by acting as the President on the National Osteoporosis Society.
25. Go Plant It, Girl
Gardening is one of Parker Bowles’s favorite outdoor pursuits. She says she loves “to get [her] hands dirty.”
26. Gift of Gab
Parker Bowles says her parents taught her to speak in public. She remembers “boring dinner parties” at her parents’ palatial country estate, and how she was “dragged down to join them.” Her mother told her to talk “about your budgie or your pony…keep the conversation going!” That skill probably comes in handy a lot considering all the royal family’s thrilling dinner parties.
27. Protective Dad
In the early 1990s, Prince Charles’ marriage to Diana was already getting rocky. Sad and lonely, Charles looked for comfort in the arms of Camilla—and boy oh boy, her dad was not impressed. Papa Bowles Parker demanded to meet with Charles, where he laid down the law. Defying British repression, he accused his daughter’s secret boyfriend of “ruining” Camilla’s life.
By the end of their exchange, Charles was in tears.
28. Laughter is the Best Medicine
Parker Bowles doesn’t take herself too seriously, even at the most official engagements. According to Parker Bowles, it’s the formal situations where things seem to go “terribly wrong,” and “…everybody sits there (frozen) for a split-second,” that she finds hilarious. This might explain why so many photos of Camilla picture the Duchess laughing or smirking.
29. Quite the Phobia You’ve Got There
Parker Bowles is absolutely terrified of flying. Her hectic schedule demands frequent airplane travel, but when she and Prince Charles traveled to Australia, Camilla actually refused to accompany her husband further afield because she was so stressed and afraid of more flights.
30. Put a Ring on it
Before she married Prince Charles, Camilla was in a long-term relationship with a soldier named Andrew Parker Bowles. Because of his job, Andrew was often away from his girlfriend…and her family was starting to get antsy about when he’d get on one knee and propose. And so Camilla’s father and Andrew’s brother hatched a brilliant plan.
They teamed up and placed an engagement announcement in the local newspaper. After that, Andrew Parker Bowles received the message loud and clear. He hopped to and popped the question.
31. Comfy Shoes
Parker Bowles is famous for going nude (snap!) with her footwear. She’s often spotted wearing nude-toned Chanel pumps, an elegant, comfy style that she sports frequently. Parker Bowles is said to have a soft spot for Chanel’s double “C” logo because it reminds her of “Charles and Camilla.” That’s one way to pressure your husband into buying you expensive shoes.
32. What a Girl Wants
The backstory of Prince Charles choosing Diana Spencer is well-documented. The Royal Family favored her, and the public fell in love with her, but apparently, Charles only agreed to the match after getting Parker Bowles’s blessing. According to royal biographer Anthony Holden, Parker Bowles had a dark reason for approving the match.
She “had met the blushing little Spencer girl and deduced she was not going to give them any trouble.”
33. Cradle Robber
Few people realize that Camilla is actually older than Charles. Parker Bowles beat him to this earth by 16 months.
34. You May Now Kiss the Bride
When Prince Charles finally married Parker Bowles in 2005, British newspapers ran full-page headlines like “Husband and wife—at last.” The exaggeration was no joke. The star-crossed couple (who’d been instantly attracted to each other when they first met) had waited 34 excruciating, tragedy-filled years to walk down the aisle and say “I do.”
35. Don’t Believe the Hype
The first meeting of Charles and Parker Bowles is still mysterious. According to an authorized biography, The Prince of Wales, the two didn’t meet at a polo match, and Parker Bowles didn’t make a crack about her ancestor Alice Keppel and his ancestor King Edward VII being lovers. Instead, the duo were introduced by the most unlikely person: Charles’ ex-lover, Lucia Santa Cruz.
36. Upstairs Downstairs
Lucia Santa Cruz met Charles when they were both in residence at elite Cambridge University. She’s very significant in the Prince’s life—for a very risque reason. She took a little something called his virginity. Santa Cruz was five years older than the prince and far more sophisticated, and while they dated for some time, the relationship ran its course.
In 1971, Santa Cruz found an upstairs flat in London’s Belgravia neighborhood. She became great friends with Parker Bowles, who lived downstairs.
37. Love Actually
According to friends, when Charles met Camilla Shand, he “lost his heart…almost at once.” Their “instant attraction” went quickly from friendship to a love affair. If you’re picturing a cheesy royal romance novel, get real. Charles and a down-to-earth Camilla bonded over frat-boy comedies, like a 70s BBC radio series called The Goon Show.
Charles also loved how she preferred life in “the country with horses and hunting.” In other words, she wasn’t like all the other girls.
38. He Blew It
During the first year of their relationship, Charles penned enough corny love letters to Camilla for ten cheesy royal romance novels. In November 1972, Charles considered proposing to her, but (according to his biographer) he began to doubt his feelings. The truth was, Camilla had a “past”—and Charles knew his parents thought she was unsuitable.
39. Thank You, Next
In January 1973, Charles was assigned to a seven-month tour of duty with the Royal Navy. He left his girlfriend Camilla Shand behind, but their future together wasn’t confirmed. Two months later, Charles was absolutely blindsided. The Prince learned that his beloved Camilla was engaged to another man, Andrew Parker Bowles.
He wrote of being devastated that “such a blissful, peaceful and mutually happy relationship” was over.
40. A Love…Square?
If you hate basic math (and/or basic soap opera plotlines), beware this fact. Before she met Charles, Camilla Shand dated, and eventually married, Andrew Parker Bowles on-and-off. But here’s where it gets too close for comfort. In 1970, Andrew was seriously involved with Princess Anne. Yup, Charles’s sister. We guess Charles and his sister Anne had similar romantic taste.
Ah, the joys of untangling the royal family’s limited dating pool.
41. Don’t Stop Believing
Although Charles was devastated by Parker Bowles’s marriage, he remained one of her closest friends. Charles even agreed to be godfather to Parker Bowles’s son, Tom.
42. Star-Studded Cousins
Genealogists have traced a branch of Parker Bowles’s ancestry back to New France (now Quebec, Canada) in the 17th century. Camilla’s distant cousins from that gene pool include several celebrities like Madonna, Celine Dion, Justin Bieber, Shania Twain, and one non-musical famous person: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
43. G&F Forever
While they were having their affair, Parker Bowles and Charles nicknamed each other Gladys and Fred. It’s cute, well, except for the painful way that the late Princess Diana discovered their endearment. Before her wedding to Charles, Diana discovered an expensive gold bracelet that Parker Bowles had just given Charles with the initials, “G” and “F.”
44. Finishing Her Off
As a teenager, Parker Bowles was sent to the Mon Fertile school in the Swiss Alps from 1963-1964. Mon Fertile might conjure up some weird, self-identifying fertility ritual, but it was just an old-fashioned finishing school where wealthy girls learned posh stuff like etiquette. An old photo shows how Camilla really felt about upper-crust manners.
It shows a bored-to-death-looking Parker Bowles, full-out yawning beside her classmates as they watch a “fashion demonstration.”
45. If It Makes You Happy
The royal family’s biographer Penny Junor explained the unique bond between Camilla and Charles. She wrote that Parker Bowles “has given Charles belief in himself that he’s never had before, and that has made him much more likable and therefore much more popular.” Junor believes that her positive influence over Charles has even strengthened the monarchy.
46. Miss You Much
Parker Bowles was close to her immediate family, and she speaks to her sister Annabel every day. Her parents have passed, and her brother Mark died when he was just 62 years old. When he was alive, Parker Bowles said that Mark would phone her frequently, saying “Camillsy…” and she knew immediately that he wanted something.
“But God, I miss him.” Parker Bowles says touchingly of her brother, who died of an accidental head injury at just 62 years old.
47. “I’m a Cool Mom”
Parker Bowles’s grown children rave about their mother. Her son Tom calls her “exceptional,” adding that “she never got cross about bad school reports, getting into trouble and so on. She would come to Eton and take me out to McDonald’s.” That’s like slumming it to posh folks.
48. Strong Pick Up Line, Camilla
Gotta hand it to her: Camilla Parker Bowles captured Prince Charles’ heart for a reason. When the couple first met in their early 20s, Parker Bowles curtsied, and then sidled up to the royal Prince. According to some, she saucily whispered, “My great-grandmother and your great-great-grandfather were lovers. So how about it?” He was immediately smitten.
49. Just Don’t Invite Her
In a painfully awkward twist, Camilla Parker Bowles actually attended Charles’ wedding to Princess Diana. Yikes. But it gets worse. According to one biography, right before Diana walked down the aisle with Charles, she heard her fiancé “murmuring endearments” to his ex-girlfriend on the phone. This family needs so much therapy.
50. TFW Your Dirty Texts Almost Break the Monarchy
In 1993, a private, bedtime phone conversation between Charles and Parker Bowles was somehow taped—and that tape was leaked to the public. The conversations were so lurid that some called for the dissolution of the monarchy. In their phone calls, Charles tells Camilla that he wants to be even closer to her than, um, her feminine hygiene products. 27 years later, the scandal has dissolved into a mildly cringey aside, but I, for one, will never forget those tapes.