The transformation of Camilla
As she arrives in Ireland, we reveal how Prince Charles's wife has transformed herself from hated stepmother to the woman who would be queen
Published 20/05/2015 | 02:30
Prince Charles calls her "My darling wife''. The press once called her "the most hated woman in Britain''. But will Camilla ever be called queen? Her gradual acceptance by our nearest neighbours, against considerable odds and poll forecasts, is already the stuff of romance and political advisers' dreams. So, when the Irish people greet the royal couple today, some might ask - just how did Camilla do it?
Helped by a carefully co-ordinated entry into public life, good grooming and a designer wardrobe, she started via the safe route of charitable involvement. However, many such royal 'makeovers' have failed. In the battle for hearts and minds, it's all down to personality in the end, and Camilla's supportiveness for her prince and her blend of warmth, discretion and a wicked sense of humour stand to her.
Ireland witnessed one of her earliest successes. In February 2004, as President of the UK National Osteoporosis Society, she attended an Irish Osteoporosis Society Conference in Dublin. According to President Dr Maura O'Brien: "The Duchess [of Cornwall] is the most fantastic ambassador for osteoporosis. She got up at 5am and came over to us, to launch a video and have lunch. She spoke to everyone there, was so charming, so nice and kind - I can't speak highly enough of the work she has done... her generosity and the time she gave us were unbelievable.''
Camilla's 2005 marriage, at the age of 57, ushered in a decade of official duties, with 832 joint engagements. Travelling by trains, boats and planes, plus occasional tuk-tuks, she visited 45 countries on 27 official tours. She embraced experiences ranging from meeting world leaders to experiencing Indian dancing steps and henna hand painting. Having delivered a speech in French on her first solo trip to Paris, she joked later that the feat had taken two years off her life.
Camilla now has 85 charities and patronages. They reflect her interests, ranging from health and homelessness to violence against women, the arts, literacy, animal protection - and supporting English wine. It's "no hardship at all for me to be your president," she told the UK Vineyards Association, observing that "it's like landing the dream job here..."
And she is no mere charity figurehead. Honey from bees from her Wiltshire home was sold at £20 a pot to raise funds for one of her charities - Medical Detection Dogs. In 2009, the Duchess made her first visit to a Rape Crisis Centre in London. Over the next few years, she visited several more and asked victims what would help them. She then set up a scheme for 750 washbags containing manufacturers donated body wash and shampoo to be distributed, through Haven centres in London, and launched it in 2013
Last year, actress and campaigner Angelina Jolie attended a London conference on Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict. She was later invited to Clarence House to share notes and ideas with Camilla.
The Duchess relaxes at her Wiltshire home, where her five grandchildren, from her son Tom and daughter Laura, can play happily and noisily, watched by their devoted granny, Gaga.
But will Camilla ever be queen? The polls suggest slow progress. Whilst 'Di- Hards' may never accept her, if the queen lives to be her mother's age, then time is on the increasingly stylish Camilla's side.
People often remark after meeting her that she is nothing like they expected. She is certainly an easy guest. At one community horticultural engagement, the hostess realised that with 10 minutes remaining, they had run out of presentations and topics, and silence loomed. A cup of tea, perhaps? "Oh,'' replied Camilla, in heartfelt tones, "I would love a cup of tea.''
As officials scurried, a relaxed and happy group departed the official schedule and the building, deep in conversation about seed planting. You get the feeling that Camilla and Ireland will suit each other.
Camilla's highs and lows
1971: Camilla meets Prince Charles, and the two start a relationship.
1973: Camilla marries old flame Andrew Parker Bowles.
1981: Camilla attends the wedding of Charles and Diana.
1986: When his marriage breaks down, Charles renews the relationship.
1992: Andrew Morton's book, My True Story reveals the relationship. Charles and Diana separate in December. A poll suggests that 42pc of people would not want a divorced king.
1993: The Camillagate tapes are released. Camilla receives hate mail.
1994: Prince Charles admits his infidelity in a television programme interview.
1995: In a Panorama TV interview, Diana famously says that "there were three of us in the marriage". Camilla divorces her husband, Andrew.
1996: Charles and Diana divorce.
1997: Charles hosts Camilla's 50th birthday party at Highgrove. In August, Diana dies in a car crash.
1999: Defying previous forecasts of a doomed relationship, Charles and Camilla are photographed together in public.
2004: Charles moves into Clarence House. Camilla joins him.
2005: The couple marry in April. Polls suggest that 73pc of the British public are opposed to her becoming queen.
2012: Camilla joins the queen's carriage at the Diamond Jubilee and the inner royal circle on the palace balcony.
2015: Polls suggest that almost half the British public could see her as queen.