The Duchess of Cornwall at 75: How Camilla has come a long way in the eyes of the nation
As she celebrates her 75th birthday this weekend, an age she refers to as "ancient", it would be fair to say that Camilla has come a long way since the days when she was known solely for being the mistress of the heir to the throne. Clarence House released a new portrait of the Duchess of Cornwall for her birthday on Sunday which was taken at Raymill, the Wiltshire home she still owns where she raised her children. The Duchess of Cornwall is not just the woman who has made the Prince of Wales very happy but she is someone who has found herself a unique and important role in the Royal Family - and through it, the life of the nation. Just as Prince Philip was a support for the Queen as her consort for so many decades, Camilla will be the same for Prince Charles when he becomes King. The Duchess received the official approval for her future role earlier this year when the Queen announced, on the day she marked 70 years as Monarch, that she wanted her son’s wife to be known as Queen Consort when the time comes.
Camilla has also been made a Royal Lady of the Order of the Garter, joining the oldest and most senior order of chivalry whose members are appointed personally by the Sovereign. It is the Queen acknowledging the hard work Camilla has put in over the years after deciding, despite the years of vilification and humiliation, she had to get her head down and get on with the job.
In fact, just this week, the Duchess of Cornwall quoted her late father-in-law when she said that the Duke of Edinburgh’s philosophy was something we should all follow. She quoted his mantra as being: "Look up and look out, say less, do more – and get on with the job." Getting on with the job was something she decided to do from the moment Prince Charles announced that Camilla was "non-negotiable" and would be by his side.
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Camilla Parker-Bowles, as she was then known, has rarely spoken about that period which culminated in Princess Diana famously saying in her 1995 Panorama interview, “there were three of us in this marriage”. In a recent magazine interview, the Duchess of Cornwall – who never took the title Princess of Wales – said that she just had to “get on with life” even though “nobody likes to be looked at all the time and, you know, criticised.”
She found a way to get on with it by focussing on the causes which mean so much to her and the areas in which she believes she can make the biggest difference. She now campaigns for the victims of domestic violence and works to end the stigma surrounding the issue. She has promised to continue this work when she is Queen Consort.
Camilla, an avid reader, is also a campaigner for literacy among all ages. And as an animal lover, she supports charities like Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, for which she held a reception this week to mark its 160th anniversary.
Unlike most people in the second half of their 70s, the Duchess of Cornwall is waiting to take on the biggest job of her life and will follow in the footsteps of the Queen’s own mother, who was consort to King George VI and Queen Mary, consort to George V. In an ITV documentary this week ahead of her birthday, Camilla said there was always “something exciting around the corner” but you can’t help but wonder if becoming Queen so late in life is actually something most people would consider quite daunting.
All the more remarkable give she is a self-confessed “country-woman” from a wealthy family and so Camilla was never expected to work. The job of a senior working royal cannot be compared to one in a coal mine or in a hospital, but helping to run charities, doing punishing overseas visits on behalf of the government, travelling across the UK, taking part in state occasions, corresponding with those who want her help, making speeches and championing good causes is not what most people her age do.
Camilla is doing more than 150 public engagements each year while most people in their mid-seventies are spending time with the grandchildren, thinking about the next holiday or perfecting their swing on the golf course. Talk to anyone who receives her help and support and they have nothing but praise for her. Talk to those she meets at engagements or charity visits and they speak of a warm and funny person. Talk to the press and photographers who document her work, and they too enjoy a good relationship with this particular member of the Royal Family. In other words, those who have had personal connections with Camilla through her work have helped, over many years, to slowly change the narrative from the days when the press coverage was universally hostile.
The Duchess told the Daily Mail this weekend that she was “extremely touched and very surprised” to have been anointed the next Queen-consort. Some have said it’s Queen Elizabeth’s way of arranging the smoothest possible transition from one reign to the next – to make life as easy as possible for the start of King Charles’ time as Monarch. Whatever else, 30 years since Charles and Diana announced their marriage was ending and 17 years since Camilla wed the future King, the Duchess of Cornwall’s future role in the Monarchy has been secured.