She was once reportedly described by Princess Diana as a "Rottweiler," called a marriage wrecker and vilified by sections of the British press and public, and referred to as the "third person" in the marriage between Charles, the then Prince of Wales, and Diana, prompting the princess to famously remark, "There were three of us in this marriage – so it was a bit crowded."
Today, this "third person" is Queen Consort of the United Kingdom, and her husband now goes by the title of King Charles III.
But who is Camilla, and how did she go from being perceived as the villain of Britain's greatest palace intrigue in the past few decades to becoming the country's new queen consort?
An Unhappy Marriage, and the Affair That Followed
On 29 July 1981, when Lady Diana Spencer married 32-year-old Charles, the eldest son of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, it was an occasion that was marked by much fanfare and witnessed by a global television audience of 750 million people across 74 countries.
Charles was then the Prince of Wales, and Diana soon became Princess Diana.
Yet their marriage, which had been celebrated by so many at its onset, soon took a turn for the worse. By his own admission, Charles began an extramarital affair less than six years after marrying Diana, with a woman he had dated before his marriage as well.
Charles claimed that his marriage with Diana had been irretrievably broken by the time he began the affair.
The woman in question? Camilla Parker Bowles, who was herself married to a cavalry officer named Brigadier Andrew Parker Bowles at the time.
Charles' admission about the affair came in a TV interview in 1994, but a year earlier, the depth of his relationship with Camilla had already been leaked to the people of the country, and indeed the world, when a transcript of a secretly recorded private conversation was published in newspapers, with intimate details such as Charles declaring a wish to live inside Camilla's trousers "as it would be much easier."
In 1995, Camilla and Andrew Parker Bowles announced their divorce, ending a marriage of around 22 years.
And in August 1996, Diana and Charles' divorce was finalised, and yet another marriage that had been on the rocks for years, was finally brought to an end.
Awaiting a Royal Wedding
On 31 August 1997, just a year after her divorce, 36-year-old Diana died in a car crash in central Paris along with her close friend Dodi Fayed, causing an outpour of grief across the world, with millions mourning the death of the beloved princess.
Diana's death had made the public anger against Camilla rage on, and soon after her death, as Michael Holden of Reuters observed in a piece, "commentators were in almost universal agreement there was no chance Charles could marry the matronly Camilla, even if she had been the love of his life."
In fact, in a TV poll at the time, two-thirds of those who voted had reportedly stated that Charles should not be allowed to become king if he married Camilla.
Yet, that marriage is exactly what happened on 9 April 2005, as Charles finally tied the knot again, close to nine years after his divorce with Diana and over seven years after her death.
Queen Elizabeth II’s Sincere Wish for Camilla
Camilla Shand was born into an affluent family on 17 July 1947, to an army major and wine merchant father and an aristocrat mother. She grew up on a country estate and was educated in London. She then attended the Mon Fertile finishing school in Switzerland and the Institut Britannique in France.
According to Britannica, Camilla’s great-grandmother was Alice Keppel, the mistress of Charles’s great-great-grandfather King Edward VII, and Camilla was brought up to be familiar with the world of royalty and Britain’s upper classes. She met Charles at a polo match in 1970.
Three years later however, she married Andrew Parker Bowles, and went on to have two children with him.
More than three decades after her wedding with Parker Bowles, when Camilla finally married Charles, she announced that she did not wish to be called princess and would not wish to be called queen (consort). Instead, Camilla opted for the title of Duchess of Cornwall and declared that when her husband ascended the throne, she would adopt the title Her Royal Highness the Princess Consort.
Her decision could have well been the fallout of the public acrimony against her, as someone who had long been blamed for the breakup between Diana and Charles.
Even in the years since, she has never been as popular as Diana, but with time, the bitterness and animosity against Camilla among the British people has reportedly reduced.
From Charles' younger son Prince Harry saying in 2005 that Camilla is "not the wicked stepmother" and that she's always been very close to him and William, to the persistent efforts by the publicity teams of the royal family, a lot has been done to help Camilla improve her public image.
More than 16 years after her marriage to Charles, Camilla's position within the royal family too has improved drastically, most notably in February 2022.
On the eve of Queen Elizabeth II's 70th accession day, the Queen gave her blessing to Camilla to take the title of Queen Consort, saying it was her (Elizabeth's) "sincere wish" that she do so upon Charles' accession to the throne as King.
Elizabeth stated to the people, "When, in the fullness of time, my son Charles becomes King, I know you will give him and his wife, Camilla, the same support that you have given me; and it is my sincere wish that, when that time comes, Camilla will be known as Queen Consort as she continues her own loyal service.”
Upon her death, Queen Elizabeth II's wishes have been honoured and Camilla is now officially the Queen Consort of the United Kingdom and the countries of the Commonwealth which are headed by the royal family.