THE ROYAL DIVORCE: Mistress edges towards the limelight

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The Independent Online
They met on a polo field in 1972 and his devotion to her has affected the rest of his life.

Prince Charles's affection for Camilla Parker Bowles - and their intermittent affairs - cast a shadow over his marriage which he and Diana were unable to cast off. As the Princess described in last month's Panorama interview: "There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded."

While the Prince was making it clear yesterday that he had no intention of remarrying after the divorce, at the age of 47, no one would rule out the possibility that he could change his mind in the future.

Already, in recent months, there has been what some commentators regard as a careful campaign to soften public opposition toward the couple. Public appearances at the same event, which would have been unheard of only a year ago, are now taking place.

In October, both attended the 50th birthday party of an old friend, Sarah Keswick, at the Ritz where Mrs Parker Bowles dazzled onlookers in a glitzy black dress more akin to the Princess's style than the country mode she is best known for. Both the Prince and Mrs Parker Bowles, who, at 48, is one year his elder, are keen members of the Duke of Beaufort's hunt in Gloucestershire. And she has been pictured on several occasions leaving Prince Charles's home at Highgrove since she was divorced from her husband, Brigadier Andrew Parker Bowles, earlier in the year.

She has never commented on the friendship which the Prince is said to value above all others. But her former brother-in-law Richard Parker Bowles said last month: "When it came to Prince Charles, Camilla always knew she held his heart."

Political opinion has been shifting gradually towards the idea of the Prince marrying Mrs Parker Bowles. A Sunday Times poll of MPs last weekend found half of Labour members and a quarter of Tories who responded believing the union should be allowed to take place.

Although yesterday speculation about the royal mistress becoming Queen was being firmly dismissed by the Palace, it is only one year since Prince Charles made his television confession to the affair which he had conducted on and off all the way through his married life.

The "royalling of Camilla" - as it was described by one newspaper this month - could be only just beginning.