Mrs Parker Bowles has for many years been the lover of the Prince of Wales. But the Prince's aides insisted yesterday that he had no plans to marry Mrs Parker Bowles. It is thought that Prince Charles' public revelation of his affairs with Mrs Parker Bowles was a major factor in the decision.
Suspicions about Mrs Parker Bowles' role in the Prince's life have grown into a storm of speculation in recent years.
Charles, 46, admitted in the Jonathan Dimbleby television documentary in June 1994 that he had committed adultery during his marriage.
He did not name Mrs Parker Bowles but it is widely accepted that in 1986 he turned to her after his relationship with the Princess of Wales had "irretrievably broken down".
Mrs Parker Bowles has remained Prince Charles' closest confidante and, despite the furore surrounding their relationship, has remained silently loyal to him.
Prince Charles told Mr Dimbleby: "Mrs Parker Bowles is a great friend of mine . . . a friend for a very long time. She will continue to be a friend for a very long time."
Such friends, he added, enabled him to cope.
Prince Charles and Camilla Shand, as she then was, first met at a Windsor polo match in 1970. They shared a love of numerous pursuits - polo, hunting and painting.
They became close, but the relationship cooled when the Prince joined the Royal Navy in 1971. Two years later, Miss Shand married her long-standing admirer, Army officer Andrew Parker Bowles.
Throughout the late Seventies she and Prince Charles kept in contact, reportedly becoming close again towards the end of the decade despite her being married.
Mrs Parker Bowles encouraged Prince Charles's relationship with the young Diana Spencer. After the Prince's marriage she remained close to him. This, it has been reported, prompted Diana's intense jealousy. It was said that the Princess referred to her rival as "the rottweiler".
The alleged depth of the intimacy that existed between Mrs Parker Bowles and Prince Charles became clear in 1992 when the so-called "Camillagate" tape surfaced.
In the tape, allegedly a recording of a conversation between the two made in December, 1989, Prince Charles toldMrs Parker Bowles: "I love you." He added many other highly personal endearments.
Mr and Mrs Parker Bowles said in the statement issued by solicitors yesterday that the decision to end the marriage was "taken jointly" and was "a private matter".
"We have grown apart to such an extent that, with the exception of our children and a lasting friendship, there is little of common interest between us, and we have therefore decided to seek divorce," said the couple's statement. They also appealed for privacy, particularly for their two children - Tom, 20, a student at Oxford University, and Laura, 16.
Simon Elliot, Mrs Parker Bowles's brother-in-law, said: "It has been an amicable matter, I cannot emphasis that enough. It is just one of those very sad events."
It is expected that Prince Charles and Mrs Parker Bowles, who have remained close, will continue to see each other informally.
But even after an eventual divorce between the Prince and Princess of Wales, it is thought that the weight of public opinion would prevent any formal union between the Prince and Mrs Parker Bowles in the forseeable future. Although there is no constitutional barrier to a divorced Prince of Wales marrying a divorced woman and eventually becoming the king, many royal watchers say they believe that this scenario is only a remote possibility.
If Prince Charles did marry a divorced Mrs Parker Bowles, it would probably provoke a republican outcry against the monarchy, whose popularity has been severely weakened in recent years.
"The confidence of the public in the Prince will be influenced by this divorce because for as long as Camilla was married they did not have to contemplate her ever becoming queen," royal expert Harold Brooks-Baker said.
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