Charles and Camilla: A timeline of their relationship from scandal to marriage

The story of Charles and Camilla, 16 years on from their wedding day

Natasha Preskey@natashapreskey
Friday 09 April 2021 11:13
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After a fraught and controversial love story, Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Boles married 16 years ago at Windsor Guildhall.

For most royal fans, the couple’s journey will always be intrinsically linked to the story of Charles and Diana, the Princess of Wales.

Over the years, the public, and other members of the royal family, have become more accepting of the match but it follows decades of controversy and scandal after the couple’s relationship began as an affair.

Here, we detail Charles and Camilla’s complicated love story.

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1970 - Charles and Camilla meet for the first time

A 22-year-old Charles met Camilla Shand, 24, the daughter of a British Army officer, at a polo match at Windsor Great Park. In 1992, People magazine reported that, when the pair met for the first time, Camilla said to Charles: “My great-grandmother was the mistress of your great-great-grandfather. I feel we have something in common.” 

The couple subsequently began dating.

February 1973 - Charles goes away to the Caribbean and Camilla gets engaged to someone else

After meeting Camilla, Charles joined the Royal Navy. He was assigned to frigate HMS Minerva in November 1972 and, in February 1973, the ship was posted to the Caribbean, not to return until November that year.

While Charles was away, Camilla announced her engagement to Andrew Parker Bowles, then a lieutenant, who she met in the late 1960s.

The Prince of Wales was reportedly heartbroken by the news, which Camilla shared with him herself in a letter. In his book about Camilla, The Duchess: The Untold Story, royal author Penny Junor wrote: “She wrote to Charles herself to tell him. It broke his heart.”

July 1973 - Camilla gets married

Andrew and Camilla Parker Bowles together in 1992

Camilla married Parker-Bowles at the Guards Chapel in London on 4 July, followed by a reception at St James’s Palace.

The ceremony was attended by The Queen Mother, Princess Margaret and Princess Anne, who Andrew Parker Bowles was rumoured to also previously have had a relationship with.

July 1980 - Charles starts dating Lady Diana Spencer

Charles and Diana initially met in 1977 when Diana was just 16 and Charles was 29 (and dating her older sister). Diana and the Prince of Wales grew close a few years later when Diana went to stay with a mutual friend, Philip de Pass, at his family home in Sussex for a weekend.

While there, Diana spoke to Charles about the assassination of his great uncle, Lord Mountbatten, with whom he had been very close.

“The next minute, he leapt on me, practically,” she claimed in the tapes that were released in Diana: In Her Own Words. “But then it sort of built up from there,” she added of their courtship.

1981 - Charles and Diana announce their engagement

Prince Charles and Diana at Caernarvon Castle during an official tour of Wales in October 1981.

Charles and Diana announced their engagement on 24 February. However, all already didn’t seem well between the pair. In Diana: In Her Own Words, the Princess of Wales recalled a joint interview the couple gave the same day. 

Charles married Diana at St Paul’s Cathedral in London on 29 July 1981

"We had this ghastly interview the day we announced our engagement,” she said. “And this ridiculous [reporter] said, ‘Are you in love?’ I thought, what a thick question. So I said, ‘Yes, of course, we are,’ and Charles turned round and said, ‘Whatever love means.’ And that threw me completely. I thought, what a strange answer. It traumatised me.”

1981 - Charles buys a bracelet for Camilla

Weeks before his July wedding to Diana, Charles bought a bracelet for Camilla, which was engraved with the letters G and F. This stood for Gladys and Fred, the couple’s nicknames for one another, which were inspired by BBC radio programme The Goon Show.

Diana discovered the bracelet, she later told her biographer Andrew Morton.

She said: “I was still too immature to understand all the messages coming my way. And then someone in his office told me that my husband has had a bracelet made for her.

“I walked into this man’s office one day and I said, ‘Ooh, what’s in that parcel?’ And he said ‘Oh, you shouldn’t look at that’. So I opened it and there was the bracelet. I was devastated, and I said ‘Well, he’s going to give it to her tonight’.

“So rage, rage, rage. You know, ‘Why can’t you be honest with me?’ But no, absolutely cut me dead. It was as if he’d made his decision, and if it wasn’t going to work, it wasn’t going to work.”

1986 - Charles and Camilla’s affair begins

American journalist and historian Sally Bedell Smith’s biography of Charles, Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes, states that his affair with his ex-girlfriend Camilla began in 1986.

In 2017, Camilla spoke about having been initially reviled by the press and the effect it had on her.

She told You magazine: “It was horrid. It was a deeply unpleasant time and I wouldn’t want to put my worst enemy through it. I couldn’t have survived it without my family.”

1989 - Diana confronts Camilla

Lady Diana Spencer and Camilla Parker-Bowles together in 1980

In 2004, an audio tape Diana made for her biographer Andrew Morton was broadcast for the first time on NBC for the first time.

On the tape, Diana recounted an incident at a party in 1989 when she confronted Camilla, interrupting a chat between Camilla, Charles and another man.

"I was terrified of her. I said, ‘I know what’s going on between you and Charles and I just want you to know that’," Diana is heard saying in the recording.

"I said to the two men, ‘OK, boys, I’m just going to have a quick word with Camilla and I’ll be up in a minute’," she said. "And they shot upstairs like chickens with no heads and I could feel, upstairs, all hell breaking loose - ‘What is she going to do?’ "

Diana said Camilla’s response was "very interesting".

She recalled: "She said to me: ‘You’ve got everything you ever wanted. You’ve got all the men in the world fall in love with you and you’ve got two beautiful children, what more do you want?’.

"So I said, ‘I want my husband’. And I said, ‘I’m sorry I’m in the way ... and it must be hell for both of you. But I do know what’s going on. Don’t treat me like an idiot."’

December 1992 - Charles and Diana announce separation

On 9 December, Prime Minister John Major announced that the Prince and Princess of Wales had separated “amicably”.

1993 - Charles and Camilla’s explicit phone call revealed

Details of a secretly recorded explicit phone call between Charles and Camilla, which took place in 1989, were published by tabloid newspapers.

This incident has come to be referred to as “tampon-gate” as Charles notoriously joked that he would like to be reincarnated as Camilla’s tampon, such was his desire to “live inside your trousers”.

Sadly, tampon-gate did not make it into royal drama The Crown as Josh O’Connor, the actor who portrays Charles, point blank refused to do it.

“When they offered me the role,” he told SiriusXM. “One of my first questions was — I say questions, I think it was pretty much a statement — ‘We are not doing the tampon phone call’.”

January 1995 - Camilla and Andrew announce divorce

Camilla and Andrew Parker Bowles announced that they intended to divorce. However, Charles still refused to confirm divorce proceedings between him and Diana, with a spokesperson telling The New York Times that a previous statement denying that a divorce was in the works was “still absolutely the case”. 

The original statement said that "there is no truth in reports which state that it has been agreed that a divorce should take place or that there have been discussions about a financial settlement between the parties".

November 1995 - Princess Diana is interviewed by Martin Bashir

Diana during her interview with Martin Bashir for the BBC

In her now-infamous BBC Panorama interview, Princess Diana said there were “three people” in her marriage, a reference to her husband’s relationship with Camilla.

Diana said that “woman’s instinct” meant she knew about Charles’s affair but that she was also told by her staff and those “who minded and cared about our marriage”.

Bashir asked the princess: “Do you think Mrs Parker-Bowles was a factor in the breakdown of your marriage?”

Diana replied: “Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.”

August 1996 - Charles and Diana’s divorce is finalised

Newspapers reporting that Queen Elizabeth had sent a letter to both Prince Charles and the Princess Diana spelling out her ‘desire for an early divorce’

The couple were finally legally separated in 1996, almost four years after their separation was first announced.

July 1997 - Charles hosts birthday party for Camilla

Charles hosted a 50th birthday party for Camilla at his home Highgrove in Gloucestershire.

Sept 1997 - Diana is killed in a car crash

The Princess of Wales died in a car crash in a road tunnel in Paris while being chased by paparazzi. Her partner, film producer Dodi Fayed, also died in the accident alongside the couple’s driver, Henri Paul.

A woman places flowers in front of the Pitie Salpetriere hospital in Paris where Diana was admitted following the fatal crash

August 1999 - Charles vacations with Camilla and his sons

Camilla joined Charles, Harry and William on a holiday to Greece.

2000 - The Queen attends an event Camilla is invited to

Up until this point, the Queen had refused invitations for events Camilla was going to be attending, including a private 50th birthday party for Charles in 1998 - something it was assumed was no coincidence.

But, in 2000, she accepted an invitation to a 60th birthday party for the King of Greece at Charles’s home Highgrove.

2003 - Camilla moves into Clarence House

Charles and Camilla moved into official London residence Clarence House.

February 2005 - The couple announce their engagement

The couple announced their engagement, meaning that Camilla would take on the title of Princess consort (though not Queen) when the Prince of Wales takes the throne.

April 2005 - The couple marries 35 years after first meeting

A family photo taken on Charles and Camilla’s wedding day

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall married on 8 April at Windsor Guildhall, with Prince William as best man.

The Queen did not attend the wedding ceremony itself but did attend the reception. Camilla wore a cream dress by Anna Valentine.

April 2020 - The couple celebrate their 15th wedding anniversary

The couple marked 15 years of marriage amid the coronavirus pandemic last year.

They released a picture of them with the duchess’s dogs Bluebell and Beth on the anniversary.

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