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The Royals

How Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall ‘Puts People at Ease’ in Her Public Role

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Mark Cuthbert/UK Press via Getty Images

Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall came to public life late in life – at age 57, upon her 2005 wedding to Prince Charles.

Since then, after a cautious start, the royal wife — who turns 70 on July 17 — has accumulated more than 90 patronages, covering everything from rescue animals to cancer patients to service members. But it is through her efforts to promote literacy and raise awareness of sexual or domestic abuse that perhaps have made the biggest impact, say observers.

Yvonne Traynor, CEO of Rape Crisis South London, recalls an early visit by the Duchess to the center. “A couple of our clients had been through a horrendous time, but they just opened up to her,” says Traynor. “It was extraordinary. We are all trained therapists and we are expecting people to open up to us. But she put people so at ease that they  felt comfortable talking to her.”

As for her literacy campaign, the grandmother of five (three via her daughter Laura and two from her food-writing son Tom) has helped promote reading among thousands of school kids. At the 500 Words competition for children, run by BBC Radio 2 (which Camilla launched with a cartoon), she has become an honorary judge. “She always talks to me about her grandkids and reading,” presenter Chris Evans tells PEOPLE. “She likes the [contest’s] kids because of the lack of pretense. She just is a grandma.”

Whether she is reading Roald Dahl or chatting to children about their favorite books, she excels at deploying her spontaneity. When Evans asked her what she thought of a “naughty knight” at the Tower of London where the final of their contest was being held, she quickly retorted: “Off with his head!”