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Prince Charles first met Camilla Shand in a meeting arranged by mutual friend, Lucia Santa Cruz, at a polo match in 1970. The two had an instant connection: "He loved the fact that she smiled with her eyes as well as her mouth, and laughed at the same silly things as he did. He also liked that she was so natural and easy and friendly, not in any way overawed by him, not fawning or sycophantic. In short, he was very taken with her, and after that first meeting he began ringing her up," royal biographer Penny Junor wrote in her new book, The Duchess: The Untold Story.
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In 1971, Charles joined the Royal Navy, putting a strain on his relationship with Camilla. To make matters more complicated, she didn't have what were then seen as prerequisites for marrying the Prince of Wales: An aristocratic bloodline and her virginity. They eventually parted ways, and she reconnected with Andrew Parker Bowles (a former boyfriend of Princess Anne), whom she first met in the late 1960s.
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While Charles was in the Caribbean for his service with the Royal Navy, Camilla accepted a marriage proposal from Andrew Parker-Bowles. They tied the knot on July 4, 1973.
The news devastated the prince. Junor details his despair: “It seemed to him particularly cruel, he wrote in one letter, that after ‘such a blissful, peaceful and mutually happy relationship,’ fate had decreed that it should last a mere six months."
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Despite Camilla's change in marital status, she and Charles remained close friends.
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Around 1978-1979, she and Charles started up the physical side of their relationship once again (despite her marriage). Parker Bowles was apparently aware of the affair.
“Andrew was in no position to complain; and when he discovered what was going on, he wisely didn’t make a fuss," an excerpt from The Duchess: The Untold Story, says. "Some would say that a part of him actually quite enjoyed the fact that his wife was sleeping with the future King; he might have felt differently had Charles been a traveling salesman.
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In 1980, Charles begins to court Lady Diana Spencer as a prospective princess. She comes with him on visits to royal residences Balmoral and Sandringham, and attended his polo matches — one of which, with Camilla. Their relationship is surrounded by media buzz and speculation, leading Charles to rush toward a proposal.
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Charles and Diana tied the knot on July 29, 1981, in what was dubbed the "wedding of the century." They welcomed their first child, Prince William, in 1982, and their second, Prince Harry, in 1984. Diana later said that these early years were the closest she and Charles ever came to happiness in their marriage.
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By 1986, Camilla and Charles start seeing each other again, even though both are married with children.
At this point, Diana knew about the affair, and even claims to have approached Camilla herself. "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 said on tapes recorded for Andrew Morton, her biographer. "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.'"
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Charles's affair with Camilla became public knowledge when tapes of conversations between Charles and Camilla were leaked in the press in 1992. Prince Charles and Princess Diana officially announce their separation later in the year, in a statement from Prime Minister John Major.
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In 1995, Camilla and Parker Bowles announce their intention to divorce, saying that their differing interests led to the pair living separate lives. The divorce was official in March. That same year, Diana gives an explosive interview to BBC's Panorama, in which she is candid about the affair, saying, "Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded."
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Charles and Diana divorce on August 28, 1996. Diana is killed in a car crash in Paris one year later. Charles travels to the city to retrieve her body and bring it back to London, where thousands line the streets to mourn her death.
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In 1998 — one year after the death of Diana — Charles introduces William and Harry to Camilla, but it still seems impossible that the two would ever be able to marry if Charles was to retain his position as heir to the throne.
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Charles and Camilla appear in public for the first time together in 1999.
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In 2005, Charles and Camilla announced their engagement in February, and married in a civil ceremony at Windsor Guildhall on April 9. Though Charles's parents didn't attend the ceremony, they did attend the subsequent blessing at St. George's Chapel, and hosted a reception afterwards.
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Charles and Camilla have been married for 12 years. Because Diana is so closely associated with the title Princess of Wales, Camilla instead goes by "Duchess of Cornwall." It is still not known for certain if Camilla will be granted the title of Queen Consort upon Charles's ascent to the throne after the eventual death of Queen Elizabeth.
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