It was all simply too much. One week after confessing that he never loved his wife, the Prince of Wales was talking again—in a second installment of Jonathan Dimbleby’s authorized biography in London’s Sunday Times. This time he was revealing silly details of his dating days and confirming his “intimate friendship ” with Camilla Parker Bowles. The book has been described by one Palace source as “the most vindictive royal revenge since Henry VIII cut off Anne Boleyn’s head on trumped-up charges of adultery.”
The only truly innocent victims in this embarrassing public spectacle may be the prince’s sons William, 12, and Harry, 10. A sad-looking William has been spotted pacing the lawns at Ludgrove, talking to no one. At the Aberdeen airport, where photographers spotted the boys leaving for London after spending the weekend with their father at Balmoral, William struggled to shield his face from the cameras. “He has taken it very hard,” one royal-watcher told the Star. “It is not easy for a 12-year-old to hear that his father never really loved his mother or that she was so unhappy she considered suicide.”
Charles, who will turn 46 on Nov. 14, was careful to imply that his affairs with Camilla, 47, took place only before his engagement and after his marriage had “irretrievably broken down.” But another book, Camilla: The King’s Mistress by Caroline Graham, compiled with assistance from Camilla’s own friends, says her second affair with Charles carried on to within 48 hours of the wedding and resumed immediately after Prince Harry‘s birth (two to three years before the Dimbleby version). Such discrepancies have led others including Palace watcher Brian Hoey to believe that “the prince and Dimbleby have been highly selective in their dates.” “It’s much more probable,” he says, “that the affair never stopped.” Camilla herself had pleaded with Charles not to go public, according to the Daily Mail. “Again and again,” the paper reported, “Camilla, at the point of tears, tried to explain to the prince how the book would be perceived, and the damage it would do to the two of them.”
Not that Parker Bowles hasn’t already been damaged by her adulterous affair. With her children Tom, 19, at Oxford, and Laura, 16, away at school in Dorset, and her husband, Andrew, 54, spending his weekdays at the couple’s London home, Camilla is said by the Daily Mirror to have confined herself to her country estate in Wiltshire, where she “roams around her rambling house with only her four dogs to keep her company,” watches television and chats with close friends by phone. Notes one family friend: “Camilla was very fond of going to races around the country. Then she found that everywhere she went, people would point at her. Now she is strictly an armchair racegoer.” For his part, the cuckolded Andrew is said to be furious at the prince’s public admissions. Notes the Daily Mail: “In the past Andrew’s friendship with the Prince of Wales seems to have been genuine, but friends say that he now feels anger bordering on hatred.”
In fact, Charles himself, who is due in Los Angeles in early November, is believed to regret his cooperation with Dimbleby. Says Hoey: “He’s gone out of his way to justify his own position and blacken Diana, and it’s backfired on him.” The following excerpt from The Prince of Wales: A Biography, to be published in the U.S. in November, begins in 1972, when Lucia Santa Cruz, a close friend from the prince’s Cambridge days, tells Charles that she had discovered “just the girl” for him and arranges a meeting with Camilla Shand.
Camilla was pretty and bubbly; she laughed easily. Not caring for fashion or style, she was at home in the country with horses and hunting. She was affectionate, unassuming, and—with all the intensity of first love—the prince lost his heart to her almost at once.
The media speculation about when and whom he might marry was not even a whisper. After all, he was only 23 and had just embarked on a demanding career in the Royal Navy. As portrayed in the press, the prince was the most eligible bachelor on earth. They knew nothing of his emotional turmoil. He was aware that to accept his hand in marriage would be to enter a contract as much with an institution as an individual. He had confided to his intimates that he could not conceive that anyone he might hope to marry would want to marry him.
Although Charles was “powerfully attracted” to Camilla, whom he saw often through the autumn of 1972, he considered himself too young to marry. Just before Christmas, when he was about to embark on a tour of duty in the Caribbean, Charles invited Camilla for a farewell lunch. Later, in a wistful letter to his great-uncle Lord Mountbatten, the prince wrote, “[it is] the last time I shall see her for eight months.”
The longer he was at sea, the more the prince was afflicted by the familiar curse of homesickness. His consolation was that he was going to see his great-uncle in April on the tiny Caribbean island of Eleuthera, where Mountbatten’s daughter Patricia owned a house.
The seven days he spent there surpassed even his wildest imaginings. Every day the prince went off early in the morning to walk along the sand and to swim. The family shared the preparation of meals, and the prince showed off his prowess at making scrambled eggs and bread-and-butter pudding. “I’ve never experienced life more closely resembling paradise on earth,” he wrote to a friend.
He wrote that as he sat in the plane waiting to take off “that same ghastly feeling of empty desperation and hopelessness invaded my tummy. It was so utterly similar to going back to school.” Thoughts of home brought other memories. Camilla Shand had decided to accept an offer of marriage from Andrew Parker Bowles, who had been a suitor before she met the prince.
Whatever the reason, it seemed particularly cruel to him that after “such a blissful, peaceful and mutually happy relationship” fate had decreed it should last a mere six months. With “no one” to go back to in England, he wrote forlornly: “I suppose the feeling of emptiness will pass eventually.”
Shortly afterward, he had a letter from his father informing him that Princess Anne was to marry army officer Mark Phillips. The news filled him with shock at what he was convinced was a ghastly mismatch. His resentment was intensified by an overwhelming sense of loss and insecurity: Anne, who had become an essential part of his life, to confide in and fool with, now belonged to someone else. He noted wanly: “I can see I shall have to find myself a wife pretty rapidly, otherwise I shall get left behind and feel very miserable!”
The following year the prince joined HMS Jupiter on a tour of the Pacific, in which his dual role as junior naval officer and Prince of Wales was combined: exercises at sea; dinners and dances on land—all of which left plenty of opportunity for mild flirtations with pretty girls. He succumbed to a commanding officer’s daughter in the West Indies, and in Venezuela was much taken by the wife of a polo player. “Never in my life,” he wrote of this encounter, “have I had such dances as I had with this beautiful lady. She is unbelievable and danced with every conceivable part of her. I fell madly in love with her and danced wildly and passionately.”
His self-confidence began to bloom. In a letter home, he wrote: “You may find when I get back that the navy and six months out here have made me considerably more extrovert than I was.”
With respect to the opposite sex, the prince’s temerity bore the hallmarks of an innocent upbringing in a boys’ public school: “I tried to tickle a belly dancer last night at a hotel where we were having dinner! She came up to me and wobbled everything at me and so I ran my fingers up her tummy (rather hot and sticky) and she hit me in the head with her castanets! I think she rather liked it!”
By the time he joined EMS Jupiter, he was discovering how to deploy his charm—”the old eye-flashing technique,” as he called it. In Tonga, he danced with “gigantic lady after gigantic lady, around all of whom I was incapable of putting my arms! The third Amazon finally finished me. Apart from the fact that it was like dancing with several tractor inner tubes mounted on top of each other and vibrating slowly in different directions, she began to feel me all over with a wild look in her eye…It wasn’t so much her eye that I minded, but what she was going to do with her teeth!”
In Samoa, he met a beauty “with superb black hair down to her waist and with a devastating smile” with whom he stole half an hour that “must have shattered all the illusions she had had about me through excessive reading of Women’s Weekly.” At a cocktail party in Hawaii, he met “two spectacular blonde ladies,” whom he invited out to dinner. “They were incredibly keen and purred that they would give me an evening I would never forget…! It transpired that all these girls wanted to do was ‘to get the prince loaded’ as they put it. In other words they wanted me to smoke the rarest, most expensive form of marijuana…but I refused to try it and said I did not like smoking for one and secondly had no need of artificial stimulation.”
The imperative for the heir to continue the line of descent had long preyed on the prince’s mind. As he saw his friends settle down to marriage, he had written to two of them: “I shall soon be left floundering helplessly on a shelf somewhere, having missed everyone!”
But his attitude towards marriage was complicated by his feelings for Camilla, who had once again started to play an important part in his life. Her husband had been a regular guest at Balmoral, Sandringham and Windsor, a friend of Charles and the rest of the royal family. After his marriage to Camilla, the invitations were extended to his wife as well.
The prince had come to regard her as his best friend. She was, as he would later explain, his “touchstone” and his “sounding board.” They were not often alone together, but they talked frequently on the telephone. His friendship with Camilla had become a vital comfort to him and the prince was not willing or—at this time—able to loosen, let alone sever, so precious a bond.
Yet, by the beginning of the 1980s the need to reconcile his search with his duty to perpetuate the House of Windsor had become an overriding imperative. It was in this frame of mind that the prince met Diana Spencer and decided to marry her.
With his fiancée, he raised the subject of his relationship with Camilla, explaining that she had indeed been one of his most intimate friends but that now there was, and would be, no other woman in his life. His feelings for Camilla had not changed, but they had both accepted that their intimacy could no longer be maintained. The prince asked his aide, Michael Colborne, to arrange the purchase of a bracelet with the letters GF stamped on it. GF stood for Girl Friday, the prince’s nickname for Mrs. Parker Bowles, whose role in his life was thus neatly commemorated.
In July 1981, the bracelet was delivered to Colborne’s office, where it joined a pile of wedding cards and presents. Diana discovered the bracelet and concluded the worst. Later, she confronted Charles. He explained the bracelet. There was a heated discussion in which the prince insisted that, as an act of courtesy, he felt obliged to give Camilla the bracelet in person. A few days later, he gave her the present and said goodbye for what both of them intended to be the last time.
Twelve years later, it was reported that the prince had spent his wedding eve in Buckingham Palace with Camilla. In fact, on the eve of his wedding, the prince stood at the window of the palace with one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting. They looked down the Mall, where already the sense of tomorrow was at hand: the flags, the barricades, the huddles of people. According to his companion, he was in a contemplative mood, not at all elated but aware that a momentous day was upon him, clear about his duty and filled with concern for his bride at the test she was to face.
It was not until late 1986 or early 1987, when he and the Princess of Wales had begun to lead separate lives, that the prince’s friendship with Camilla was renewed. At this time he began to bring back into his life those friends whom he had expelled at his wife’s behest. As he would explain much later, “when marriages break down, awful and miserable as that is…it is your friends who are most important and…encouraging. Otherwise you would go stark, staring mad.”
Following his engagement to the princess in February 1981, the prince had made virtually no contact with Camilla for more than five years. Aside from a few telephone conversations during the four months of his engagement and only once after his marriage (when he rang to report that the princess was pregnant with William), they had not talked to each other at all.
Until he reached the point of desperation, when his marriage had “irretrievably broken down,” he had been loyal to his wife and faithful to his marriage vows. Now, in the search for support, he once again began to talk to Camilla on the telephone, and they started to see each other at Highgrove. She usually came with either her husband or some of the prince’s other close friends, and the opportunities to be alone with her for any length of time were infrequent.
Their relationship was later portrayed merely as a tawdry affair. For the prince, however, it was a vital source of strength to a man who had been saddened beyond words by a failure for which he invariably blamed himself.