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Enter Camilla, a modern and complex queen

Camilla Parker Bowles' journey in the public eye has been remarkable.
Chris Jackson
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Getty Images
Camilla Parker Bowles' journey in the public eye has been remarkable.

From mistress, to duchess, to queen, Camilla's progression reflects that of an evolving British culture and tradition.

Who is she? A complex figure in the past, present, and uncertain future of the British monarchy.

  • Officially known as the Queen Consort, Camilla Parker Bowles is the wife of King Charles III. The pair will have their coronation later this week.
  • Camilla was famously Charles' mistress while he was married to the late Princess Diana. The pair, who married in 2005, are both divorced — a relatively modern aspect of royal life. 
  • King Charles III and Camilla, Queen Consort take part in an address in Westminster Hall in September 2022.
    Dan Kitwood / Getty Images
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    Getty Images
    King Charles III and Camilla, Queen Consort take part in an address in Westminster Hall in September 2022.

    What's the big deal? Camilla's position as Queen will provide an opportunity for her to highlight causes important to her within the U.K. and around the world, which include stopping domestic violence.

  • As with so many matters relating to the monarchy, the real story lies in the details. NPR's Rachel Treisman reported on how the decision to drop "consort" from Camilla's title on the coronation invite reveals a contrast between how the institution views her versus how Charles wants her to be seen.
  • Camilla's official upgrade in station, and any subsequent public response, will also prove an interesting test on whether modern British society will accept a leader with a less traditional rise to power.
  • She was once regarded as "the most hated woman in Britain" for her role in the dissolution of Diana and Charles' marriage, and a 2006 poll by The Times showed that only 21% of the British public would be happy to have her as queen. Yet that number has increased dramatically since Queen Elizbeth II's death. 
  • The shift in power from the late Queen Elizabeth II comes at a time of turnover for the monarchy. Embroiled in controversy after accusations of exclusion and racial discrimination from Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, support for the monarchy within the U.K is at a historic low.  
  • Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have been at the center of controversy surrounding the norms and traditions of the monarchy.
    Pool / Getty Images
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    Getty Images
    Prince Harry and Meghan have been at the center of controversy surrounding the norms and traditions of the monarchy.

    What are people saying? NPR's Sacha Pfeiffer spoke with Tina Brown, journalist and author of The Palace Papers, who shared her thoughts about Camilla as queen.

    On the public abuse and disapproval Camilla has faced over the years:

    Diana used to call her the Rottweiler, and she was not a glamour girl coming in at any point.  

    And unfortunately for her, people knew nothing really about her because she was so very private. Her friends knew she was this extraordinarily attractive and appealing woman, but in terms of the public feeling about her, they saw her through Diana's eyes, which was usurper.

    She had to have that stigma, and the press went after her with such viciousness. The really appalling sexist comments about Camilla, they used to call her, "old bag" [and] "old trout". There was even a dish named after her as "Haddock Parker Bowles." Just the rudest things to the point that she used to joke to Charles and sign her letters as to him, "Your devoted old bag, Camilla." Because she'd been called it so often. 

    On whether the British public has warmed up to her:

    Yes, because she's now been a working royal for nearly 20 years.

    There has been an acceptance, in some ways, because Charles now becomes king so late, and she's a woman of 75 after all, she has now become sort of the nation's grandmother and is on her way to becoming sort of a national treasure. So kind of getting the reward, as it were, so late has really been beneficial to her, because earlier I don't think the public would have accepted it, but they're beginning to see that she's a very hardworking, very gracious, humorous, unpretentious woman. 


    Want more insight on the United Kingdom? Listen to Consider This on the past seven years of drama, through Brexit, royal scandals, and Queen Elizabeth's death.


    On her desires to be queen:

    I think it's incredibly daunting, really, that aged 75 she's had to step into this role. But you know, quite honestly, I really don't think that Camilla was sort of antsing to be queen, as I think Harry feels. I think she was antsing to be married to Charles, simply because without being married to Charles, she was a constant sort of mistress in the shadows. 

    So, what now?

  • It remains to be seen how — and if — the British public warms to the monarchy, particularly without the help of Meghan and Harry, who have proven to do well among younger crowds.   
  • This comes at an especially tumultuous time, with Prince Harry's recent memoir Spare criticizing Camilla, accusing her of feeding the press negative stories about him and his wife Meghan to help her own public image.  
  • The official coronation ceremony will take place on Saturday, May 6, at Westminster Abbey.
  • Learn more:

  • Prince William got a 'very large sum' in a Murdoch settlement in 2020
  • The royals dropped 'consort' from Queen Camilla's title. What's the big deal?
  • Prince Harry and Meghan say they will use royal titles for their children
  • Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Manuela López Restrepo
    Manuela López Restrepo is a producer and writer at All Things Considered. She's been at NPR since graduating from The University of Maryland, and has worked at shows like Morning Edition and It's Been A Minute. She lives in Brooklyn with her cat Martin.
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