LONDON: The crowning of Camilla alongside King Charles III on May 6 will be both a royal milestone and a personal victory for the monarch, who has long been quietly determined to make her his queen.
In the turbulent 1990s, Camilla was vilified as “the other woman” in Charles’s marriage to his first wife, Princess Diana.
But she has slowly won acceptance for offering steadfast support to her husband, and an unshowy dedication to good causes.
Before the couple married, Charles let it be known that his relationship with the then Camilla Parker Bowles was “non-negotiable” and she would always be “central to his life”.
At the time his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, was reportedly worried that the marriage would cause irreparable damage to the monarchy.
Royal experts have described a long campaign behind the scenes by Charles’s office to improve Camilla’s image and ultimately ensure she would be queen.
The royal seal of approval for Camilla finally came before Elizabeth’s death last year when she said it was her “sincere wish” that Camilla be known as Queen Consort after her death.
That finally put to rest a 2005 royal household plan for Camilla to become Princess Consort when Charles acceded to the throne.
In recent weeks, the “consort” part of her title has been quietly dropped and she is to be known simply as Queen Camilla.
Sense of duty
Although her popularity ratings remain lower than most other senior royals, Camilla is increasingly seen by the public as a warm and down-to-earth figure.
Royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliams said the public now took a “benign view of Camilla”, nearly three decades after Charles and Diana’s very public divorce.
“She’s someone who has a strong sense of duty,” he told AFP.
“There’s no question that she regards her role as to support Charles, and that they are soulmates – similar age, a similar sense of humour, similar friends everything that he and Diana did not have in common.”
“The rehabilitation of Camilla was very successful, and it led to their marriage and it’s been very happy,” he said.
Camilla has also shown her “tough” side by silently enduring much criticism over the years.
Since Elizabeth’s death last year, the causes Camilla has supported for years have been given a much bigger platform.
They include the arts, promoting literacy and supporting survivors of rape and sexual assault.
“She’s been very low-profile in the UK in recent decades,” said the former UK ambassador to France, Peter Ricketts, speaking in March before the couple’s state visit to Germany.
“Now she has a moment to come more into the spotlight.”
Camilla is a “strong woman” and “a very warm person” who “believes passionately in her charitable convictions”, said Ricketts.
One cause close to her heart is the Royal Osteoporosis Society, of which she has been president for more than 20 years.
Camilla Rosemary Shand was born in London on July 17, 1947 and had a traditional upbringing among the monied upper classes.
She first met Prince Charles as a young woman at a polo match in the early 1970s, and they later became close.
But believing Charles would never propose, she married British Army officer Andrew Parker Bowles in 1973.
The couple had two children – food writer Tom Parker Bowles and art curator Laura Lopes. She now has five grandchildren.
As the royal marriage crumbled, Charles and Camilla rekindled their relationship. Camilla and Andrew Parker Bowles divorced in 1995, a year before Charles and Diana.
After Diana’s death in a Paris car crash in 1997, the couple made their first public appearance together in 1999.
They married on April 9, 2005, in a civil ceremony in Windsor, drawing a cheering crowd of 20,000 on the streets before a religious blessing.
Camilla has since been widely accepted by the royal family, including Charles and Diana’s eldest son Prince William.
His younger son Prince Harry accused Camilla in his recent autobiography of playing “the long game”, with a campaign aimed at “marriage, and eventually the crown with Pa’s blessing we presumed”.
But Tom Parker Bowles rejected the claim: “This wasn’t any sort of end game,” he said last week. “She married the person she loved.”