Fifteen years ago today Britain learned that heir to the throne Prince Charles would marry his long-term partner Camilla Parker Bowles.
Famously the “third person” in his marriage to Princess Diana, Mrs Parker Bowles had known Prince Charles for decades, since they first met in 1970.
Following Princess Diana’s death in a car crash in 1997, Camilla became gradually more involved in Prince Charles’ public life, the couple making their first public appearance together in 1999. When Camilla was invited by the Queen to attend her Golden Jubilee celebrations in 2002, it was seen as the monarch giving public approval of her eldest son’s relationship.
On February 10th, 2005, it was announced that Charles and Camilla would marry in a low-key civil ceremony planned for just two months later, on Friday April 8th. It would take place at Windsor Guildhall, followed by a televised service of prayer and dedication in St George’s Chapel, at Windsor Castle. The service would be presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, widely interpreted as the Church of England giving its blessing to the union.
Prince Charles, then 56, said that he and his 57-year-old wife-to-be were “absolutely delighted” at the prospect of their forthcoming marriage. Princes William and Harry – Prince Charles’ children from his failed marriage to Princess Diana – said they were very happy and wished the couple “all the luck in the future”.
The official announcement from Clarence House ended years of speculation over the relationship between Prince Charles and Mrs Parker Bowles, who had been divorced from her previous husband, Andrew Parker Bowles, for a decade. After her marriage to Prince Charles she would take the title ‘Her Royal Highness Duchess of Cornwall’. It was also stressed that if and when Prince Charles became King, his wife would not become Queen Camilla, but would instead be known as the Princess Consort.
Camilla was still unpopular with some sections of the British public, who blamed her for the break-up of Prince Charles’ marriage to Diana. Others believed Camilla had always been the Prince’s true love; a love which had endured throughout his royally-appointed but ill-fated marriage to Diana, who was almost 13 years his junior and shared few of his interests.
In a last-minute twist, the wedding plans for Charles and Camilla had to be hastily reorganised. It followed the death of Pope John Paul II on Saturday April 2nd and the announcement that his funeral would take place in Vatican City on April 8th – the planned day of the wedding.
As the Queen’s eldest son, Prince Charles was expected to represent the Royal Family at the funeral, and several of his wedding guests also needed to attend in their various official capacities. With less than a week to go, the decision was made to set the wedding back by a day, to Saturday April 9th.
In the 15 years since their marriage, Camilla has steadily grown in the nation’s affections, partly due to her active involvement in a wide range of charities and beneficial organisations. She been particularly active in helping raise awareness around the issues of osteoporosis, rape and sexual abuse, literacy and poverty.
Camilla also regularly accompanies Charles on his official duties. Several royal commentators have noted the genuine and relaxed familiarity the couple obviously enjoy, contrasting it with the more formal and seemingly uneasy relationship between Charles and Diana.