Camilla Parker Bowles: Country Girl  cover

Camilla Parker Bowles: Country Girl


This is the first in a series of three articles on the life of Camilla Parker Bowles. You'll be automatically linked to the next NoteStream at the end.
Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, born July 17, 1947 is the second wife of Charles, Prince of Wales, who is the eldest child and heir apparent of Queen Elizabeth II.
This is the first in a series of three articles on the life of Camilla Parker Bowles. You'll be automatically linked to the next NoteStream at the end.

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Camilla Parker Bowles: Country Girl

The Young Milla Shand

The tomboy who climbed onto the roof of Queen’s Gate boarding school for girls in London’s tony South Kensington to smoke cigarettes with her friends was never short of company.

While her pals gossiped about boys and horses, young Milla Shand had some altogether more scandalous stories to tell. Who else could boast that their great-grandmother was the great love and official mistress to Britain’s King Edward VII?

Society hostess Alice Keppel would entertain the King at her home, Pleasure House, outside London in the county of Kent, Milla would dish, and her great-grandfather, George, would conveniently leave during the royal visits.

Glory From The Past

Her amoral ancestor was famous for saying, “My job is to curtsy first…and then jump into bed!”

The other girls would feign shock and Milla would revel in the reflected glory from her family’s salacious past. The thought that she, too, would one day become a royal mistress would never have occurred to the teenage Camilla Rosemary Shand. But perhaps the seeds of her own later notoriety were sewn in the retelling of what seemed to her at the time to be thrilling sexual escapades.

Carried In Her Blood

It may have been more than pure coincidence that Alice met Edward VII at a dinner party in 1898 – when he was still the Prince of Wales before being crowned King.

But then, as one British royal commentator put it, the Shands are as famous for their sexual shenanigans as other dynasties are for breeding soldiers. Her great aunt, Violet Trefusis, was also at the center of a huge literary scandal as the lesbian lover of the Bloomsbury poet Vita Sackville-West. The affair became the basis for Virginia Woolf’s novel ‘Orlando.’ “Sex is something she has in her blood, just like her great-grandmother,” says her biographer Christopher Wilson.

Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall

Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall

Image by Northern Ireland Office

(CC BY 2.0)

Major Bruce Shand

Born at King’s College Hospital in London on July 17, 1947 (making her 16 months older than Prince Charles), Camilla was the eldest daughter of Major Bruce Shand, a former Army officer who became a partner in an exclusive wine store on the site of what is now Harry’s Bar in Mayfair, one of London’s most well heeled neighborhoods.

The perfect English gentleman, Bruce won the Military Cross for bravery after fighting at Dunkirk and in North Africa in World War Two and spending two years as a German prisoner-of-war.

Rosalind Shand

Her mother, the Honorable Rosalind Shand, was the daughter of Lord Ashcombe, whose great-grandfather had made a huge fortune in real estate.

Rosalind’s mother, Sonia, was the daughter of the infamous Alice. With her younger sister, Annabel, and their brother, Mark, Camilla grew up on the family’s idyllic rural estate in Plumpton, East Sussex, about 50 miles south of London.

Their home, The Laines, was a former rectory and Camilla led a charmed childhood, owning her first pony at the age of five, riding on the green rolling hills nearby and going on family trips to the seaside about ten miles away at Brighton on weekends.

“There are these wonderful hills that go through Sussex that are called the South Downs,” recalled William Shawcross, a historian and biographer who has been friends of Camilla since their were children.

Countryside in Wales

Countryside in Wales

Nostalgic About The Past

“It’s now a national park. In those days it was just open, common land and very lovely, gentle hills rising out of the sea. Rosalind used to let Camilla and Annabel go on riding-and-camping nights.

They slept on the downs in sleeping bags. Camilla and Annabel were mad keen on the ponies, as was my sister, Joanna, and they’d go off to Pony Club events together.

“There’s always a risk of being too nostalgic about one’s own youth. But we were very lucky, growing up in the 50s in the countryside in England,” Shawcross told Vanity Fair.

The Shand Household

Cloistered from the outside world, Camilla went to Dumbrells school, just three miles away, where she was remembered as a “nice, polite little girl.”

Most families in that social set had nannies, but not the Shands. “Rosalind would pick the girls up at the end of the day and, in summer, take them to the beach in Hove,” said Shawcross.

“Rosalind was fully with the kids all the time. Fun was one of the main things I remember about the Shand household. There were ponies, dogs, picnics. There was no pomp, no snobbery, but a lot of fun for all ages. The Shands were a happy clan.”

It was, in short, the upbringing of a typical upper-class English “gel.”

Getting More Serious

The Shands also owned a London house and when Camilla was 10, it was deemed time for her to get more serious about her education and enrolled at the Queen’s Gate weekly boarding school.

According the author Catherine Graham in her biography ‘Camilla: Her True Story’, the private school was known for “providing wives for half the foreign office and most of the nobility.”

At weekends, Camilla would still get the train home to keep up with her riding and hunting, both lifelong favorite pursuits.

The Southdown Fox Hunt

Her father was master of the Southdown Fox Hunt in Sussex and Camilla tagged on behind the adults on her pony.

“If you were at the kill you would be ‘blooded’: the foxman would take the fox's paw and put blood on your cheeks,” Broderick Munro-Wilson, a merchant banker and longtime friend of Camilla said in an interview.

“You thought: ‘It would be marvellous to go to a party tonight with blood on my cheeks.’ I'm sure Camilla would have been blooded,” he added.

Describing “Milla”

"At parties we used to have miniature dinner jackets and the girls had pretty dresses with satin bows."

"We danced the Gay Gordons and Sir Roger de Coverly. I remember Camilla vividly. She was quite commanding and would always have other girls around her. "Milla", as she was known, was a regular tomboy with an extrovert personality. She was the focus of attention, not because she was dazzlingly beautiful but because she was so bright and bubbly.

“She wasn't going to be a movie star but she was always very smart and well turned out.”

She Was A Daredevil

She Was A Daredevil

He added in another recollection:

"She was into boys much quicker than other girls of her age. There was this daredevil element in her. She would make the running. There is a certain boldness required to go riding, hunting and jumping, and that shone through.”

Camilla gradually settled into the busier social life the capital offered, even if she never excelled at academics, leaving at the age of 16 with a solitary ‘O’ level, the equivalent of a passing grade in just one subject.

It was hardly a problem as she didn’t need to work; both parents had private incomes and a $750,000 trust from her mother’s family ensured she wouldn’t want for money once she left school.

Image by Tktru

(CC BY 3.0)

Setting The Stage To Meet Her Prince

Nevertheless, she was packed off to finishing school near Geneva in Switzerland for a year before returning for her ‘coming out party’ in Knightsbridge in March 1965.

She started hanging out with London’s young moneyed set and despite her strictly twin sets and pearls fashion sense, she was much in demand from young suitors.

With her own apartment – shared with the future Lady Spencer-Churchill – Camilla was an independent woman of considerable means.

The stage was set for Alice Keppel’s great-granddaughter to meet her own Prince of Wales…