Camilla Parker Bowles: Diana’s Death
This is the last in a series of three articles on the life of Camilla Parker Bowles. To begin with the first, please click here
It was a tragic twist of fate that would change the lives of Charles, Camilla and the entire royal family. Charles was spending some precious days with his sons at the royal summer getaway in Balmoral over the 1997 summer break. Then came the news that shocked the world.
Where could he turn for consolation?
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A Twist Of Fate
It was a tragic twist of fate that would change the lives of Charles, Camilla and the entire royal family.
Charles was spending some precious days with his sons at the royal summer getaway in Balmoral over the 1997 summer break and Princess Diana was supposed to be heading home from France to pick them up the following day.
Then came the news that shocked the world. Attempting to evade the paparazzi with boyfriend Dodi Fayed, Diana was fatally injured in a car crash in the Pont de l’Alma road tunnel in Paris.
Dodi and the car driver Henri Paul – who was later found to have been drunk – also died in the horrific accident.
Image by Victoria Johnson, (CC BY 2.0)
Consumed with grief after hearing that Diana was dead there was only one person Charles could call for comfort as the enormity of the tragedy became clear.
A Great Comfort
The first message alerting him to Diana’s accident came through to Balmoral at 1 am on the morning of Sunday, August 31, 1997.
According to biographer Penny Junor, the Queen urged her son not to wake William and Harry when their mother’s death was confirmed.
So the prince turned to the woman he’d relied on for much of his adult life when things went wrong. He called Camilla.
As ever, her words were “a great comfort” to Charles as the world woke up to the death of the princess.
There was no love lost between the two women in Charles’ life. But Camilla understood as well as anyone the devastating effect Diana’s death would have on her sons and on the way Charles would be perceived.
Privately, she suspected that the outpouring of grief over the popular princess would jeopardize her growing hopes of enjoying a public life with Charles after years of skulking in the shadows.
Just the previous month, on July 18, Charles had taken the huge step of organizing a 50th birthday party for Camilla at his Highgrove home.
A Warming Trend
Through his friends, he’d even tipped off photographers to record her arrival – and her departure the following morning.
The prince had quietly begun paying Camilla a yearly allowance so she could live in a style befitting a royal mistress. He even sent his staff to do her supermarket shopping.
The newspapers in Britain, which in the past had routinely favored Diana and reviled her rival, had begun to warm to the idea of Charles and Camilla, even if few doubted they would ever be allowed to marry.
Flowers For Diana
But that all ended with Diana’s death. If the Queen could draw the wrath of her people by her refusal to break with tradition and fly the flags at half-mast at Buckingham Palace, what chance did Camilla stand of breaking an even more ingrained tradition of the prince marrying a divorcee?
The more immediate problem was whether or not Camilla should be present at Diana’s funeral as Charles would have wished her to be.
In the days after the tragedy, Camilla remained inside her country home, the curtains firmly drawn. She spoke on the phone with Charles every day, but they didn’t meet, nor could they.
On the day of the funeral at Westminster Abbey on September 6 1997, Charles walked with his sons, their uncle, Earl Spencer, and his father, the Duke of Edinburgh, behind Diana’s coffin.
Camilla may have been in the sixth row at Diana’s wedding but she was not welcome at her funeral, which was watched by an estimated 2.5 billion people around the world.
Still, to many her absence echoed around the ancient hall.
The Queen made it clear to Charles that he could not take his paramour to the service. This time, even the stubborn heir understood it wasn’t possible.
Image via Daily Mail
While Diana was remembered as a saint, Camilla was facing the full wrath of a public that had never really taken to her or understood the smitten prince’s fascination with her.
In the days and weeks that followed, the resurrection of every last detail of Diana’s doomed marriage sent Camilla back underground and for a while at least it seemed that Charles was faced with the not unfamiliar choice of either giving her up or relinquishing his claim to the throne.
Royal commentators largely spoke for an indignant public when they warned Camilla to maintain her low profile.
The prince must now keep a safe distance from Camilla, said royal correspondent Judy Wade.
"If Camilla Parker-Bowles is seen anywhere near his home in the next six months, he'll be toast," Wade said. "He's got to keep a low profile with her."
"There's absolutely no chance of Charles marrying Camilla now," said Bob Houston, editor of Royalty magazine said at the time. "He would have to be the most thoughtless cad in the world to consider it."
Camilla wasn’t seen publicly for eight months and even then it was only to attend the May 1998 wedding of her godson Henry Dent Brocklehurst.
But, as we know, their relationship was nothing if not resilient.