Monday, November 28

How Prince Charles’ 22-year campaign to win over Camilla to the public began at the Ritz

How different it all was on that chilly Thursday night outside the Ritz more than 20 years ago. It was Charles and Camilla’s coming out, a fleeting but scrupulously choreographed appearance before the world press.

Charles’s natural inclination had been to speak publicly with Camilla at a royal event that, in his eyes, would have given her some dignity, but the queen, who had not yet been won over by Mrs. Parker Bowles, was not about to accept that.

And here they were, this middle-aged man and woman, on a dark side street in Mayfair, just before midnight.

The couple had spent the night at a 50th birthday party and as they stepped out of the hotel onto the sidewalk (Charles embarrassed, Camilla petrified), a storm of camera flashes froze them in time.

Later, the British Epilepsy Association urged broadcasters not to use the images on television, lest they trigger seizures.

How different it all was on that chilly Thursday night outside the Ritz more than 20 years ago. It was the introduction of Charles and Camilla, a fleeting but scrupulously choreographed appearance before the world press.

This appearance in 1999 was the apex of the finely honed strategy to convince the British people of the idea of ​​the ‘non-negotiable’ woman in Prince Charles’s life.

Everyone knew about Camilla by now, of course, but she had always stayed out of sight, and for good reason.

Princess Diana was universally adored and cast a long shadow. For many, when Charles confessed to his adultery, Camilla was public enemy number 1, irremediably the other woman.

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Now the pair were dipping their toes in uncharted waters, and while it wasn’t exactly hot, it wasn’t icy cold either. Still, there was a long road ahead.

She was Public Enemy No. 1… but she began to find a place in the heart of Britain.

In truth, the Camilla Campaign, the name given to the operation to endear itself to the public, had begun 18 months earlier. In June 1997, invitations began to appear: Come join Camilla Parker Bowles for a party in aid of her charity, the National Osteoporosis Society.

Newspaper editors and a handful of celebrities and publishers were sure to attend. The idea was to present Camilla in a new, softer light. But then Diana died and the party was abandoned.

The campaign was led by Mark Bolland, the controversial public relations executive hired by Prince Charles in 1996 as Deputy Private Secretary.

From then on, he took every opportunity to portray Charles as both a loving father and a concerned single parent, while trying to gain public acceptance for Mrs. Parker Bowles.

Nine months after the accident in Paris that claimed Diana’s life, Camilla met Prince William at St. James’s Palace.

At first, it was said that it was a chance meeting, but this was not true. In fact, William requested the meeting so that he could personally ask her to help him organize a surprise 50th birthday party for his father.

After the appearance at the Ritz, the campaign gained new momentum. Suddenly Camilla was everywhere. She and Charles were together on a Greek businessman’s yacht with four close friends.

Then came the series of parties to commemorate the Prince’s half-century, culminating in the one Camilla threw for 300 guests at Charles’s Gloucestershire home, Highgrove.

By then it was quietly leaking out that she was spending more and more nights with Charles, both at Highgrove and St. James’s Palace.

However, nothing could alter the perception that the relationship between the Queen and Camilla was as cool as ever.

Warm and witty, with an infectious laugh, she connects effortlessly

Behind the scenes, however, Bolland worked tirelessly and still had a few tricks up his sleeve. Charles and Camilla had made an official trip to Scotland, staying at the Queen’s residence in Edinburgh, the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

The key moment came in 2000 when the queen met Camilla at Highgrove during a party organized to mark the 60th birthday of former King Constantine of Greece.

It was his first ‘public’ meeting and, mainly due to Mr Bolland’s efforts, he could hardly have had a higher profile.

Sometimes, though, his ploys — maliciously spreading damaging stories to royals to make Camilla look good by comparison — backfired.

But, as the years went by, Camilla learned to go her own way, and quietly and steadily, it paid off and began to find a place in the heart of Britain.

If there were any lingering doubts about its acceptance by the court of public opinion, they were dispelled yesterday by the resounding endorsement of the Queen.

These days, Camilla is admired for her charity work, tackling issues like rape and sexual abuse, domestic violence, literacy, and medical issues including juvenile diabetes and muscular dystrophy.

Critics have accused her of laziness, but even if she doesn’t have as many commitments as some royals, she effortlessly connects with the public.

Warm and witty with an infectiously guttural laugh, she does so without sacrificing dignity or upstaging her husband.

That’s why the Queen is apparently confident that she’ll be the perfect consort when her husband ascends the throne.

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