Royal exclusive:

As she ap­proaches her 70th birth­day, the Duchess of Corn­wall in­vited The Aus­tralian Women’s Weekly to spend two weeks criss-cross­ing Bri­tain with her. In a can­did pro­file, Juliet Rieden dis­cov­ers the royal’s un­der-the-radar mis­sions, her fer­vour for women

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

the real Camilla – our two weeks with the Duchess of Corn­wall

It’s In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day in London and in a courtly rose-pink room dot­ted with price­less art­work and liv­er­ied foot­men, in the heart of Buck­ing­ham Palace, a noisy swell of bois­ter­ous chat­ter is gath­er­ing force. The Duchess of Corn­wall is host­ing a lunchtime launch party for the Women of the World Fes­ti­val and the im­pres­sive list of in­vi­tees in­cludes ac­tress Gil­lian An­der­son, for­mer Prime Min­is­ters’ wives Cherie Blair and Sarah Brown, For­eign Min­is­ter Boris John­son’s mo­tor­mouth sis­ter Rachel John­son, come­di­enne Phoebe Waller-Bridge and au­thor Kathy Lette, to name a few.

They’re a feisty, im­pos­ing lot and as the Duchess weaves her way through the throng, shak­ing hands, em­brac­ing and burst­ing into laugh­ter, she looks in her el­e­ment. The Duchess and I have met on sev­eral oc­ca­sions in Aus­tralia and London, and she im­me­di­ately wel­comes me into the Palace fold and shares proudly: “This is a won­der­ful group of women, isn’t it!” She’s right.

It’s now 12 years since Camilla Parker Bowles mar­ried into the “Royal Firm”. The love match that turned her coun­try­woman world up­side down also pro­pelled her into the busiest and most high-pro­file job of her life.

On July 17, Camilla will turn 70 and her fu­ture as Princess Con­sort

– or pos­si­bly Queen, if pub­lic opinion con­cedes and al­lows her the ti­tle many be­lieve she’s due – is only go­ing to be­come more in­dus­tri­ous.

As she has grown in con­fi­dence sup­port­ing hus­band Prince Charles, so the Duchess has also de­vel­oped her own ob­jec­tives and vo­ca­tions, and they make for a sur­pris­ing port­fo­lio.

Today as Pres­i­dent of the WoW Fes­ti­val – which she also launched in Syd­ney in 2012 and Wash­ing­ton in 2015 – the Duchess is hitch­ing her star to a frankly fem­i­nist mis­sion, to fight for women’s rights and beat the scourge of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and sex­ual abuse, while also tack­ling is­sues of di­ver­sity. It’s gritty, vi­tal work, and the Duchess doesn’t pull her punches.

“I be­lieve that it’s more im­por­tant than ever for women of all ages and from every walk of life to unite,” says Camilla in a rab­ble-rous­ing speech. “WoW pro­vides that place, where hard-hit­ting is­sues that deeply af­fect women’s lives can be openly dis­cussed.”

WoW founder Jude Kelly couldn’t be more thrilled with the Duchess’ pas­sion­ate in­volve­ment with the Fes­ti­val. “The whole ter­ri­tory around fem­i­nism can be per­ceived as some­thing which nice peo­ple don’t do,” she tells

me as we perch on a silk couch in the en­trance hall of the Palace. “And the Duchess, by be­ing so com­mit­ted to the idea there is in­jus­tice in the world for girls and women, that it’s not right, and we should change it, makes it pos­si­ble to open many doors. Peo­ple feel she is a safe, au­thor­i­ta­tive voice. It gives it a le­git­i­macy.”

Cherie Blair says she’s known the Duchess “from the time when my hus­band [for­mer Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Tony Blair] was in 10 Down­ing Street” and thinks that the fact that she came to royal life late is a bonus. “One hes­i­tates to say that she was an or­di­nary woman, but she was a per­son who lived a real life in the com­mu­nity and be­cause of that she’s very aware of some of these is­sues.

“It is a strange role [be­ing a royal]. You have a pro­file but no power, but the ques­tion is, what do you do with your pro­file? I know she cares deeply about the vic­tims of sex­ual vi­o­lence and as Pres­i­dent of Barnardo’s she puts in a huge amount of work. I’ve seen it my­self. And she has done it in a quiet, not a flashy, way.”

Eleanor Mills, Edi­to­rial Di­rec­tor of The Sun­day Times adds, “I think she’s al­ways been known as some­one who was re­ally rather good fun and down-to-earth, and a kind of proper per­son, and she’s ex­actly like that in real life. I think she’s had a dif­fi­cult birth into pub­lic life. She was put in a re­ally im­pos­si­ble po­si­tion and she has dealt with the hand that she was given in­cred­i­bly well and el­e­gantly.” Pre­cious child­hood

Camilla Shand was born in 1947 in King’s Col­lege Hospi­tal in London and raised in ru­ral Sus­sex and South Kens­ing­ton. Her fa­ther, Ma­jor Bruce Shand, was an of­fi­cer in the Bri­tish army, and a dash­ing dec­o­rated war hero; her mother, the Honourable Ros­alind Cu­bitt, a so­ci­ety heiress, the daugh­ter of the third Lord Ash­combe.

Although a prod­uct of post­war Bri­tain, Camilla’s child­hood was more rem­i­nis­cent of the aris­to­cratic coun­try life of a more gen­tri­fied era. “Bri­tain had just come out of the war and I think there was a de­ter­mi­na­tion by peo­ple who’d been in the war, and that in­cluded Camilla’s par­ents, to

She’s known as some­one who is rather good fun.

re­vert back to type,” ex­plains royal bi­og­ra­pher Christo­pher Wil­son, au­thor of A Greater Love: Prince Charles’s Twenty-Year Af­fair with Camilla Parker Bowles. “Dur­ing her up­bring­ing there was an el­e­ment of Bri­tish so­ci­ety that wanted to turn the clock back.”

Camilla was the eldest and very close to her sis­ter, Annabel, and brother, Mark, and fam­ily life was warm and pre­cious. “While no child­hood is per­fectly idyl­lic, I think Camilla’s was pretty amaz­ing,” says Wil­son.

As a teenager, Camilla went to a Swiss fin­ish­ing school and on March 25, 1965, was pre­sented in the ar­chaic debu­tante sea­son in London, one of 311 girls who came out that year. “The Bri­tish up­per-classes brought their daugh­ters out on dis­play and showed them to ad­van­tage in tiaras and silk gowns, re­ally as a cel­e­bra­tion of their sur­vival as a group. And she was part of that,” says Wil­son.

Camilla mar­ried cav­alry of­fi­cer An­drew Parker Bowles in 1973. “At the time An­drew Parker Bowles was a God-like fig­ure. He was a daz­zling horse­man, in­cred­i­bly brave but beau­ti­ful look­ing too,” says Wil­son. She would watch her hus­band play polo at Smith’s Lawn, home to the Guards Polo Club. Also a mem­ber of that polo set was the Prince of Wales. And the rest is his­tory.

Much has been writ­ten about the course of the ro­mance and even­tual mar­riage of Camilla and Prince Charles in 2005 but one thing is clear – this is a love that has en­dured seem­ingly in­sur­mount­able ob­sta­cles and is now the cor­ner­stone of a strong and de­voted monar­chy. En­dur­ing love

Dame Ju­lia Clever­don has worked with the Prince of Wales for 30 years and first met the Duchess at His Royal High­ness’s High­grove home some years be­fore the cou­ple mar­ried. “I knew in­stantly that this was a very great love af­fair,” she tells me.

Dame Ju­lia also un­der­stood the “coura­geous and dif­fi­cult jour­ney” the cou­ple was about to em­bark on. “On the day of the an­nounce­ment of the en­gage­ment at Wind­sor Cas­tle I was in my bed with a tem­per­a­ture of 104 and the Prince’s Deputy Pri­vate Sec­re­tary called me and said, ‘Ju­lia, where are you? You’re meant to be at Wind­sor. Camilla must be able to see a friendly face when she comes out through the pa­parazzi. Get out of your bed and come to Wind­sor.’ So, I ar­rived ab­so­lutely scar­let in the face, slightly

wob­bly and saw them as they came out into an enor­mous milling party. It was a huge thing for her to take on, ab­so­lutely im­mense.”

Jour­nal­ist Elsa McAlo­nan and hus­band Mur­doch MacLen­nan, the CEO of the UK’s Tele­graph Media Group, also knew Prince Charles, soon met Camilla, and were in­vited to the cou­ple’s wed­ding. “I re­mem­ber think­ing that she looked ex­quis­ite,” says Elsa. “When she swept down the aisle, some of the ladies gasped. The wed­ding out­fit, which was long and a slatey, pale blue with a feath­ered head­dress, was so clev­erly thought out. It wasn’t the big crown and it wasn’t white or cream. It was just per­fect.

“If she was ner­vous she didn’t show it. I am sure she was very well aware that there was a moun­tain to climb in terms of Diana, but if any­one had any doubts what­so­ever they would have erased them im­me­di­ately be­cause they could see that she was gen­uine.”

While the Queen didn’t at­tend the civil ser­vice, she did host the wed­ding re­cep­tion in Wind­sor Cas­tle and Dame Ju­lia re­calls, Her Majesty “made the funniest speech, all about Becher’s Brook [one of the trick­i­est fences in the fa­mous Grand Na­tional an­nual horser­ace, which jock­eys com­pare to jump­ing off the edge of the world].

“It was the day of the Grand Na­tional and I have heard the Queen make speeches which she’d writ­ten her­self, but not many, and it was clear that this was some­thing very much from the heart. She said that they’d come through an ex­tra­or­di­nary and pretty tough race and then said: ‘My son is home and dry with the woman he loves.’ The Queen say­ing that at the wed­ding rather set the tone that she did un­der­stand what they had been through – an im­mense jour­ney for the love of each other.

“The Duchess has an im­mensely re­spect­ful re­la­tion­ship with the Queen. They’re both mad about horses and if you think about it, the Duchess has been in that world all her life. As for the Prince of Wales, he was ab­so­lutely stead­fast that she [Camilla] was non-ne­go­tiable and ev­ery­body would have to get used to it. And I think 12 years in, one can’t think of any­body who could have played the crit­i­cal role she has played bet­ter or with more grace, dig­nity, hu­mil­ity and courage.”

Elsa, who has since worked closely with the Duchess, agrees. “She mar­ried first and fore­most for love. Be­fore they got mar­ried there was an al­leged in­ci­dent of bread rolls

be­ing flung at the Duchess in the su­per­mar­ket. I don’t know if that re­ally hap­pened, but it’s not been easy for her. It wasn’t an easy job to take on or an easy fam­ily to marry into. But she’s put love of her hus­band above ev­ery­thing and she’s made a re­ally good job of it.”

Per­sonal mis­sions

That job is full-on. The Duchess is Pres­i­dent or Pa­tron of more than 90 char­i­ties, and last year car­ried out 220 en­gage­ments. In my two weeks with Her Royal High­ness there was barely pause to draw breath as we trav­elled to York­shire, Not­ting­ham and Cheltenham, and dashed around the cap­i­tal.

The Duchess’ work over these days was in­ten­sive and di­verse, in­volv­ing long, for­mal cer­e­mo­nial events with se­nior roy­als at West­min­ster Abbey for the Ob­ser­vance for Com­mon­wealth Day ser­vice and at Horse Guards Pa­rade for the un­veil­ing of a memo­rial to sol­diers lost in Afghanistan and Iraq, in­ter­spersed with per­sonal projects in­clud­ing her pi­o­neer­ing work with vic­tims of rape, cham­pi­oning of a UK off­shoot of OzHarvest with Aus­tralian ac­tivist Ronni Kahn and Jamie Oliver, meet­ing fam­i­lies at an RAF base and at­tend­ing Ladies Day at the Cheltenham Fes­ti­val – where she also had a fine time chat­ting to her ex-hus­band, An­drew Parker Bowles.

This is the day-to-day of royal work, but be­hind the hand­shak­ing, the meet­ing and greet­ing and the speeches, I soon dis­cover that the Duchess is forg­ing her own path in quiet, un­der-the-radar sor­ties.

Lieu­tenant-Gen­eral Pa­trick San­ders is the Com­man­der Of­fi­cer of the Ri­fles and in 2007 the Duchess be­came his Colonel-in-Chief. This is the first time Gen­eral San­ders has talked about the Duchess’ sur­pris­ing and unique re­la­tion­ship with the Ri­fles.

“She has be­come like a fairy god­mother,” says the Gen­eral. “She is very proud of the bat­tal­ion and very pro­pri­eto­rial. We are her bat­tal­ion; we are her ri­fle­men. She knows peo­ple across all three messes by name – and we’re in­tensely proud of her.”

As the daugh­ter and for­mer wife of army men, the Duchess has a deep un­der­stand­ing of the mil­i­tary way of life.

“A cou­ple of months af­ter her first visit, we de­ployed on a tour of Basra [in Iraq], which in 2007 wasn’t a par­tic­u­larly good place to be,” says San­ders. “We had an ex­tremely vi­o­lent tour. In the space of three-and-a-half months, we had just un­der 100 wounded and 12 peo­ple killed.

“The Duchess very quickly be­came con­cerned for us and asked if I would mind keep­ing her up­dated.

So I then got into the cy­cle of writ­ing every week. She was tak­ing an in­tense in­ter­est in our ca­su­al­ties and in our fam­i­lies and qui­etly, be­hind the scenes, she was invit­ing the fam­i­lies down to High­grove; she was writ­ing to the fam­i­lies of ev­ery­one in­jured and killed, and send­ing bot­tles of whisky. Ri­fle­men would get wounded, find them­selves in hospi­tal, and once they’d re­cov­ered suf­fi­ciently some­one would put a bot­tle of Laphroaig – a pun­gent and ex­pen­sive Scotch whisky – and a per­sonal let­ter from the Duchess of Corn­wall in their hands.

“It meant an enor­mous amount be­cause we felt very iso­lated. We were do­ing a dirty job on be­half of the coun­try, we were tak­ing a lot of ca­su­al­ties and we didn’t re­ally feel any­one got it. And she did. So in those dif­fi­cult few months when we were there, her words of en­cour­age­ment and sup­port and love, frankly, were in­cred­i­bly pow­er­ful.”

An­other project close to the Duchess’ heart is her wash bag ini­tia­tive, forged with the help of jour­nal­ist Elsa McAlo­nan. It be­gan with the Duchess pri­vately vis­it­ing rape cri­sis cen­tres in 2009 and talk­ing to vic­tims. The en­coun­ters deeply af­fected the Duchess, her team re­veals, and she came away, of­ten in tears, with a strong de­sire to help in a prac­ti­cal way. She came up with the idea of pro­duc­ing wash bags con­tain­ing sham­poo, de­odor­ant, a tooth­brush, face washer, hair­brush and more, which would be given to vic­tims who were go­ing through the or­deal of med­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tions.

It has taken eight years for the Duchess to im­ple­ment the wash bags na­tion­ally in the UK, part­ner­ing with

She mar­ried first and fore­most for love.

“Women of the World pro­vides a place where hard-hit­ting is­sues that deeply af­fect women’s lives can be openly dis­cussed,” says the Duchess at the launch of the 2017 fes­ti­val at Buck­ing­ham Palace.

Juliet Rieden joins the Duchess at the launch of UKHar­vest in London.

Prince Charles and the Duchess of Corn­wall on their wed­ding day in 2005 at Wind­sor Cas­tle with Prince Harry, Prince Wil­liam, and the Duchess’ chil­dren, Laura and Tom Parker Bowles. BE­LOW: Fol­low­ing their civil cer­e­mony the new­ly­wed cou­ple drove to St Ge­orge’s Chapel in Wind­sor Cas­tle for a re­li­gious bless­ing.

LEFT TO RIGHT: The Duchess chats to ex-hus­band An­drew Parker Bowles at Cheltenham races. While in New Zealand in 2015, Camilla met moth­ers and ba­bies at an in­tro­duc­tion to the Bel­ly­full char­ity. The royal cou­ple wear­ing korowai at Tu­ran­gawae­wae Marae.

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