The takeover of Camilla Parker Bowles was a public relations victory for the beleaguered royal family
In January 1993, a tampon shook the world. A month after Charles and Diana’s public split, details of an intimate exchange between the future king and Camilla Parker Bowles have leaked to the press. Their conversation, recorded in 1989 when they were both married to other people, included titillating treats such as “I want to feel my way along you, all over you, up and down and in and out …” Another involved the unexpected debauchery of Charles. longing to reincarnate as one of Camilla’s stamps. Camilla was equally up for it, suggesting he could come back like the whole box, ‘so you can just keep going’. Royal levels of dirt.
Recreated in the new season of The crown – which arrived on Netflix on Wednesday – what became known as “tampongate” sowed the seeds for how Camilla would be perceived by British audiences for the next decade. The other woman. The mistress. The home wrecker. Camilla was effectively canceled overnight. The flames were further fanned by Diana’s famous 1995 Panorama interview with Martin Bashir, when the late royal memorably said there were “three people” in her marriage.
“People were outraged by their blatant disrespect for Diana, with staunch loyalists even questioning Charles’s ability to rule,” royal expert Tiwa Adebayo tells me. “Being royal, of course, Charles was immune to the worst of the vitriol. [That] was reserved for the “evil temptress” who had led our future king astray.
So how did Britain’s most hated woman – who has always been accused of standing up to ‘the people’s princess’ – become so widely adopted in 2022? According to a current YouGov ranking, Camilla is tied with the King as the fifth most popular British royal. Only the late Queen Elizabeth II, the Prince and Princess of Wales and Princess Anne rank above her. For context, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex rank ninth and 13th respectively.
“Rehabilitating the reputation of Camilla Parker Bowles has been The Firm’s biggest public relations project to date,” Adebayo said. “It’s taken the better part of 25 years, but clearly the tide has indeed turned.”
The tidal shift has been building for some time, but it was cemented earlier this year when Queen Elizabeth II announced that Camilla would be known as Queen Consort upon Charles’ accession. Her Majesty doubled that endorsement in June, when Camilla was installed as a Royal Dame of the Order of the Garter. It is an honor rarely granted to those who marry into the royal family.
“The Queen’s declaration that Camilla would one day be Queen Consort was a big moment for her, putting to bed – once and for all – the ghost of her husband’s ex-wife,” says Adebayo. She adds that the Royal Family’s goal has been “to quietly establish Camilla in people’s minds as ‘Queen’ and likeable without them noticing.”
Before the public could accept Camilla, however, she first had to be accepted by The Firm. “Camilla’s public redemption only began in earnest after she privately proved herself to the royal family,” Adebayo said. “The Queen Mother refused to receive her as an official partner of Charles. Even his late Majesty [the Queen] remained decidedly cold for decades.
For the Queen, Camilla was a long-standing symbol of Her Majesty’s ‘annus horribilis’, the year the marriages of three of her children collapsed and Windsor Castle caught fire. Still, Camilla’s devotion to the monarchy, her ability to avoid controversy, and the fact that she and the king seem to sincerely love each other won over both the queen and the public.
“Over time, by shedding less glamorous royal engagements, distinguishing herself as the designated ‘Charles Whisperer’ and proving her loyalty to the Royal Family, she managed to make herself harmless, respected but never adored” , says Adebayo. “She used the time to her advantage, remaining in the shadows long enough for people to forget the beginnings of her royal history.”
Benjamin Atkinson, head of public relations at reputation management consultancy Igniyte, suggests that one of the reasons for the changing public perception of Camilla may be her “grandfather persona.” mother”. “In many ways, Camilla has taken over the role of ‘grandmother’ from the late Queen Elizabeth II, which will soften public opinion towards her,” Atkinson said. “That human element of the relationship with your own grandmother may have touched the audience a bit.” He adds that reputation is so important to the royal family because the scrutiny will always be there. “They should be seen to be behaving in an exemplary manner because of what the Royal Family means to a lot of people.”
With Prince Andrew facing accusations of sexual assault (which he has vehemently and consistently denied) and Prince Harry set to release a tell-all memoir, Camilla is now seen as an asset rather than a flaw. among royal circles. But even when we look back now — through a more progressive lens and without the tabloid drama of that era — we realize the way Camilla was treated was, in fact, very uncool. Her biggest flaw, if any, was falling in love with the future king of England. And if you look at the “tampongate” recording from a different, less puritanical perspective, isn’t it just the audio of two middle-aged lovers acting like teenagers in private?
For the King and Camilla, it was always about the right person at the wrong time. While that doesn’t justify the way the Royal Family treated Diana, it also doesn’t justify the lasting stain she left on Camilla’s reputation. Camilla, for her part, has kept her head down and has integrated herself almost seamlessly into the royal family since marrying the king. She may never truly be the nation’s grandmother, or even the queen of our hearts. But going from being Britain’s most hated woman to someone we are – at worst – largely indifferent to is a major victory. That alone deserves some respect.