Camilla Parker Bowles Admits She Went Through a "Deeply Unpleasant Time" When She Was Younger

Camilla Parker Bowles Admits She Went Through a "Deeply Unpleasant Time" When She Was Younger

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  • Camilla Parker Bowles was born into a well-to-do family, earning a distinct reputation from a young age.

  • Camilla and Prince Charles first met at a polo match through a mutual friend.

It's hard to believe that Camilla Parker Bowles has been married to Prince Charles for over 18 years now. Over the decades, the 75-year-old queen consort has overcome quite a lot of scrutiny in the public eye — but well before the drama of her affair with Princes Charles began in the late '80s, Camilla was just a tomboy who loved hunting and having fun. She might appear reserved now, but the royal's life back in the day is a completely different story.

Growing up in royal company

While Camilla wasn't born into the royal family, her father's rank meant that she lived quite regally. Her dad, Major Bruce Shand, was Vice Lord Lieutenant of East Sussex, which the Daily Star reports helped them earn an "in" with Britain's high society.

For many of her childhood years, the future queen lived luxuriously in a $2 million 5.7-acre estate in Sussex and attended a co-ed school called Drumbrells. For fun, her father would often take Camilla fox-hunting when they had free time together.

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Camilla at four years old attending the wedding of Jeremy Cubitt and Diana du Cane in 1952.Getty Images

Eventually, she started going to one of the country's most prestigious schools, Queen's Gate School in South Kensington. While attending, Camilla earned the nickname "Milla," according to Christopher Anderson, author of Game of Crowns.

At the time, "Milla" was reportedly a big fan of her great-grandmother, Alice Keppel, a the notorious mistress of King Edward VII. Fellow classmates remember a 10-year-old confident "Milla" walking into class proclaiming, "My great-grandmother was the lover of the king. We're practically royalty," reports Anderson in the New York Post. He went on to describe Camilla at this age as a confident "tomboy" and someone with a "boisterous sense of humor."

Camilla Parker Bowles Young
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Carolyn Benson, a former Queen's Gate student, called Camilla "quite a flirt" and also admired her for being able to "talk to boys about things that interested them."

Camilla went on to graduate at 16 years old and attended both Mon Fertile School in Switzerland and Institut Britannique in Paris before returning to London to work.

Camilla's first job didn't go so well

Immediately after school, she landed a job at the decorating firm Colefax and Fowler as an assistant. According to Imogen Taylor — who worked there when Camilla first started out in the mid-1960s — the Duchess got fired for coming in late because of a dance the night before. In her book On the Fringe: A Life in Decorating, Taylor puts most of the blame on her boss and his notorious temper.

Camilla Parker Bowles
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Around the same time, Camilla first met Andrew Parker Bowles at a debutante party. Like Camilla, Andrew was known for being a bit of a partier. Beyond his bachelor status though, he was highly regarded as an officer in the Household Calvary, according to Penny Junor, royal biographer and author of The Duchess: The Untold Story.

By the time 1970 rolled around, fate began to take over. Camilla was in her early 20s and still maintained her extroverted personality and tomboy image, says Sally Bedell Smith, royal biographer and author of Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbably Life. All the things Prince Charles seemed to instantly love about her.

When attending a polo match in Windsor, Camilla and Charles's mutual friend Lucia Santa Cruz introduced the two. “He loved the fact that she smiled with her eyes as well as her mouth, and laughed at the same silly things as he did," Junor wrote. "In short, he was very taken with her, and after that first meeting he began ringing her up."

Falling for Andrew and Charles

Unfortunately, Charles and Camilla's first go at a serious relationship was short-lived. The Queen's eldest son joined the Royal Navy in 1971, making it very difficult for the pair to see each other. Further, Camilla's reputation as "a party girl," along with her lower social standing, pressured the future king to seek a different bride. The two ended up calling it quits, which prompted Camilla to reignite her relationship with Andrew.

Prince Andrew and Camilla Parker Bowles
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Just two years later in 1973, Camilla walked down the aisle at the Guards Chapel and became Mrs. Andrew Parker Bowles — Charles was thousands of miles away in the West Indies when Andrew proposed. At 27, Camilla welcomed her first child, Tom. The couple went on to have a daughter, Laura, four years later.

As for Charles, he began pursuing Lady Diana Spencer and married her in 1981.

Camilla Parker Bowles Young
Andrew poses with Camilla and their children, Tom and Laura, in 1984.Getty Images

Charles and Camilla still have feelings

Despite their marital statuses, Camilla and Charles remained "friends" throughout the rest of the '70s and into the '80s. They were seen going to the theater together, and attending the same races and parties. Junor alleges that Andrew was aware of the affair when it began in 1978.

Camilla recalled that time to the Daily Mail in 2017, saying that "it was horrid."

"It was a deeply unpleasant time and I wouldn't want to put my worst enemy through it," she says looking back at her late 20s and early 30s. "I couldn't have survived it without my family."

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Prince Charles and Camilla leave the London Theater after attending the Deja Revue in 1975 — two years after Camilla married Andrew. Getty Images

By 1986, 25-year-old Diana knew that an affair was happening and that the two were frequently seeing each other. She decided to approach Camilla directly about it.

Camilla and Charles
Princess Diana and Camilla attend a race in 1980 that Prince Charles was competing in. Getty Images

“I was terrified of her [Camilla]. I said, ‘I know what’s going on between you and Charles and I just want you to know that,'” Diana revealed to her royal biographer Andrew Morton. Camilla, then 39, apparently went on to tell Diana that she had "everything she ever wanted" and "all the men in the world falling in love with her" before asking "what more do you want?"

The affair continued, which eventually led Camilla to end things with Andrew in 1995, and Diana and Charles to call it off one year later. After Diana's tragic death in August 1997, the two tried to stay out of the spotlight until they re-emerged again in 1999.

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Prince Charles and Camilla are seen out together in public for the first time in 1999 since Diana’s death.Getty Images

Becoming a Duchess

As the years continued, both the royal family and public opinion gradually came around to accepting Charles and Camilla as a couple. The two got married in a civil ceremony at Windsor Guildhall on April 9, 2005. Once given the Duchess title, Camilla worked tirelessly as the patron of the National Osteoporosis Society and a trustee of the Wiltshire Bobby Van Trust.

Prince Charles and Camilla’s Wedding Involved A Lot More Drama Than Most Realize
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Looking back at her whirlwind younger years, Camilla — now a distinguished member of the royal household as queen consort — sees how just how much she has grown as a person. The key to it all, she says, is staying grounded.

"You also have to laugh at yourself because if you can’t, you may as well give up," the Duchess told the Daily Mail. "I sometimes think to myself, ‘Who is this woman [now]? It can’t possibly be me.'"

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