Is Camilla the Villain Once Again?

Several salacious nuggets from Prince Harry’s new memoir, Spare, were leaked ahead of his promotional 60 Minutes interview on Sunday night—perhaps most notably, the allegation that his brother, Prince William, pushed him to the ground in a physical altercation at Nottingham Cottage, breaking his dog bowl, his necklace, and, evidently, his spirit. I anticipated more anecdotes about his strained relationship with his brother and his father, King Charles III. Instead, Prince Harry appears to have pivoted to an unexpected—though hardly new—narrative: singling out his stepmother, Queen Camilla. 

Spare is anything but spare in its unflattering portrayal of the royal family, especially his stepmother, Camilla,” CBS’s Anderson Cooper narrated. 

Long cast as the notorious third member of Princess Diana and then Prince Charles’s marriage, Camilla was slowly but ultimately embraced by the queen and the royal family as King Charles’s “person,” as Prince Harry put it with a smirk on 60 Minutes. Yet Camilla finds herself under fire yet again, in a version of the fairy-tale archetype of the wicked stepmother. In Spare, Prince Harry accuses her of bargaining with the British tabloid media at his expense as part of her quest to shed her “other woman” reputation and be seen as a legitimate royal wife. 

Branded “the villain” by the British press, Camilla sought a revamp after marrying Prince Charles in 2005, Harry explained. “That made her dangerous, because of the connections that she was forging within the British press,” he said. “And there was [an] open willingness on both sides to trade of information. And with a family built on hierarchy, and with her, on the way to being queen consort, there was going to be people or bodies left in the street because of that.”

Prince Harry claims that both he and Prince William were among the casualties, writing in Spare that Camilla and “even his father, at times,” per Cooper, traded information about the princes in exchange for more favorable coverage about themselves. In doing so, Harry shed further light on the broken and backward system of a royal family that fancies itself the pinnacle of elegance and grace locked in a devil’s handshake with a lowbrow, sexist, racist tabloid media. 

According to Good Morning America, which aired Michael Strahan’s interview with Prince Harry on Monday morning, Harry also alleges in Spare that Camilla leaked details of her private conversation with Prince William soon after meeting him for the first time, further compounding Prince Harry’s reluctance about his father’s impending marriage to her. “I had complex feelings about gaining a stepparent, who I thought had recently sacrificed me on her personal PR altar,” he writes, in a particularly stark statement. 

Bolstering Harry's argument that the queen consort keeps establishment tabloid figures close? Mere weeks ago, Camilla hosted a holiday lunch attended by two of Meghan's most vociferous critics: Piers Morgan, who has made a hobby of tearing her down on a near-daily basis, and Jeremy Clarkson, who days prior had espoused his fiery hatred for Meghan in a vile column in The Sun, expressing that he dreams “of the day when she is made to parade naked through the streets of every town in Britain while the crowds chant, ‘Shame!’ and throw lumps of excrement at her.” (The Sun later, and rightfully, apologized.)

Harry’s comments mark a return to the villain narrative that plagued Camilla for decades, even as The Crown’s recent seasons have facilitated a modern-day redemption, depicting Camilla not as the aggressor but the aggrieved by unspooling her and Charles's love story. (Lest anyone forget that, mere decades ago, the prince was forbidden to marry Camilla—and prodded into an ill-fated marriage with Diana—because Camilla was not a virgin.) It took years, particularly after Princess Diana’s death and the ensuing public outcry against the royal family, for Camilla to be embraced by the queen, who, for a long time, would not share air with her even at private events.

Over time Camilla has successfully relaunched herself as one of the hardest-working royals in the Firm. In a major vote of confidence, the queen decreed in February of last year that Camilla would ascend to the title of queen consort, an outcome that was far from guaranteed and which would have seemed unimaginable back in the days of Diana’s explosive interviews and the tampon tapes. In contrast with Prince Harry and Meghan, Camilla is often praised (by Sussex haters on Twitter, at least) for a lifetime of stoic silence—a virtue in the royal ecosystem, though a curious one elsewhere. 

“This astonishing assault on his father’s wife raises two questions: Will the king ever forgive him—and will these accusations damage the reputation the queen has assiduously built up in nearly 18 years of marriage and public duties?” Sunday Telegraph columnist Simon Heffer wrote on Monday, before promptly answering his own question. From a Britain-centered perspective, Heffer opines that Camilla will be just fine: “The duke seems oblivious to the fact that his stepmother now occupies a higher place in the public’s regard than he does—thanks not just to her own public service but also to his own ill-judged behavior.”

Upon closer look, however, Prince Harry’s comments seem to be less an “assault” on Camilla and more clear-eyed observation of what it takes to be a player in the royal ecosystem at large. “I have a huge amount of compassion for her, you know, being the third person within my parents’ marriage,” Harry told GMA, adding that he does not, in fact, perceive her as an evil stepmother. 

“I see someone who married into this institution…and has done everything that she can to improve her own reputation and her own image for her own sake,” he continued. “And I can understand why.” Spare may prove otherwise, but thus far, Prince Harry isn’t necessarily casting Camilla as a glaring villain in this soap-operatic saga but simply including her in the fractured, self-interested family she married into. 

This story was originally published on Vogue.

Originally Appeared on Glamour