King Charles III and Camilla: Their love story was all too human


An earlier version of this story said that King Edward VII had abdicated the throne. It was actually King Edward VIII. The story has been corrected.

If there are any doubts about King Charles III’s fitness for the throne, they could be linked to a 1981 TV interview celebrating his engagement to Diana Spencer.

A reporter asked if the couple were in love. “Of course,” replied Diana, 19, visibly offended, while – oh my God – her brand new fiancé smiled toothily at the camera. “Whatever ‘in love’ means,” he said. It was the response of a cad, or maybe a freshman drowning in the water from the bong of his Philosophy 101 class, except that Charles was, at the time, 32 years old.

More importantly, it was the not-so-brilliant rumination of someone you could hardly trust to be a pillar of international diplomacy, let alone interpersonal tact. What kind of newly engaged man doesn’t realize there’s only one acceptable answer to, Do you love your bride? An irresponsible prince gives this answer. A wise ruler doesn’t, and that’s when some royal watchers began to wonder if the crown should just skip a generation.

The problem, of course, was that Charles knew what it meant to be in love, he just happened to feel it for a different person: a no-frills horse lover named Camilla Parker Bowles, whom he had first met. during a polo match in the 1970s and who allegedly dragged him off with this banger of a line: “My great-grandmother was your great-great-grandfather’s mistress. I feel we have something in common. »

But she, too, married someone else and in the process started a hellish love triangle.

Shortly before Diana’s wedding to Charles, the future princess found engraved jewelry he had purchased for Camilla; years later, the prince was caught up in a recorded phone call fantasizing about his reincarnation as one of Camilla’s buffers. “There were three of us in the wedding, so it was a bit crowded,” Diana said in an interview. Even after their divorce in 1996, Diana’s heartbreaking death in 1997 and Charles’ long wait to formalize his relationship with Camilla – the couple didn’t wed until 2005 – Charles’ new wife would still be seen as his old one. mistress.

When Queen Elizabeth II died last week and Charles ascended the throne, evolution showed how little some of us had grown out of the love triangle. “To all the Acolytes: Just Believe,” reads a popular meme in all caps below a slightly sinister photo of Camilla wearing a tiara.

Perspective: Queen Elizabeth II has done her job

The idea was that she had bided her time, waited, held on, and now she had the title (“queen consort”) and the guy, even though the guy was a drip whose idea of ​​talking sexy involved feminine hygiene products. Britain is only entangled in this particular royal lineage because eight decades ago King Edward VIII abdicated the throne. He wanted to marry a divorced American, and when he was forced to choose between the crown and love, he chose love. And now here we have King Charles III, a divorced man who married a divorced woman after their decades-long affair, and somehow he and his queen got to choose it all.

One imagines that public opinion of Camilla might have been different had Diana lived – if she, too, had been lucky enough to remarry, had settled into a middle-aged life of fundraising galas or Judges’ Appearances on “Britain’s Got Talent.” Instead, she’s still 36, seductive and deeply, deeply wronged.

I had just started high school when Diana died. I woke up after a friend’s birthday sleepover to the news. The rest of the morning was spent in six or seven dramatic teenage girls glued to the television, wondering if Prince William would be okay and if he needed six or seven dramatic teenage girls to comfort him. It was all Charles’ fault – we already knew that at the time. Charles and Camilla, breaking the heart of the people’s princess, leaving her to fend for herself against the salivating paparazzi.

Prospect: RIP Prince Philip, Original Wife Guy (from 2021)

After Elizabeth died, I went back and watched some old footage of Diana and Charles, including this original 1981 TV interview, which was recorded before I was even born. It was amazing to realize that Charles – the older, cunning man in my recollection of the events – was, in this interview, younger than me now.

“It doesn’t matter what ‘in love’ means,” he had said. In retrospect, perhaps this young man was still figuring it out. He was old enough to know better, of course, but a lot of 32-year-olds don’t know better.

And now, well – now he is unmistakably old. Saggy eyes, sparse and entirely white hair. The crown hasn’t skipped a generation, but at 73 Charles is already older than most monarchs.

The power of the British monarchy is not in the way it governs – for all intents and purposes it is not – but in its stories. What mythology can it give us? What archetypes, what happiness forever? With her romantic life, Charles III always gave the impression of having failed in his only real duty: to make us a fucking fairy tale.

But as I watched him and Camilla this week address Parliament and greet well-wishers and arrive at palaces, his whole narrative began to take on a different shape.

Imagine it as a Nancy Meyers movie. Imagine something with fabulous scenery and post-menopausal boredom. A famous rich boy meets a no frills girl. When he leaves to join the Navy, she marries someone else, and eventually he does too. someone younger and prettier, and by all traditional measures, a better match.

The years pass: children, divorces, deaths. Finally, with the blessing of his equally rich and famous sons, the famous rich man reunites with the dull girl and asks her to marry him. He never stopped loving her, you see. No matter how much heartache or embarrassment it caused him, or how much he was supposed to want instead the pretty, young princess the world wanted him to want. He had been pining for a dull girl for decades.

Who knows if King Charles III will be a “good king”, whatever that means. As a young husband, he was certainly no prince. But if Nancy Meyers made this movie, you would watch it. In the world of modern fairy tales, you would know which love story you were meant to support.

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