Another Royal Mess

On 31 August 1997 Princess Diana was killed in a car crash in Paris. It was the “shot heard around the world”m as Britons and the rest of the world questioned not only the future of the monarchy, but how the royal family planned to answer a stunned and angry world which blamed the Windsor family for failing the unhappy princess for so long. In a televised, heart-wrenching funeral procession, Prince Charles, his two sons, William and Harry, and the rest of the royals solemnly marched as they prepared to put Diana to rest. Thousands of teary-eyed mourners crowded the streets, watching the procession.

Anti-monarchy feelings (specifically, anti-Windsor sentiments) were running high, as many Britons blamed the philandering Charles for the breakup of his marriage and Diana’s miserable tenure as a member of the royal family. The question on everybody’s mind that day was: where was Camilla Parker-Bowles, the “other woman” with whom Charles had been having affair during his marriage to Diana? The unpopular and disliked Camilla had been laying low, inevitably wary that Diana’s death would further shed negative light on not only her, but on all of the royals.

As CNN reported (2 September, 1997), the British papers turned the tables on Charles. According to the Independent, Britons held him somewhat responsible for Diana’s death, claiming that Charles is a “(M)arked man. A marked man for the failure of the fairy-tale marriage. A marked man for his long-playing dalliance with another woman, a woman who, at the time, was also married . . . and a marked man who is the most visible symbol of a most dysfunctional royal family.” As Diana’s death buried itself further and further into Britons’ psyche, Charles and Camilla endured — initially by keeping their relationship low-key and out of the public eye until the Diana wounds had healed, and later, emerging as a full-fledged couple.

Yet the announcement this February, which publicly confirmed Charles and Camilla’s engagement, still came as a surprise to many. Diana may have died seven-and-a-half years ago, but her popularity lives on. According to one report, the late Auberon Waugh had observed that the display of grief over Diana’s death could be equaled to the public outpouring expressed at the assassination of JFK, signaling the everlasting popularity of celebrities who die young. And if the Diana myth still has a hold on the British public, doesn’t that spell trouble for Charles and Camilla down the road? Both the queen and Charles’s sons have given their blessings to this “new” union, but the ultimate judge is always the discerning British public and press.

In a bizarre statement following the engagement announcement was an odd release issued by the palace that the queen would not be attending the civil marriage ceremony on 8th April. According to the Scotsman (22 February, 2005), “The couple wish to keep the wedding ceremony small and low-key, which would be difficult with the queen in attendance.” The British media pounced on this, declaring that this is the queen’s way of frowning on Charles’s choice of bride; her absence a way of taking a stand with royal decorum against the divorcee and mistress who played such an adverse role in Charles and Diana’s breakup. In another strange twist, it was alerted that Charles’s sons will attend the wedding but will lack any major role (such as “best men”) in the ceremony.

The British monarchy has frequently been rocked by scandal, particularly in the ’90s when Charles’s affair with Camilla came to light; when Diana went public with her story via the author and journalist Andrew Morton about her miserable life as a royal, and her own extra-marital flings were exposed; and the shenanigans of Sarah Ferguson, Prince Andrew’s wife. It was during this period when the purpose of the monarchy became a topic of debate, as many Britons questioned its necessity, pointing to the frequent royal scandals and its service as a mere lucrative tourist trap which seems to enthrall and captivate millions of tourists to Britain every year, but serves no purpose otherwise. Many simply shrug it off as mere symbolism; an antiquity, which eventually will be abolished.

Charles’s controversial decision to marry a divorcee (with whom he was having extra-marital relations) harks back to the ghost of Edward VIII who abdicated the throne in 1936 when he decided to marry the unpopular American divorcee, Wallis Simpson. Britain may have come a long way since the ’30s, but not long enough to accept the heir-to-throne’s marriage to a woman who has long been recognized as a source of trouble.

Questions about the legality of Charles and Camilla’s marriage were also put forth (as was Camilla’s future title should Charles become king — though legally, she will become queen should Charles ascend the throne, the official royal position is that she will take on the title of princess consort), and as the Daily Telegraph reported (26 February, 2005):

The upcoming civil wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles will be legal . . . The government was forced into making public its decision after legal experts questioned whether the prospective head of the Church of England, and a divorcee, could marry another divorcee in a civil ceremony in England.

Having endured embarrassing scandals such as Diana’s blatant media attacks on both Charles and Camilla and the humiliating “Camillagate” episode, which were a series of secretly taped intimate phone conversations in which Charles declared to his mistress that he wished to live in her panties as a tampon, it’s inevitable that the couple seems capable of weathering any storm. The relationship reputedly began at a polo match in 1970, where according to several British news reports, Camilla had flirtatiously joked with the prince that her great-grandmother and his great-great-grandfather had been romantically involved, “so how about it?” Though the two fell in love, and several British news reports claim that Camilla would have married Charles at a drop of a hat, he hedged and seemed incapable of giving up his preoccupation with other women, which led Camilla to marry another suitor, Andrew Parker-Bowles. Yet Camilla remained an eternal presence in Charles’s life, leading Diana to believe that the two were much more than mere friends, and in an oft-repeated sentiment, she had publicly claimed in an interview that “there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.”

What few sympathizers Charles has admit that it was after the total breakdown of his marriage to Diana that he ran into the arms of Camilla and devoted himself to their illicit relationship. However, the majority of Britons who mainly sided with the late princess recall a different story: that Camilla and Charles’s affair had been going on before and during Charles and Diana’s 15-year-marriage.

There is also the question of whether Charles and Camilla’s marriage will actually endure. They may have survived as an “illicit” couple who had to battle the world, but now that Camilla will officially join the royal family, many wonder if the same problems which plagued Diana during her role as an official member of the Windsor clan could now mar not only Camilla and Charles’s marriage, but further rattle Camilla’s shaky position as the newest royal. Royal duties and obligations, and the eternal media spotlight, often prove taxing. Charles and Camilla’s relationship appears to have thrived under controversy and public backlash, but now that the couple are finally legitimizing themselves, the greater burden and worry will be Charles’s future vis-à-vis the throne, and Camilla’s inevitably uncomfortable role in finding acceptance with the public, many of whom still revere Diana.

The queen’s decision to “snub” the civil wedding ceremony is only the beginning of the end for Charles. As the Guardian reported (10 February, 2005), “in January 1999, they [Charles and Camilla] began a long and understated PR campaign to encourage acceptance of her as the prince’s companion.” But their efforts and publicity seem futile. Charles has essentially jeopardized his future monarchal position by declaring his marital intentions towards Camilla. It is unlikely that he will ever be king. As Reuters reported (February 10, 2005) about a recent Telegraph poll, only 37 percent of Britons approved Charles’s ascension to the throne, while the majority believed that his son should follow in the queen’s footsteps. A large percentage of those polled also believed that the monarchy should end when the queen dies or, less likely, abdicates. Charles will inevitably follow in Edward VIII’s footsteps: he will marry the woman he loves, but he will never survive the throne.

Should there still be a monarchy after the queen dies remains to be seen, but should the monarchy prevail, it will do so under Charles’s son, William. As Charles’s popularity waned in the ’90s, his supporters, who had hoped that the queen would soon step aside and allow Charles to step in as king, turned their hopes to his son, instead. As for the eventual fate of this long-standing institution and the scandals that have plagued it for so long: Frankly, my dear, no one seems to give a damn any more.