“Oh, but isn’t she one of the good ones?” That’s what someone said to me when I mentioned I was writing this piece about Camilla, wife of the heir to the British throne Prince Charles.
It’s a misapprehension that many people labor under; that there is any such thing as “a good one” in the royal family. Of course, with a brother-in-law like Prince Andrew, Camilla can only look good by comparison—but her current public persona is merely the product of a long and careful PR effort.
The most telling line in a recent forelock-tugging Times article about Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, by the paper’s royal commentator Valentine Low was this: “She went out of her way to make friends with the press, focusing particular attention on the Daily Mail, the paper that had always been most strident in its criticism of Camilla.”
Last weekend, that coziness with the Mail group bore its latest fruit as the Mail on Sunday previewed an ITV documentary on Camilla guest-editing Country Life with a gushing piece. Amid a deluge of trivia about dogs, gnomes, teddy bears and “sneaky ciggies with Jeremy Clarkson,” readers were assured that the “image of Camilla with a twinkle in her eye [is what] many at the Palace and no doubt the Queen herself would wish the public to see.”
And that’s the point. The transition of Camilla, who turns 75 on Sunday, from hated mistress to beloved establishment figure has all been about an image that the Royals “wish the public to see.”
After a recent spate of financial scandals for Prince Charles, the reasons for pushing Camilla to the fore are transparent. We’re meant to be reassured by her stolid presence and to admire the apparent transformation of “the laziest woman in England” (as a former adviser once dubbed her) into one of the hardest ‘working’ royals.
But beyond those royal engagements—required to give an impression of purpose—and the endless courting of the press, what’s really changed about Camilla? Nothing. She remains a woman of enormous wealth who likes dogs, hunting and a life of grandeur. What we’re witnessing now is the latest stage of something that started a year before the death of Princess Diana, when Prince Charles hired the PR man Mark Bolland and “Operation PB”—the plan to rehabilitate Camilla’s public image—began.
Guest-editing Country Life, appearing in Vogue, and acquiescing to the ITV documentary—in which Prince Charles barely appears—are all moves that share the same air of calculated spontaneity. We are being sold the Duchess of Cornwall as a product—at once plain and simple but reassuringly expensive like the biscuits her husband sells under the Duchy Originals brand.
There’s no such thing as a true royal reporter; they are a grim combination of gossip columnist and stenographer. A full acceptance of what Prince Harry called an “invisible contract” between the tabloids and the royal family is behind the rehabilitation of Camilla. That’s why she sums up everything that is wrong with the institution—a patronising face put on endless privilege, an image that we’re assured by courtiers and a client media is reality.
I don’t particularly blame Camilla herself. To borrow the immortal words of Mariah Carey, I don’t know her. But what I do know is that her status as “one of the good ones” is a triumph of marketing which doesn’t stand up to any kind of scrutiny.
Written by Mic Wright, a writer and media critic. The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.
For an alternate opinion, read: Camilla, the Royal Family’s Surprising Best Weapon