As a leading royal insider recently told me, “The queen consort can do more with a half-raised eyebrow than a courtier can do with a pile of paperwork pasted in front of the king.”
Indeed, those who have stood by her side for the last 17 years of her royal career say Camilla’s calm and wise counsel will be needed more than ever as her husband comes to terms with the loss of his mother and also seeks to keep the monarchy stable once the inevitable popularity after the funeral wears off.
“The institution has long been a matriarchal institution, not just because of Her Majesty the Queen,” explains an insider.
“It is ultimately the women who manage, smooth and improve the relations between the family members and the king loves and values strong women around him.
‘All you need is for the queen consort to say, ‘Leave it to me,’ then it’s as good as done. Make no mistake, she may never raise her voice, but it is the strongest and most reliable of all.’
HMQC (Her Majesty The Queen Consort) or, more simply, ‘the QC’ as the former Duchess of Cornwall is now called, is in a truly extraordinary position.
In less than two decades, she has gone from a country divorcee to the wife of our head of state and is the first to not only have a family completely outside the royal orbit, but also have a life and home of her own. At weekends she returns to the relaxed informal atmosphere of Ray Mill House in Wiltshire, while Charles prefers neighboring Highgrove.
Her new role as Queen Consort is a challenge that Camilla is determined to navigate with the help of her trusted “top girl gang,” including her sister Annabel Elliot (pictured together in 2011)
The ‘core four’ also includes her private secretary, Sophie Densham (left), her deputy Belinda Kim, as well as her dresser Jackie Meakin (right), who also worked for the late Queen Mother
It’s a huge challenge for a woman who just celebrated her 75th birthday, but one she’s determined to navigate with the help of her trusted “top girl gang” she’s gathered to get herself through it.
The gang is made up of many working moms with young children, with a “core four” including her private secretary Sophie Densham, her deputy Belinda Kim and her dresser Jackie Meakin, who also worked for the late Queen Mother. There’s also her sister Annabel Elliot – the pair speak almost every day.
Jude Kelly CBE, the British theater director, producer and feminist, is also considered one of Camilla’s tight-knit girl gang. Then, of course, there is her own family – her children Tom and Laura, who have five children together.
Those who have spoken to Camilla in recent weeks have been touched not only by the depth of her grief at the loss of her mother-in-law, but also by her determination that this turn of events will not change her in the least.
Sure, the houses might be bigger, the tasks tougher — and make no mistake, the QC takes those responsibilities extremely seriously — but Camilla’s core values haven’t shifted in the slightest, friends say.
“The one thing you should always remember about Camilla is that she’s essentially the same woman she’s always been,” says an old friend. “She’s certainly become more fearless—she should be when it comes to public speaking—but her core values haven’t changed.”
Change is something our new QC hates. But not because she doesn’t like progress, far from it. She loves to challenge her grandchildren at Wordle (the popular online word game) and has an iPad on which she reads newspapers and plays Scrabble.
But she still has, I can tell, the same Nokia “brick” phone she’s had for years and can’t do anything more sophisticated than texting.
Jude Kelly CBE (pictured), British theater director, producer and feminist, is also considered one of Camilla’s close-knit girl gang
A friend of 20 years old says: ‘She is much more of a people person. She doesn’t like change for the sake of it and has a big ‘If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it’ mentality.’
When the Clarence House team was first given the daunting task of introducing the then ‘Mrs Parker Bowles’ to the world nearly twenty years ago, they decided the best PR strategy was…to have none at all.
One person involved at the time says: ‘We just knew that if we let her go and do the job, people would see her differently. I always thought she was the laziest woman in Britain [shared by former royal spin doctor Mark Bolland] was sloppy and dishonest because when she started working she really went for it.
“But unfortunately it haunted her because people had such a clichéd image of what she was like.
“The truth is that she is very cordial, very wise, very funny, very level-headed and seriously well-read and intelligent.”
Viewers of The Crown may see Camilla as someone who has planned and campaigned for her new role, but that is no less true, according to her supporters. “In all the years I’ve known her, it never occurred to me that she thought of that. I don’t think she longed for this position at all,” said an old friend. “But she knew the job came with her husband’s love and the two had to get together, it’s that simple.”
Several former assistants have also told me how utterly “inscrutable” Camilla always was on the cusp of becoming queen.
“When you showed her the latest polls on the matter, as you occasionally have to do, she was always absolutely Sphinx-esque. Not even the blink of an eye,” says one. “No one ever knew what she was thinking. Her attitude to everything is, “Keep calm and keep going, it will be all right in the end”.’
Many people around the QC point to her good instincts that have always served her well – as long as she trusts her own judgment. One recalls an incident in 2007 when William and Harry invited her to attend a service to mark the tenth anniversary of their mother’s death.
Viewers of The Crown may see Camilla as someone who has planned and campaigned for her new role, but that is no less true, according to her supporters. Pictured: Emerald Fennell plays Camilla Parker Bowles in The Crown
Her instinctive reaction from the start was not to go, but she was pressured internally to accept. When the news that she was in attendance became known, there was a huge public outcry and she eventually withdrew.
“She was right, of course,” says a former assistant. It was a rare misstep in an otherwise flawless royal career, which someone who knows her well owes to inherent ‘ease’ and ability to roll the punches.
Another example is when she and Charles were attacked by protesters while driving to the Royal Variety Performance in 2010. A senior royal aide who was there recalls getting out of the car, straightening her dress and remarking, ‘Well, there is a first time for everything, isn’t it?’
And on an official visit to Trinidad and Tobago several years ago, the heavens opened when she stepped into the tender that took her to a fancy official dinner. She showed up looking like a drowned rat, shrugged and just roared, says one of her team members. That sense of humor is something that everyone who comes into contact with Camilla talks about.
Another assistant recalls being at the president’s house on a trip to Pakistan in 2006 when a band smashed a horribly out of tune version of the British national anthem. “She had a glint in her eye and stood there trying to catch our eye, because she knew we were all going to perish. She’s so naughty,’ they said.
As a senior royal insider recently told me, ‘The queen consort can do more with a half-raised eyebrow than a courtier can do with a pile of paperwork pasted in front of the king’
But that’s not to say she doesn’t take day-to-day work extremely seriously, far from it. “She is very steadfast and never makes hasty decisions. She’s smart as anything and has a mind like a steel trap,” said an insider.
Theater impresario Miss Kelly has worked closely with Camilla for many years in her role as president of WOW (Women of the World) and believes she has become a true force for good. ‘She always seeks out women who have no status in the conventional sense of the word and wants to hear their stories. It’s never about her,” she says.
“I can’t imagine her being any less bold than she already is. She will take her role very seriously and will be an even bigger voice than before. The queen did it in her own way, and so did the queen consort.’
She would be a brilliant boss, getting to know her staff as people – their likes, their dislikes, their husbands and children. She is amazingly loyal.
Indeed, officials who retire often go to work for her and the king privately.
Most of all, she’s “fantastic good” to our new king. “Of course they love each other, she makes him happy and is very supportive, but she will also talk to him honestly and bring the outside world in,” a source said.
“It has been a long and not always easy journey for them. But they’re in it together. They always have been and always will be.’