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In coronation, Queen Camilla secures her ‘royal dignity’

She rode there in a gilded carriage, entering Westminster Abbey in the crimson robe once worn by her mother-in-law. Denied a church wedding 18 years earlier due to the taint of divorce, she received on Saturday a ring of gold, silver, diamonds and rubies — “a symbol,” the archbishop said, “of royal dignity.”

She walked out an anointed queen: Queen Camilla.

Because Camilla, in the end, triumphed.

Camilla’s coronation alongside the British monarch, King Charles III, marks the apex of one of the messiest, most publicly adjudicated love affairs of modern times. In a tribute to the woman of the king’s heart, invitations were issued heralding her new title. She remains in a supporting role to the monarch, but she will drop the caveated “queen consort” bestowed on her since Queen Elizabeth II’s death, replacing it with the purer, unadulterated “queen.”

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In gilded trappings and esoteric blessings, the coronation appeared bent on celebrating not only the monarchy, but also a long-maligned romance spanning five decades and possessing a force and intensity that altered the course of royal history. It seemed to beg a revisionist question: Were Charles and Camilla the real fairy-tale couple all along?

“I think she’s come full circle more than we have come full circle, because I feel that the global public are still reticent about her,” said Ingrid Seward, editor in chief of Majesty magazine. “The British public are also reticent about her. But I think in view of the fact that she makes the king very happy and able to perform his kingly duties with humor and warmth, the British people now respect her. Whether or not they really, genuinely like her, I still don’t know.”

Camilla’s approval ratings in Britain hover around 48 percent, according to YouGov. In popularity, she ranks behind lesser names like Zara Phillips and Sophie, Duchess of Edinburgh. The hashtag #notmyqueen was briefly trending on Twitter ahead of the coronation. A YouGov poll taken last year, before Queen Elizabeth’s death, found a majority opining that after Charles’s ascension to the throne, Camilla should be known as “princess consort” or have no title at all. Only 1 in 5 thought she should be “queen.”

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Camilla is also facing fresh head winds. Prince Harry, the younger son of Charles and his impossibly famous first wife, Diana, portrays Camilla as something of a villain in his memoir, “Spare.” The liberally dramatized Netflix series “The Crown” — taken as gospel by many younger Britons — has also revived and amplified tales of torrid adultery.

Yet Camilla has nevertheless come a long way in redefining herself from the days when — fairly or not — she was first labeled a royal homewrecker, even pelted with bread buns at her local grocery. She is seen by some as duty-bound and approachable, and — unlike Diana — as someone who demurs from the limelight to let her husband shine. During Saturday’s coronation, she at times possessed a good-sport smile, and poked her hairdo — apparently trying to steady her crown.

She fits nicely enough, some say, into what many view as the caretaker regency of Charles, 74, before the expected reign of Prince William, 40, his elder son with Diana.

“There is no hostility towards her. … At worst there is indifference and a grudging acceptance,” said Steven Barnett, professor of communications at Westminster University.

Even that was hard-earned.

For years, Camilla and Charles avoided appearing in public together, in recognition of the frostiness toward her — especially after Diana’s 1997 death in a Paris crash unleashed a global wave of grief.

The rehabilitation effort was carefully choreographed. The couple eventually announced themselves to the world in 1999, tipping off photographers that they could be spotted leaving her sister’s birthday party at London’s Ritz Hotel. The flashbulbs were so intense that the British Epilepsy Association warned broadcasters about the risk of triggering seizures.

They were later snapped holding hands before they took the step to move into Clarence House together in 2003. They announced their engagement in 2005. Asked if Charles had taken a knee to propose, Camilla told reporters, giddily: “Of course.”

The two divorcés were married in a private civil ceremony in Windsor, followed by a blessing at the Windsor Castle chapel. Queen Elizabeth only attended the latter part — and ducked out of the subsequent reception to watch the Grand National horse race. While her toast to the couple was outwardly warm, some wondered at her decision to compare their relationship to a steeplechase. “They have overcome … all kinds of … terrible obstacles,” she said. “They have come through and I’m very proud and wish them well. My son is home and dry with the woman he loves.”

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Since the queen’s death, Camilla has been pictured in earrings, tiaras and jewels previously worn by Elizabeth. She accompanied Charles on his first state visit abroad, to Germany, where a moment Instagrammed by palace officials appeared to show Charles chivalrously ceding a larger workspace to her.

A telltale moment of the no-nonsense new queen came shortly after Elizabeth’s death. Charles grew agitated with a leaky pen during an official signing — “every stinking time,” he said. Camilla, by contrast, casually wiped ink from her fingers and signed, too. She then endured many of the funeral proceedings with a broken toe — a fact highlighted by the British press as another example of the stoic Camilla’s devotion to king and country.

This week, the palace tweeted out fun facts about the queen. She has become the patron of over 100 charities and initiatives! Did you know the queen “keeps fit” by taking Silver Swan ballet classes? No? Now, you do.

“The Prince steadily advanced on the objective that’s clearly his life’s great work: the transformation of Camilla Parker Bowles from guilty secret into the anointed Queen of the United Kingdom,” Diana’s former private secretary, Patrick Jephson, wrote in a recent essay in the Daily Mail. “Today that work will be complete. Second chances have been kind to Charles and Camilla.”

Camilla especially burst into global consciousness during the Charles and Diana wars of the early 1990s, a period that saw the publication of Andrew Morton’s tell-all book describing their marriage meltdown — and for which, the author would later reveal, Diana herself supplied recordings. After the royal separation in 1992, a leaked tape of pillow talk between Camilla and Charles — recorded in 1989, when both were still married — painted Camilla as a saucy mistress. In her 1995 BBC interview, Diana famously opined that “there were three of us in this marriage.”

For the Diana-obsessed masses, Camilla became an unwelcome wedge. The public wanted a storybook romance between a British prince and his singularly glamorous young wife. Its monarch-in-waiting apparently desired another version of the story — with a slightly older, married aristocrat.

The match was lit between Charles and Camilla before his courting of Diana, with the pair dating in the early 1970s. In Catherine Mayer’s biography of Charles, she notes that he was introduced to Camilla by the Chilean ambassador’s daughter, Lucia Santa Cruz. She is said to have jibed them about Camilla’s great-grandmother, Alice Keppel, being the longtime mistress of King Edward VII.

“Now you two watch your genes,” Cruz said, in Mayer’s account.

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They maintained contact after Camilla’s marriage in 1973 to British officer Andrew Parker Bowles, which ended after 21 years and two children. They rekindled their affair in 1986 — five years after Charles married Diana, according to American biographer’s Sally Bedell Smith’s book “Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes.”

Diana, according to tapes released by Morton, confronted Camilla at a party in 1989.

“She said to me: ‘You’ve got everything you ever wanted,’” Diana says on the tape. “‘You’ve got all the men in the world fall in love with you and you’ve got two beautiful children, what more do you want?’ So I said, ‘I want my husband.’”

To argue, as so many royal watchers now do, that Camilla no longer lives in Diana’s shadow is also to ignore the obvious. Take the Daily Mail’s royals section, which was very much haunted by Diana this week, teeming with stories about her gowns and jewels, and a video reel of her celebrated meetings with AIDS patients. The lead item on Camilla, meanwhile, focused on her band of defenders, “the private posse of family, friends and show business personalities who speak out in public and back her to the hilt!” The implication was that 18 years after her marriage to Charles, Camilla is still on the defensive.

Coronation Day was always going to be hardest to swallow for the “Never Camillas” — the die-hard Diana fans who still see her with unforgiving bitterness. Diana Lascelles, 67, a London retiree, said she would refuse to even watch the coronation.

“If Diana were alive, and if Charles had stayed married to her, and they were being crowned, it would be a completely different coronation,” she said. “She would have carried enough popularity to see the Windsors through to the next generation for sure. But Charles and Camilla? No.”

In an article for British Vogue last year marking her 75th birthday — in which Camilla admitted to playing Wordle every day and not being well versed in Instagram — she acknowledged that her public journey had been challenging.

“Nobody likes to be looked at all the time and, you know, criticized,” she said. “But I think in the end I sort of rise above it and get on with it.”


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