They looked like best friends sharing a confidence as they huddled against the wind at Ludlow race course close to England’s border with Wales. For Lady Diana Spencer, it was an opportunity to spend some quality time with the royal insider who had championed her match with Prince Charles.
But Camilla Parker-Bowles had a very different agenda — she was lulling the naïve, young future princess into a false sense of security. As history has borne out, Camilla and Charles never really had any intention of allowing Diana to live happily ever after with her dream Prince. Even as Diana and Camilla chatted while they watched Charles compete in the Amateur Riders’ Handicap at Ludlow in 1980, the young bride-to-be was being used as an unwitting pawn in a princely game of infidelity that was as old as the Royal Family itself.
Back then though, the 19-year-old kindergarten teacher was as caught up in the possibilities of the union as the rest of the world. Diana was from good aristocratic stock, she was pretty, she appeared to worship Charles and she was a virgin. Most importantly to Camilla, she was young and innocent to be manipulated — or so she thought. Charles had already dated a string of likely beauties including Diana’s sister, Lady Sarah Spencer, and Scottish heiress Anna Wallace, who got wise to his relationship with Camilla and fled.
But Prince Philip, always quick to criticize his eldest son, was putting the pressure on him to find a bride. The Duke of Edinburgh told the hesitant prince, “You’re in this world for two reasons. One, to be King of England. Two, to produce the next King of England. The first thing won’t go away, and you’re not making very much progress on the second.”
When the prince’s mentor Lord Mountbatten was killed in an IRA explosion off the west coast of Ireland on August 27, 1979, a devastated Charles turned inevitably to Camilla for comfort. According to biographer Caroline Graham, he broke down and begged Camilla to leave Andrew and marry him.
In her book, Camilla: Her True Story, Graham writes that Camilla gently turned him down saying the ensuing scandal would wreck his chances of being king, but she promised to be there for him — always. It was armed with this understanding that Charles plunged into the relationship with Diana the following year.
Everyone was in on it — even the Queen knew Charles was still seeing Camilla. The only one left out of the loop was Diana, who genuinely loved Charles. The Prince’s biographer, Jonathan Dimbleby wrote that there was a general agreement that Diana “was young enough to be molded to the role of wife and mother according to the special needs of the institution.”
At that very early stage, Diana had no reason to suspect the much older, much plainer married woman would ever be a threat. But Camilla’s deep involvement in the “vetting” process did become alarmingly clear to Diana even before she got engaged. The setting for the February 1981 proposal was telling enough. It was in the gardens of Camilla’s Bolehyde Manor home.
Diana later described an extraordinary encounter with Camilla to her heart surgeon lover Hasnat Khan, who told Britain’s Mail on Sunday: “Camilla came up to her and said, ‘Charles is going to propose to you.’ She told Diana before Charles proposed to her. Afterwards, Diana thought, ‘Why did this woman know before me?’
“This is 100 percent what Diana told me. She thought it was very odd. I would be very surprised if I was going to marry someone and my fiancée’s ex-boyfriend came to me and said that,” he added. “Diana had every reason to believe that Charles and Camilla never stopped seeing each other. There was no doubt about it in her mind at all.”
But even if she had her suspicions back then, she pushed them to the back of her mind and accepted the prince’s proposal. But as the July 29, 1981, wedding loomed, it became harder and harder for her to ignore what was happening behind her back. In November 1980, a British newspaper, the Sunday Mirror, reported that Diana spent several hours with Charles in a secret tryst on the royal train as it stood in a siding. The story was swiftly and strongly denied but there was only one fact wrong with the story — the blonde on the train was Camilla and not Diana.
Then Diana found a bracelet inscribed with “GF” — reportedly for Girl Friday, one of Charles’ nicknames for Camilla — that he was planning to give as a farewell gift to Camilla before the marriage. But in one regard, at least, Camilla was right about Diana. She was a romantic. She believed the fairy tale. So she went through with the “Royal Wedding of the Century."
It wouldn’t be long before the pomp and ceremony of the occasion died away to leave Diana with the stark realization that she would never be the great love of her husband’s life — he already had one in Camilla.
At dinner on the royal yacht Britannia on the honeymoon, Diana saw with dread that the cufflinks Charles was wearing were a gift from Camilla. There was no escaping her, not even there. With Camilla, Charles was attentive and alive, full of fun and opinion. With Diana, he was dispirited, diverted and dull.
The deception that the two women could somehow be friends had been exposed as a cruel and heartless ruse. But there was only ever going to be one winner in the battle for the prince’s heart — and it wasn’t going to be Diana.