By the time their father, Prince Charles, married the-then Camilla Parker-Bowles in 2005, Princes William and Harry, then 22 and 21, were young men already resigned to the fact that she would be part of their lives.
They loved their father dearly and wanted him to be happy. But they were hardly oblivious to Camilla's role in wrecking beloved mom Diana’s life and still harbored resentment toward her and their father. As teenagers, the Princes had their share of run-ins with Camilla, particularly William. He considered her bossy, mean-spirited and thoughtless.
Although William and Harry both have different approaches to Queen Camilla today, they were once united in their disdain for the mistress usurping their mother’s place.
In 2001, William was furious when newspapers published a photo of Camilla planting a tender kiss on his father's cheek in public. The young Prince saw it as a slap in the face to his mother, just four days before what would have been her 40th birthday. A year later, in 2002, William exploded again, after learning Camilla had the nerve to try to convince the family that she was not the reason for Diana's failed marriage.
"She got her claws into my dad and never let go for an instant," he told a close confidant. "That's why my mom died because she fled to Paris instead of being safe with her family."
Camilla met Prince William for the first time in July 1998, when he "popped home" unexpectedly for a change of clothes on his way to see a movie in London. William, then a 16-year-old resident student at Eton College, was surprised to find Camilla settling in for the night at St James’s Palace with his father.
When he asked Charles why Camilla was there, Charles explained that Camilla was "his dear friend" and that they'd all be seeing her regularly in the future. "You can meet her if you like, your choice."
The young Prince agreed to say hello and insiders revealed that all three had a "cordial discussion about all manner of things" before he finally left to see a James Bond film.
It was Camilla who was left shaken and stirred! She was unprepared for the visit. She demanded a stiff vodka and tonic to recover from her unexpected 30-minute ordeal the moment William said goodbye. In fact, William and Harry had previously laid eyes on Camilla at Highgrove, the family's country estate in Gloucestershire, where she attended picnics with her husband, Andrew Parker-Bowles.
William had even been photographed with her in the Highgrove gardens two years earlier, a picture Prince Charles treasures and keeps by his bedside to this day. Says royal author Nicholas Davies, a former polo-playing acquaintance of Charles: "I doubt if William or Harry were formally introduced to Camilla. To Diana's boys, Camilla was probably just another face in the crowd, a friend of their parents.
"The boys were often photographed with visitors, so posing with Camilla probably didn't mean a thing to them at the time. William hadn't a clue then that she was his father's mistress but by the time he was 16 he'd heard the gossip, and he was no fool." He didn't have to be told at that first formal introduction at St. James's Palace that Camilla and his father were much more than casual friends.
"I don't doubt that William was hurting inside when he finally met the woman who had made his mother so miserable — even though he put on a brave face and showed impeccable manners," says Davies. "That introduction took place just eleven months after the death of Diana. You can only imagine what was going through his mind."
According to Caroline Graham in her book, Camilla: Her True Story, William "took tea alone" with his future stepmother soon after their first meeting, then met her for a third time over lunch with his father. Graham says the story about the cozy lunch was carefully planted in British newspapers to show that William didn't object to his father living with a mistress so soon after the Diana tragedy.
By the time Camilla "came out" and faced her first big public test in November 1998, hosting Charles' fiftieth birthday party at Highgrove, she had "attempted to ingratiate herself" with both William and Harry, says another royal source.
It was William who gave the birthday toast to his father, after practicing his short speech on the unofficial prompter in a back room. The 340 guests, including European royalty, applauded the smiling Prince and his stepmother-to-be, looking the perfect hostess in a deep-green velvet dress.
But two royals were missing from the affair — Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip, who was openly hostile to Camilla and worried about how William and Harry would respond to her influence. When Harry inquired why his grandmother was absent he was told that she thought it "inappropriate" to attend when Camilla was acting as hostess.
Insiders say Harry responded: "Oh, because she upset mummy."
"William was more understanding than his brother," explains the insider. "Harry was already a rebel. He had an eye for girls, booze and smoking the occasional joint." He didn't take kindly to Camilla. This was the woman who had stepped into his late mother's shoes and Harry was not about to welcome her as a future stepmother.
"He was often over-polite and generally cool towards Camilla. And the more he learned about his dad's affair with her, the more distant he became. It took Harry years to accept her but, like William, as he grew up he realized that his father's happiness must come before his own feelings." What the Princes, particularly William, would come to learn was that just as Camilla did not let Diana get in her way, she was not about to let anyone challenge her ambition to be Queen.
She became just that upon Elizabeth II's death on September 8, 2022, which immediately made her husband King.