There was no love lost between the Prince’s wife and his mistress. Princess Diana often railed against Camilla Parker Bowles, calling her “The Rottweiler” because of her homely looks and intimidating personality. Camilla dismissed her younger rival as “that ridiculous creature.”
Although the specter of Camilla hung over Diana’s marriage like a black cloud, the two women hadn’t spoken since before the wedding. While Charles was caught in the middle during most of his 15-year marriage, Camilla and Diana’s friends and supporters separated into two distinct camps and moved for the most part in different worlds. But for just one night, in 1989, those two worlds collided in the most dramatic way possible — when Diana snapped and went on the attack.
The confrontation was described by Diana in secret recordings made in 1991. It occurred during a 40th birthday party for Camilla’s sister, Annabel, when the princess interrupted a conversation between Camilla, Charles and another gentleman as they were about to head upstairs to join the other revelers.
“I said to the two men, ‘OK, boys, I’m just going to have a quick word with Camilla and I’ll be up in a minute.’ And they shot upstairs like chickens with no heads, and I could feel upstairs all hell breaking loose: ‘What is she going to do?'”
Diana said Camilla’s response was “very interesting.”
“I said to Camilla, ‘Would you like to sit down?’ So we sat down and I was terrified of her. And I said, ‘I know what’s going on between you and Charles and I just want you to know that.’ She said to me, ‘You’ve got everything you ever wanted. You’ve got all the men in the world falling in love with you and you’ve got two beautiful children, what more do you want?’"
“So I said, ‘I want my husband’ and I said to Camilla, ‘I’m sorry I’m in the way and it must be hell for both of you. But I do know what’s going on. Don’t treat me like an idiot.'”
Two years later, Diana got her ultimate revenge with the publication of Her True Story, the book based on her taped confessions by British journalist Andrew Morton that would spell the beginning of the end of her marriage.
On the surface at least, the early days of the marriage appeared happy, especially after the 1982 birth of an heir, William. But behind the scenes things had gone from bad to worse.
“I thought, you know, it was just grim,” Diana would say later. “I just had tremendous hope in me, which was slashed by day two.”
As time went on, Diana became increasingly upset by her husband’s obsession with Camilla. Diana was convinced he was carrying on with Camilla from the beginning of their marriage. And she famously told interviewer Martin Bashir in a 1995 BBC interview that there were “three of us in this marriage.”
According to biographer Christopher Wilson, the moment Diana really knew Charles was sleeping with Camilla came when she overheard one of his frequent telephone calls to his mistress when he was in the tub and his words echoed out of the bathroom. He said he was at his wit’s end with Diana’s postnatal depression following William’s birth.
“The man who, when asked about his feelings for his future wife [Diana], had said, ‘Whatever 'in love' means,’ told Camilla: ‘Whatever happens, I will always love you,'” wrote Wilson.
Worried that the palace could try to take her children away from her, Diana kept silent. While the public couldn’t help but notice the lack of warmth between Charles and Diana, they didn’t realize just how badly the relationship had deteriorated. It was a decade before Camilla’s role as the Prince’s consort became public when she and Charles vacationed without their spouses in nearby villas near Florence, Italy, in May 1991.
An article in Britain’s Mail on Sunday observed at the time, “The gulf between the 42-year-old heir to the throne and the mother of his two boisterous sons has become all too apparent in recent months. And into the brink has stepped the Prince’s old flame Camilla.”
Diana spent most of her time in London and returned to Highgrove infrequently. The joke among staff was that as she drove in through one gateway, Camilla was driving out of the other. One observer told Wilson: “Camilla was regarded by their friends as Charles’ official hostess at Highgrove. She boasted about the roses she was growing in the garden, she threw dinner parties for Charles, and she sunbathed in a bikini while he puttered in the garden nearby. Set against the standards of most civilized people, this behavior was outrageous.”
“It was as if neither cared who saw what was going on,” added a neighbor. “They were, to all intents and purposes, living as man and wife.”
Camilla’s lack of regard for Diana was revealed in the series of love letters she wrote to Charles that the Princess found hidden in her husband’s briefcase when the couple were at Balmoral, the Queen’s Scottish residence, in August 1991.
In the passionate notes, Camilla urged Charles not to feel guilty about their affair and pledged to be his “for ever.” She told how her “heart and body aches” for him and listed where and when they could meet without fear of being caught. On several occasions, she proclaimed the strength of her affection with phrases such as: “I yearn to be with you day and night, to hug, comfort and love you” and called him: “My most precious darling.”
Clearly, all of Diana’s worst suspicions were shockingly real. Morton said the letters left Diana “devastated.” Feeling unable to get her side of the story out and without a voice, Diana fed Morton intimate details of the breakdown of the royal marriage through a go-between. “I was at the end of my tether,” she explained. “I was desperate. I think I was so fed up with being seen as someone who was a basket case because I am a very strong person and I know that causes complications in the system that I live in.”
The publication of Morton’s book in 1992 blew the lid off the sham marriage and had the effect of winning even more sympathy for Diana, already the public’s princess, and demonizing Camilla. But it was when an explosive, intimate tape of a conversation between Charles and Camilla was made public around the same time — known as Camillagate — that the Prince’s mistress was considered public enemy number one.