Voices: With the coronation, Charles and Camilla’s fairytale gets its happy ending
There were many stars of the coronation, a kind of royal variety performance where the Windsors are the ones on the stage.
The King himself, where we witnessed close-up and live for the first time a monarch in a simple shirt, kneeling, pledging service to his people, prior to his anointing. At 74, he did well.
Kate and William’s incredibly cute children were close to stealing the show again. And among the predominately aged men, Penny Mordaunt, lord president of the council in a smart modern interpretation of state dress, looking rather like something out of Star Trek. She managed to carry a ceremonial sword, walk and sing the national anthem all at the same time. That will certainly secure her a few votes when the time comes for her to run once again for the Tory leadership.
Yet it was Camilla who emerged as the most unlikely star of this show. Seeing her up on the balcony at Buckingham Palace with the King was a sort of moment of truth, for both her and the nation. It was Charles and Camilla as King and Queen, husband and wife, the final public affirmation that they are a team.
We may not have realised before how much of a double act they are, reminiscent of George VI and his consort, Queen Elizabeth, during the war; or, albeit with the roles reversed, the Queen and Prince Philip during their decades-long partnership. As Charles declared in his first broadcast to the nation after the death of the Queen last year: “I count on the loving help of my darling wife, Camilla.”
She more than survived the nervous ordeal of her crowning, brushing her hair back slightly under the weight of Queen Mary’s crown, even without the heavy Koh-i-noor diamond. Her demeanour during the service was almost matter of fact, with a faint smile playing around her face, and perhaps some feeling that the scene she finds herself in was simply unreal.
As she glanced over, she would see three of her grandchildren from her first marriage, Freddy, Louis and Gus, joining Charles’ oldest grandchild, Prince George, to serve as pages of honour at the ceremony. She, and her own family, are firmly ensconced “in the winner’s enclosure”.
Indeed, the transformation has been surreal. Some 40 years ago or so, it was Charles and Diana up on that balcony, the fairytale wedding and a kiss that thrilled the crowds. Then, Camilla was the “other woman”, the one who Diana, Princess of Wales, referred to in her Panorama interview as the third person in her marriage.
The rights and wrongs of the wars of the Waleses, and Camilla’s part in them, have been more than well-rehearsed, but the fact remains that in the aftermath of the death of Diana in 1997 the British monarchy passed through its worst crisis since the abdication in 1936.
Camilla was in hiding, infamously “the most hated woman in Britain”, and the very idea of her playing any public role, even as the then-Prince of Wales’s companion, was absurd. The Queen and the Queen Mother, whose crown Camilla has now literally inherited, were not prepared to give their blessing to Charles’ remarrying the woman he had never stopped loving. Inconvenient as it was, and damaging to his marriage to Diana, that is the central emotional fact that has dominated his life for the past half-century or so.
It has now been resolved at last. Skilfully, Charles and his courtiers gradually rehabilitated Camilla, until in 2005 her marriage to Charles was accepted by the public, and she became Duchess of Cornwall, rather than Princess of Wales; a more controversial step. The Queen attended the reception, if not the service itself at Windsor, and gave a speech that was a signal of, and to, reconciliation. Referencing the Grand National that had just ended, she declared: “Having cleared Becher’s Brook and The Chair and all kinds of other terrible obstacles, they have come through and I’m very proud and wish them well. My son is home and dry with the woman he loves. They are now on the home straight; the happy couple are now in the winners’ enclosure.”
By the time of his accession, Charles and Camilla gave off the easy-going charm of a mature couple enjoying each other’s company. It’s an odd sort of way to be spending their seventies, and, in a parallel world, it might have been more ideal if the moment had come earlier. As it is, they are living their best lives.