She’s down-to-earth, with an ability to get on with people from all walks of life. She has a good sense of humour and doesn’t blush easily at risqué jokes. She doesn’t particularly like being in the limelight, but has accepted that her marriage to the future king means it’s a big part of her life, so she is determined to make the best of it – using her position to help causes close to her heart.
While she does sometimes get nervous at being the centre of attention, her strength of character gets her through the times when the eyes of the world are upon her. This is the real Duchess of Cornwall, the woman behind the grand title.
In New Zealand with her husband Prince Charles this week for the first time, Camilla will be showing her public face as she attends a series of official engagements around the country. But what you see on these visits is just a small part of who Camilla is, according to those who know her well.
Camilla (65) is very warm and charming in person and is good at getting people to feel comfortable around her, says one source who has socialised with the duchess. She is always great fun and despite her royal title, doesn’t put on airs and graces.
When she’s not on show as a member of the royal family, she loves horse riding and walking in the countryside with her two Jack Russell terriers, and is a keen gardener. “She loves pottering around at home in her jeans,” says a source. “Flower arranging is a favourite pastime and she also enjoys oil painting.”
The duchess is a good cook, according to her son, food writer Tom Parker-Bowles, with roast chicken her forte – but she “hates baking and anything else that involves measuring out ingredients,” he says. But the times when Camilla is able to really be herself and let her hair down are when she is around her grandchildren. She is a doting granny to five grandkids – daughter Laura has a daughter Eliza (4) and twin boys Gus and Louis (2), while Tom is father to Lola (5) and Freddy (2).
“Camilla adores having her grandchildren around and is always talking about them,” says a friend. She loves taking them out for treats and even had a nursery built for them at Ray Mill – the country house near Charles’ Gloucestershire home, Highgrove House, where she often spends time.
By no means perfect, the duchess has been slowly winning people over at home in the UK, as well as around the world since she became Charles’ wife in 2005. It hasn’t been easy – she was initially extremely unpopular for being “the other woman” while Charles (63) was married to Princess Diana. Because of this, she’s had to work so much harder to be accepted than anyone else who has married into the royal family. But her in-laws have obviously taken her to heart.
The Queen has demonstrated her support for her daughter-in-law by inviting the younger woman to be by her side at various events. It was seen as the ultimate seal of approval when Camilla was given the honour of sitting next to Her Majesty in a state carriage during the Diamond Jubilee celebrations this year.
Camilla has gradually got used to being part of such grand occasions and takes official engagements in her stride. She is not afraid of hard work, say pals, and she was upset six years ago when a former senior aide to Prince Charles labelled her as lazy for not carrying out as many engagements as other members of the royal family.
She not only helps Charles with some of the charities he supports, but she also has a number of causes about which she cares very deeply. One of her royal aides says the duchess has a personal connection to all of the organisations she backs. “ She is very involved in what goes on in her office and likes to know how things are going. She is very hands-on .”
In fact, the visits she and Charles are making while they are in New Zealand were all approved by the couple, after they were suggested by our government, because they are causes they feel strongly about – such as honouring war veterans and their families. The royals also asked to meet members of Christchurch’s Student Army, who turned out in force to help with the earthquake clean-up.
The charity closest to the duchess’ heart is Britain’s National Osteoporosis Society, of which she is the president. Both her mother and grandmother died from the bone-weakening disease, and Camilla is passionate about raising awareness of the illness and how to combat it. “Seeing someone you love die slowly, in agony, and knowing nothing about the disease that killed them is heartbreaking,” she wrote in an article last year about her experience with osteoporosis.
She described how her mother, Rosalind Shand, became so bent over she was unable to digest food properly. “My family and I watched in horror as my mother shrunk in front of our eyes.” The duchess is so keen to highlight osteoporosis that she wanted to meet with local medical experts, along with women who have the disease.
Other good causes she is keen to promote include child literacy and animal welfare, which is why she is attending a performance of the show Hairy Maclary, based on Kiwi author Dame Lynley Dodd’s bestselling books, and also going to Massey University Equine Research Centre.
The royal couple have a hectic schedule, spending time in Auckland, Wellington, Manawatu and Christchurch. It’s the end of a Diamond Jubilee tour that has already taken them to Papua New Guinea and Australia. Their only day off in the whole trip is this week while they are in New Zealand.
Although officials won’t reveal what the couple have planned, they have hinted that it will involve sightseeing. “The prince wanted to show the duchess something of the countryside he has enjoyed on previous visits,” says a Clarence House spokesperson.
Judy Kean & Donna Fleming