Royal watchers likely know of Prince Charles’s long-lasting love affair with Camilla Parker Bowles, which preceded, overlapped with, and outlasted the royal’s marriage to Princess Diana. But The Crown’s season-three episode “Imbroglio” reveals much more about the relationship’s complicated origins. When Camilla (then Shand) met Charles in the early 1970s, she had been dating her future husband Andrew Parker Bowles on and off for about five years. Complicating the romantic situation was the fact that Andrew had also dated Charles’s younger sister Princess Anne.
But royal biographer Sally Bedell Smith claims there is one major inaccuracy to the dual royal romances depicted in “Imbroglio:” Charles’s 1970s relationship with Camilla and Anne’s relationship with Andrew did not, in real life, overlap.
“Anne and Andrew started dating in June 1970,” Smith said, tracing the relationship back to that year’s Royal Ascot, when Andrew was invited to Windsor to celebrate with the royal family. Andrew was a handsome Sandhurst graduate and lieutenant in the Blues and Royals regiment of the Royal Horse Guards who shared Anne’s love of horse racing. Even before the Royal Ascot invitation, though, Andrew had been embedded with the royal family: the Queen Mother—a friend of Andrew’s father—was particularly fond of Andrew, and Andrew had served as a page at Queen Elizabeth 1953’s coronation.
But, as Smith pointed out, the romance was brief: “Anne and Andrew enjoyed each other’s company but they could never marry because he was a Catholic,” said Smith, noting that Anne and Andrew remain close to this day. Anne and her first husband, Mark Phillips, chose Andrew to be the godfather of their only daughter, Zara, when she was born in 1981. Just last year, Anne and Andrew were photographed sharing a laugh at the 2018 Royal Ascot. This March, the duo were photographed together again, on a balcony overlooking the Cheltenham horse race.
According to Smith, who wrote 2017’s Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life, Charles did not meet Camilla until “the summer of 1972—long after Andrew and Anne’s romance was over. They were introduced by mutual friend Lucia Santa Cruz, who told me about inviting them over for a drink at her flat in London. Prince Charles also told Jonathan Dimbleby that Lucia introduced them in 1972. Charles fell madly in love with Camilla but, to her, it was a fling—he was the Prince of Wales. Meanwhile, Andrew was off in Ireland and Cyprus for six months.”
“Imbroglio” culminates with a secret sit-down meeting between Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip, the Queen Mother, and Princess Anne. After Anne explains to her parents and grandmother that Camilla is actually in love with Andrew—not Charles—the Queen Mother requests a meeting with Camilla and Andrew’s parents. It does not seem to be a coincidence when, shortly afterward, Camilla and Andrew marry—a wedding that neatly removes the Camilla problem from the royal equation.
“Interfering like that is something the queen would never do,” said Smith. “It was highly unlikely that she even knew about Charles and Camilla. It was generally known that Camilla was in love with Andrew Parker Bowles and wanted to marry him. But no one took the romance between Charles and Camilla seriously. They were sort of under the radar. The only one who really knew about it was [Charles’s uncle] Lord Mountbatten, and he promoted it. He invited them to Broadlands together. But the idea that the queen and Queen Mother would conspire like that is laughable.”
“The only people who were plotting,” Smith added, “were Camilla and Andrew’s fathers, Bruce Shand and Derek Parker Bowles.” After seven years of Andrew and Camilla’s on-and-off-again dating, the fathers “were tired of Andrew’s foot-dragging. They were the ones who got together and published an engagement announcement in the Times on March 15, 1973. Once that happened, Andrew was forced into proposing. But it wasn’t because of anyone in the royal family.”
Smith further noted that Andrew remained in such good graces with the royal family that “a couple weeks after he and Camilla were married, the Queen Mother had them for the weekend up in Scotland. I’ve seen the guest book. They were there in August 1973.”
“The Crown is a fictional portrayal of the royal family,” Smith clarified. “And it’s beautifully done, beautifully written, beautifully acted. . .but, because of that, audiences tend to take it at face value. A lot of it is made up.”
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