If you want something done, just leave it to the Queen Consort
If you want something done, just leave it to the Queen Consort and her top girl gang: Women ‘manage, smooth out and improve relations between members of the Royal family’
- Camilla’s wise counsel will now be needed more than ever, say those close to her
- Have been moved by her steely determination that new role will not change her
- ‘Core four’ advisers include her private secretary Sophie Densham and her sister
- Also theatre director Jude Kelly who thinks the QC is a genuine force for good
As one senior royal insider told me recently: ‘The Queen Consort can do more with a half-raised eyebrow than any courtier can do with a sheaf of paperwork stuck in front of the King.’
Indeed, those who have been by her side for the last 17 years of her royal career say Camilla’s calm and wise counsel will be needed more than ever as her husband comes to terms with the loss of his mother and also attempts to keep the monarchy steady once the inevitable post-funeral bounce of popularity wears off.
‘It’s long been the case that the institution is a matriarchal one, not just because of her late Majesty The Queen,’ one insider explains.
‘It is the women who ultimately manage, smooth out and improve relations between members of the family and the King likes and appreciates strong women around him.
‘All you need is for the Queen Consort to say, “Leave it with me”, then it’s as good as done. Make no mistake, she may not ever raise her voice, but it is the strongest and most reliable of them all.’
HMQC (Her Majesty The Queen Consort) or, more simply, ‘the QC’ as the former Duchess of Cornwall is now called for short, finds herself in a truly extraordinary position.
In less than two decades she has gone from country divorcee to the wife of our head of state and is the first to have not only a family completely outside of the royal orbit, but a life and home of her own. At weekends she returns to the relaxed informality of Ray Mill House in Wiltshire, while Charles prefers neighbouring Highgrove.
There’s also Camilla’s sister Annabel Elliot – the pair speak almost every day. Pictured together in 2011
Her new role as Queen Consort is a challenge Camilla is determined to navigate with the help of her trusted ‘top girl gang’ which includes her private secretary, Sophie Densham (left), her deputy Belinda Kim, as well as her dresser Jackie Meakin (right), who also worked for the late Queen Mother
It’s a huge challenge for a woman who has just celebrated her 75th birthday, but one she is determined to navigate with the help of her trusted ‘top girl gang’ she’s gathered to steer herself through.
The gang is made up of many working mothers with young children, with a ‘core four’ that includes her private secretary, Sophie Densham, her deputy Belinda Kim, as well as her dresser Jackie Meakin, who also worked for the late Queen Mother. There’s also her sister Annabel Elliot – the pair speak almost every day.
Jude Kelly CBE, British theatre director, producer and feminist, is also considered to be among Camilla’s close girl gang. Then of course, there’s her own family – her children Tom and Laura, who have five children between them.
Those who have spoken to Camilla in recent weeks have been moved, not just by the depth of her grief at the loss of her mother-in-law but by her steely determination that this turn of events will not change her in the slightest.
Of course the homes may be grander, the duties more onerous – and, make no mistake, the QC takes those responsibilities extremely seriously – but Camilla’s core values haven’t shifted in the slightest, say friends.
‘The one thing you must always remember about Camilla is that she is fundamentally the same woman she has always been,’ says a long-standing friend. ‘She definitely got more fearless – she’s had to be when it comes to public speaking – but her core values haven’t changed.’
Change is something our new QC hates, in fact. But not because she doesn’t like progress, far from it. She delights in challenging her grandchildren at Wordle (the popular online word game) and has an iPad on which she reads newspapers and plays Scrabble.
But she still has, I can reveal, the same Nokia ‘brick’ phone she’s had for years and can’t do anything more sophisticated than text.
Jude Kelly CBE (pictured), British theatre director, producer and feminist, is also considered to be among Camilla’s close girl gang
Says one friend of 20 years’ standing: ‘She’s much more of a people person. She doesn’t like change for the sake of it and is very much of the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality.’
When the team at Clarence House were first given the tricky task of introducing the then ‘Mrs Parker Bowles’ to the world almost two decades ago they decided the best PR strategy was… to have none at all.
One involved at the time says: ‘We just knew if we let her go and do the job, then people would view her differently. I always thought that crack about her being the laziest woman in Britain [shared by former royal spin doctor Mark Bolland] was sloppy and unfair because when she did start working, she really took to it.
‘But unfortunately it’s haunted her because people had such a cliched view of what she was like.
‘The truth is that she is very warm, very wise, very funny, very down to earth and seriously well-read and intelligent.’
Viewers of The Crown may see Camilla as someone who has plotted and campaigned for her new role, but that couldn’t be further from the truth say her supporters. ‘In all the years I’ve known her it has never occurred to me once that’s what she was thinking of. I don’t think she has longed for this position at all,’ said one old friend. ‘But she knew that the job came with the love of her husband and the two had to go together, it’s as simple as that.’
Several former aides have also told me about how utterly ‘inscrutable’ Camilla always was on the issue of becoming Queen.
‘When you would show her the latest opinion polls on the issue, as you had to do occasionally, she was always absolutely Sphinx-like. Not even a blink,’ says one. ‘No one ever knew what she thought. Her attitude to anything is, “Keep calm and carry on, things will be alright in the end”.’
Many of those around the QC point to her good instincts that have always served her well – as long as she trusts in her own judgment. One recalls an incident in 2007 when William and Harry invited her to attend a service to mark the 10th anniversary of their mother’s death.
Viewers of The Crown may see Camilla as someone who has plotted and campaigned for her new role, but that couldn’t be further from the truth say her supporters. Pictured: Emerald Fennell playing Camilla Parker Bowles in The Crown
Her gut reaction from the start was not to go, but she was put under a lot of pressure internally to accept. When the news she was among the attendees broke, there was a huge public outcry and she eventually pulled out.
‘She was, of course, proved right,’ says one former aide. It was a rare misstep in an otherwise faultless royal career, which one who knows her well puts down to inherent ‘unfussiness’ and ability to roll with the punches.
Another example is when she and Charles were attacked by protesters as they drove to the Royal Variety Performance in 2010. One senior royal aide who was there recalls her getting out of the car, straightening her dress and remarking, deadpan: ‘Well, there’s a first time for everything, isn’t there?’
And on an official visit to Trinidad and Tobago some years ago, the heavens opened as she got into the tender taking her to a fancy official dinner. She turned up looking like a drowned rat, shrugged her shoulders and just roared, one of her team tells me. That sense of humour is something everyone who comes into contact with Camilla talks about.
Another aide recalls how on a trip to Pakistan in 2006 they were in the president’s home when a band struck up a terribly out of tune version of the British national anthem. ‘She had this glint in her eye and stood there trying to catch our eye as she knew we would all corpse. She’s very naughty like that,’ they said.
As one senior royal insider told me recently: ‘The Queen Consort can do more with a half-raised eyebrow than any courtier can do with a sheaf of paperwork stuck in front of the King’
But that’s not to say she doesn’t take the day job extremely seriously, far from it. ‘She’s very steadfast and never makes any snap decisions. She is a smart as anything and has a mind like a steel trap,’ one insider says.
Theatre impresario Miss Kelly, has worked closely with Camilla for many years in her role as president of WOW (Women of the World) and believes she has become a genuine force for good. ‘She always seeks out women who have no status in the conventional sense of the word and wants to hear their stories. It’s never about her,’ she says.
‘I can’t imagine she will be less bold than she already has been. She will take her role very seriously and will be an even greater voice than before. The Queen did it in her own way, and the Queen Consort will too.’
She’s said to be a brilliant boss, who gets to know her staff as people – their likes, their loathes, their husbands and children. She’s astonishingly loyal.
Indeed, officials who retire often go back to work for her and the King in a private capacity.
Above all, she is ‘fantastically good’ for our new king. ‘They love each other, obviously, she makes him happy and is hugely supportive, but she will also speak to him honestly and bring the outside world in,’ one source tells me.
‘It’s been a long and not always easy journey for them. But they are in it together. They always have been, and always will be.’
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