Inside the love triangle that rocked the royal family

Sarah Carty
Senior Lifestyle & Entertainment Producer

Over 750 million royal fans from all over the world tuned in to their TVs on July 29th, 1981, to watch as the fairytale wedding of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer took place in London. 

It was everything supporters of the Crown could have wanted from a royal wedding - the couple had 27 wedding cakes, Diana’s Emanuel dress had the longest train in royal history and the day was announced as a public holiday in the UK. 

On July 29th 1981, Prince Charles and Princess Diana married. Photo: Getty Images

But while their lavish ceremony may have pleased the droves of well-wishers who turned out to line the streets on the day, the marriage of a then 20-year-old Princess Diana and 32-year-old Prince Charles was doomed from the very beginning, with the future king reportedly ending up in tears the night before the wedding because he was so deeply in love with his then-mistress, Camilla Parker Bowles.

It was the love triangle of the century, which would go on for the duration of Charles and Diana’s 11-year marriage, with the princess famously stating in an interview with Martin Bashir in 1995: “Well there were three of us in this marriage. So it was a bit crowded”.

Now, as Netflix’s The Crown promises to delve into the rocky royal past of Prince Charles, Princess Diana and Camilla Parker Bowles, we chronicle their relationship timeline. 

However, there was always a third person in the Prince and Princess of Wales' marriage - Camilla Parker Bowles. Photo: Getty Images

When did Charles and Camilla meet?

A 22-year-old Prince Charles met a vivacious and confident 23-year-old Camilla Shand at a polo match at Windsor Great Park in 1970. 

Camilla was a permanent fixture in the high society, having grown up on a large estate in Plumpton, Sussex with her parents, Bruce and Rosalind Shand, and her two younger siblings, Annabel Elliot and Mark Shand.

It wasn’t until 1972 that she really connected with the prince, while attending a party at Prince Charles’ uncle, Lord Mountbatten’s, house. 

Camilla was in an on-again-off-again relationship with Prince Charles’ polo friend, Andrew Parker Bowles for seven years, but at the time, they were on a break, and Andrew was said to be enjoying time with Charles’ younger sister, Princess Anne. 

According to Harper’s Bazaar, author Penny Junor revealed that Camilla was initially trying to make Andrew jealous by courting Prince Charles. 

Prince Charles and Camilla met at a polo match in 1970. Photo: Getty Images
Charles' sister Princess Anne (top left) once dated Andrew Parker-Bowles (top right), who went on to marry Camilla (centre right). Meanwhile Charles dated Diana's older sister Sarah (bottom right) just a few years before he married Diana, whom he cheated on with Camilla. Photo: Yahoo Lifestyle

"When she was introduced to Charles and he thought she was pretty special...he thought she was a bit of alright and she thought, 'Andrew is at the moment off with Princess Anne, you know her brother, teach Andrew a lesson'. So she had a fling with Charles,” Penny said. 

Camilla is said to have told Charles at the party: “My great-grandmother was the mistress of your great-great-grandfather. I feel we have something in common.” She was referring to her great-grandmother Alice Keppel, who had indeed been the love of King Edward VII’s life.

The pair began a six-month fling, with Prince Charles falling hard for Camilla, signalling the beginning of what would be one of the most controversial relationships in royal history. 

Why didn’t Prince Charles marry Camilla Shand?

Their love may have been intense and exciting but The Windsors had strict demands from a future queen, with the main one being that she must be a virgin without any skeletons from her past in her closet. 

Camilla had enjoyed her younger years and like many, she dated, which immediately ruled her out as queen.  

So in January 1973, Prince Charles left Camilla to spend eight months with the navy in the Caribbean. 

Just six months later, in July 1973, Camilla married Andrew Parker Bowles, with the Queen Mother, Princess Anne and Princess Margaret all in attendance. 

The pair had a 6 month fling but Prince Charles left in 1973 to work for the navy in the Caribbean. Photo: Getty Images

They went on to have two children together, Tom Parker Bowles and Laura Lopes, and while Prince Charles was said to be absolutely devastated at their marriage, he was named as Tom’s godfather. 

It wasn’t the end of the prince’s relationship with either of them, as they remained firm friends, with Camilla even escorting Prince Charles on an official visit to Zimbabwe in 1980 and Andrew working as a liaison officer there. 

How did Prince Charles and Diana Spencer meet?

With Camilla now being taken for, Prince Charles was back on his quest for love and spent the years after his return from the Caribbean dating countless women in a bid to find ‘The One’. 

It’s thought that Prince Charles was constantly trying to find someone to match up to Camilla, the love of his life, while being under immense pressure from the queen and his father, Prince Philip, to settle down and find a royal wife. 

In February 1981, it was announced that Prince Charles would marry a then 18-year-old Diana Spencer. Photo: Getty Images

In 1980, 31-year-old Charles was at a party near Petworth House in Sussex, when he struck up a conversation with an 19-year-old Diana Spencer, after reportedly being introduced by her sister, Lady Sarah Spencer, whom Prince Charles had also dated in the past. 

It was just one year after Prince Charles’ beloved uncle, Lord Mountbatten, had been killed in a terrorist attack, and it’s believed Princess Diana lent him a much-needed shoulder to cry on.

The royal wedding

Just a few short months later, on February 6th 1981, Charles got down on one knee and popped the question to Diana, with numerous sources reporting over the years that the proposal actually happened in the grounds of Camilla’s country house.


On February 24th the news was revealed to the public, with the couple appearing in a TV interview to show off the future princess’ incredible sapphire engagement ring. 

When the interviewer asked Diana if she was in love, the princess said: “Of course” before Charles chimed in, adding: “Whatever love means.”

According to a CBS documentary called Princess Diana: Her Life, Her Death, The Truth, the prince and Diana had met just 12 times before he asked for her hand in marriage. 

Diana arrives at St Paul's Cathedral, in her wedding dress designed by David & Elizabeth Emanuel, before her wedding to Prince Charles on July 29, 1981. Photo: Getty Images

That didn’t stop them walking down the aisle at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London on July 29th, 1981, with all the eyes of the world watching them, catapulting the young woman into the spotlight and heralding the start of a global obsession with the new Princess Diana. 

Tumultuous marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana

While the couple may have been all smiles on the day, over the years it’s become apparent that things were rocky between them from the very beginning. 

Despite this, they went on to become the doting parents to Prince William in 1982 and Prince Harry in 1984, cementing their image with the public as the perfect royal family. 

The couple, pictured here in Venice in Italy in 1985, went on to have two sons together, Prince William and Prince Harry. Photo: Getty Images

However behind closed doors, that couldn’t have been further from the truth, as Prince Charles was becoming increasingly jealous of the attention Diana was getting from the adoring public while on official duty and he began to have an affair with his old flame, Camilla.

In the documentary, Princess Diana: The Secret Tapes, it was revealed that In 1984, despite claiming to be “terrified” of Camilla, Diana approached her at a party and said:

“I know what's going on between you and Charles and I just want you to know that” 

Camilla is reported to have said to her: “You've got everything you ever wanted. You've got all the men in the world fall in love with you and you've got two beautiful children, what more do you want?”.

Diana replied saying: “I want my husband. 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.”

However, things quickly turned sour in their relationship. Photo: Getty Images

By 1986 Diana began her own affair with her riding instructor and former Household Cavalry officer James Hewitt, which lasted for five years. Diana was also linked to another James, James Gilbey, a Lotus salesman and heir to a gin fortune, at the time. 

Things had reached breaking point between Prince Charles and Princess Diana and in December 1992, British Prime Minister John Major announced the couple's formal separation in Parliament.

Squidgygate

After their separation was announced, it seemed that every week there was a new story leaked from each side about each other. 

In June 1992, Andrew Morton’s book Diana: Her True Story was released, where it was reported that Diana called Camilla “the Rottweiler,” while Camilla reportedly referred to the princess as “that ridiculous creature.”

A few months later a recording of a conversation between Princess Diana and her lover, James Gilbey, which was dubbed ‘Squidgygate’, was released.

The conversation took place on New Year’s Eve in 1989, while Diana was in her room at Sandringham in Norfolk, with the extended royal family downstairs. 

During the phone call James Gilbey was heard repeatedly calling the princess by the pet name "squidgy" and telling her "I love you". 

In December 1992, British Prime Minister John Major announced the couple's formal separation in Parliament. Photo: Getty Images

Camillagate

Just weeks after ‘Squidgygate’ was unearthed, another phone conversation rocked the royal family. 

This time it was a risqué phone call between Prince Charles and Camilla from December 18th, 1989. It was dubbed ‘Cammilagate’ and it confirmed the couple’s affair to the rest of the world. 

An Australian magazine and a German tabloid, published a transcript of the call at the time, which brought to light that Prince Charles and Camilla had been having a secret affair for nearly the whole duration of his marriage to Princess Diana. 

During the phone call, Prince Charles told Camilla he wanted to “live inside her trousers” and Camilla responded, telling the prince that she wanted him “desperately, desperately, desperately”.

In January 1995, Camilla and Andrew Parker Bowles announced that they were divorcing after 22 years of marriage, with Andrew going on to marry his long-time mistress Rosemary Pitman, one year later.

Diana’s explosive interview

In an unprecedented move by a member of the royal family, Princess Diana granted journalist Martin Bashir an interview with her, where she revealed everything about her marriage to Prince Charles. 

In November 1995, Diana sat down with Bashir in her Kensington Palace home and confirmed that Charles and Camilla had been having an affair and revealed how unhappy she had been in her marriage over the years. 

 “Well there were three of us in this marriage. So it was a bit crowded,” Diana famously said about the affair. 

She revealed to Bashir that she had suffered from depression and had tried to harm herself over the years, saying: “ When you feel no one is listening to you all sorts of things start to happen. For instance, you have so much pain inside yourself that you try and hurt yourself on the outside because you want help. But it’s the wrong help you’re asking for. People see it as crying wolf or attention seeking and they think that because you’re in the media all the time you’ve “got enough attention” but I was actually crying out because I wanted to get better in order to go forward and continue my duty and my role as wife, mother, Princess of Wales.”

Princess Diana, pictured in June 1994, went on to give one of the most explosive interviews any member of the royal family has ever given, when she invited Martin Bashir into her Kensington Palace home. Photo: Getty Images

The princess also opened up about having bulimia for a number of years saying: “It was a symptom of what was going on in my marriage. I was crying out for help and people were using my bulimia as a coat on a hanger. They decided that was the problem. Diana was unstable.”

Tragically, Diana told Bashir that she “wanted to be remembered as the queen of people’s hearts” 

On August 28th, 1996, Prince Charles and Princess Diana divorced and over the next few months the princess enjoyed living a new, free life with a set of rich and famous friends she had made, partying on yachts, attending fashion events and ramping up her charity work.

Two years before her death, she had been in an on-and-off romance with heart surgeon Hasnat Khan and while things eventually ended, it’s believed Hasnat was the love of Diana’s life. 

In July 1997, Diana met Dodi Al-Fayed, who was the son of Egyptian businessman Mohamed Al-Fayed, the former owner of Harrods department store.

The pair were pictured holidaying with Prince William and Prince Harry on Dodi’s private yacht in the Mediterranean, before the couple flew to Paris on August 30th. 

Princess Diana’s tragic death

On August 31, 1997, the news that Princess Diana had died in a car accident in Paris sent shockwaves all over the world. 

Diana, Dodi, and their chauffeur, Henri Paul, were all killed when the car crashed in Pont de l'Alma tunnel.

Prince Charles and Diana’s sisters rushed to Paris to bring the princess’ body home and she was laid to rest six days later on September 6th, 1997. 

Her funeral at Westminster Abbey was watched by 2.5 billion people all over the world, with nearly a million people lining the streets of London to say their last goodbyes. 

Charles and Camilla go public with their love

Charles and Camilla made their first appearance together as a couple in 1999 after Charles threw a 50th birthday party for Camilla’s sister at the Ritz Hotel in London. 

That same year, as a sign that things were indeed serious between the pair, they were spotted holidaying in Greece with Prince Harry and Prince William.

Prince Charles and Camilla went on to marry in April 2005, surrounded by their family. Photo: Getty Images

The Prince of Wales gets his happy ending 

While Charle’s children may have been open to the relationship, the Queen still disapproved of the previously adulterous union and refused to be in the same room as Camilla, formerly telling Prince Philip: “I will not have that woman in my presence”. 

However in 2000, she attended the 60th birthday party for the King of Greece and it was taken as a sign that she was finally ready to accept Charles and Camilla’s relationship. 

In 2003, Prince Charles and Camilla moved into Clarence House and in 2005 they announced their engagement, 35 years after they first met. 

On April 8th they married in a civil ceremony at Windsor Guildhall, with Prince William acting as best man. While the Queen or Prince Philip didn’t attend the ceremony, they were present at the Service of Prayer and Dedication and held a reception for the couple in Windsor Castle.

Camilla took on the title of Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall.

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