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Erasing Diana: The Problem with “Queen Camilla”

If you were a fan of Princess Di, as most of the world was, it's really, really hard to see The Other Woman beaming and wearing that ridiculous crown.

“The World’s Most Successful Other Woman” is what the very funny writer (and occasional NextTribe contributor) Joyce Wadler called Camilla Parker Bowles in her column the other day. The truth of that—I might go as far as adding “ever in history” to that description. (You know Wallis Simpson is looking on in envy.)

The description made me hoot out loud and stuck in my head throughout the dull coronation pageant on Saturday. I wasn’t even going to watch the crowning of the Man Who Would Be a Tampon except that I had one of those mornings of waking up at 5:30 and being unable to get back to sleep. I was excited there was actually something on TV at that hour.

I didn’t arrive at upset until Camilla got that crown on her head.

The whole time I kept my eyes on Camilla, who took the “stiff upper lip” thing a little too far; “stiff upper body” was more like it. If the announcers explained why she was wearing a wedding dress made of whalebone and glitter, I didn’t hear it. I actually had the volume off because I didn’t need any more pomp with my circumstance.

I had a lot of emotions watching the thing progress. Sadness for Harry, entering alone and in none of the baubles. Delight at the interactions between Princess Charlotte and brother Prince Louis. I didn’t arrive at upset until Camilla got that crown on her head—a crown that looks like a gilded hot air balloon that turned both she and her man into bobble heads: Buckingham Palace edition.

Read More: From Our U.K. Correspondent: Nobody Did Nobility Better

Why Do I Care?

It’s really none of my business. I live in the United States, not the United Kingdom. And if the Brits are ready to accept Queen Camilla, why should I care?

Well, here’s why. Princess Diana and I were roughly the same age; I was in London when her engagement was announced, and I waited at the palace gates for hours to see the two make an appearance, but my feet hurt and I went back to my dorm probably 10 minutes before they showed up. OK, that’s not a reason for me to be mad at Camilla. It’s a reason to be mad at the shoe maker. Still, I felt some sort of connection to Diana, however fantastical it was.

I remembered how Charles and a hopeful Diana had made their way through the streets in that same carriage 42 years earlier.

But everyone did—everyone, except for one wretched man who never put his heart into their marriage, who thought he could do his Royal Duty, and Camilla too, who became jealous over being eclipsed by the virginal, naive woman his mother and the whole royal team wanted him to marry—the woman he and others surely thought could be controlled.

My heart hurt watching Camilla and Charles in that shiny, over-the-top carriage, waving at the crowds like life was beautiful, remembering how Charles and a hopeful Diana, in that billowy dress, had made their way through the streets in that same carriage 42 years earlier. And then I thought of her slow funeral procession through a similar route with Harry’s devastating handwritten “Mummy” on a wreath of flowers on her casket. (One problem with being this age is that you remember a long line of such details, for better or worse.)

During that heart-aching funeral service, I remember being up at a similarly God-awful hour to watch. I wept through much of it, causing my infant son, who felt my anguish I presume, to wail along with me.

A Fairy Tale: The Gaslit Version

Something does not feel right about Camilla becoming “Queen.” Nobody uses “Queen Consort,” which is her official title, not even officially. On the invitation to the coronation, the “consort” was dropped off. Just like that. Poor Albert remained a Prince to Victoria’s Queen; same with Phillip and Elizabeth. For a time, there was talk of Camilla being “Princess Consort.”

As someone wrote in the pre-coronation hoo-haw, “consort” suggests associating with someone without approval; that cuts too close to the bone, I’m sure. I wish the royals, or at least the history books, could take their lead from the sports world and put an asterisk next to her name to acknowledge the unusual circumstances of her rise to her current rank.

This is not a fairy tale in the sparkling Cinderella vein, but more like the one where a troll lives under the bridge.

Maybe Camila is a fine woman and not anything like Tracey Ullman’s bawdy, bitchy caricature of her, but still she had a hand in the fate of a woman who was manipulated then resented by the Royal Family. Diana was dumped, and now she’s forgotten, according to the official record. She has been erased from the record, like an inappropriate comment in courtroom testimony.

The phrase “fairy tale” has been sprinkled liberally in print and throughout TV coverage. And maybe it would have been if Charles and Camilla had been able to marry right off the bat, and she had stood by his side from the beginning. But this is not a fairy tale in the sparkling Cinderella vein. It’s more like the one where a troll lives under the bridge. It’s a gaslit fairy tale, where we’re supposed to forget the whole dark middle episode.

Diana lived and breathed and mothered two sons—one of whom is having his own scrape with The Firm, as the Royal Family is often called. Her memory deserves more respect.

In the grocery line yesterday morning, I flipped through a commemorative magazine for Charles’s coronation. There were a slew of large portraits of Charles and Camilla, who with her blonde helmet of hair appears to be trying to channel her predecessor. I only found one photo of Diana—she was with Charles and the boys—and it was a small black-and-white number. A heartbreaking footnote.

My only consolation to all this is to think that Diana, if she would have lived, wouldn’t want to be Queen anyhow. She’d be as far from this circus as possible. Maybe living in the United States with an adoring movie-star husband (who would you pick for her?), maybe spending the day with Meghan Markle, helping with her grandchildren.

Read More: Our Tribute to the Royal Family’s Hardest Worker

By Jeannie Ralston


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