Following History as it plays

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Having a smoke. 10:00 PM. Photo: JH.

Friday, February 10, 2023. Again, a mild, yet overcast day with temps hovering around 50. It’s convenient, yet odd if you’re a Northeasterner and have seen lots of snows over the years. This year’s been nada. I fully expect we’ll get at least one surprise snowfall. But, maybe not.

I’m just about finished with Prince Harry’s memoir. But the Royal family and its dramas are stuck in my craw at the moment, and while doing some side-research (background), I came upon something I wrote about the new Queen Consort back in January 2000 back when she was still just Camilla, the Other Woman, before she married Charles (back on this day — April 9th) in 2005.

Photo: Tim Graham/Getty Images

January 2000. Camilla Parker-Bowles, the most famous royal mistress of the last century came to town on a private visit.

British journalists were calling to find out who what, and where. I didn’t know. Those who knew wouldn’t talk. Hush-hush and all that. Plans for the trip had been kept secret, except for, according to one inquiring journalist at the London Daily Mail.

Media speculation was that it was part of the Palace’s public relations effort to make her more likable to royal subjects. (????) She arrived by Concorde with traveling companions including a member of the Prince’s staff and a woman whom someone incorrectly referred to as her “lady-in-waiting.”

They were then flown from JFK to East Hampton in a plane belonging to Scott Bessent, a very well-liked and handsome all-American type, a very rich investment banker in his late thirties or early forties, who works for George Soros.

Mr. Bessent travels very frequently to London, where he keeps a flat at the Albany, a posh historic apartment building, and often rubs elbows with the Prince of Wales and his set. And he has a beautiful house in East Hampton.

Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles over the summer of 2000. (Photo by Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)

Mrs. Parker-Bowles was entertained at a very small luncheon given by Chris Browne, a very prosperous (to say the least) mutual fund manager, and close friend of Mr. Bessent, and also possessor of a beautiful house in East Hampton.

There were ten or twelve at the table, including Liz Fondaras and Virginia Coleman, both neighbors out there.

That night the party went to Della Femina’s for dinner, where few recognized Mrs. Parker-Bowles.

The following day, she came into Manhattan where, as reported, she attended the opening of a designer friend’s new line of fabrics at John Rosselli’s antiques and objets shop. Mr. Rosselli is very well known to the decorating and design industry, as well as to rich and sophisticated New Yorkers. Regarded as a purveyor of marvelous taste, he has been supplying their great apartment and country houses for decades. This event drew a small crowd of people in the design media, socialites and decorators.

If all this were to have been part of a public relations plan, it was, if nothing else, beyond subtle. There was also a luncheon given by Brooke Astor.

Mrs. Parker-Bowles then returned to London. Few, therefore, got a glimpse of the lady. The people she saw were mainly those who live far, far away from “the people.” Diana, Princess of Wales was wined and dined by many of these same people, but she was adored by “the People.”

Diana, photographed by Mary Hilliard.

Diana also had distinct advantages that Mrs. P-B lacks, through no fault of her own: namely youth and beauty. Many in society also adored her, or at least adored the royal elbow rubbing. However, since her dreadful ending many have rethought their assessment and now regard her in memory as unstable, neurotic, not very bright, etc., which, coincidentally, was the same assessment that had long been expressed by members of Prince Charles’ circle once the royal marriage hit the rocks.

PS. A little more than five years later (then) Prince Charles finally married Camilla. There were questions at the time as to why Prince Charles didn’t marry Camilla back in the 1970s when they were first “involved.” Evidently he was smitten on meeting.

Camilla is said to have reminded Charles at the time that they had something in common – viz., Camilla’s great-grandmother Alice Keppel had long been the mistress of Charles’ great-great-grandfather, King Edward VII. Edward had many mistresses in his lifetime and during his marriage to Queen Alexandra, from Sarah Bernhardt and Lillie Langtry to Lady Randolph Churchill (mother of Winston), but his relationship with Mrs. Keppel was the final and longest-lasting of them.

Lady-in-“waiting,” Alice Keppel.

So strong was it that when the king was ill and dying, Mrs. Keppel produced a letter written by the king to present to his Queen, that she be allowed to be by his bedside at the end. Because it was his wish, it was granted. Its emotional effect on Queen Alexandra can be imagined – but then she had lived a long marriage with his habit of his devotion to another woman. Although apparently he was kindly to all of his mistresses forever after. They were all the kind of mother he never had in Queen Victoria who treated him with disinterest at best.

Edward VII and Queen Victoria by Moloch, 1891.

When in the late 1970s, the question of a marital relationship with Camilla finally arose, his great-uncle Lord Mountbatten disapproved for a variety of reasons including the fact that Camilla by then was not a virgin. It was very hard for Charles to take but he tried to accept it. The author Sally Bedell Smith wrote in her biography of Charles that he wrote to Lord Mountbatten, “I suppose this feeling of emptiness will pass eventually.” Lord Mountbatten was assassinated in County Sligo in northern Ireland in 1979.

Evidently Charles’ “emptiness” over Camilla never did pass, and in the end, the real victim of the situation was and remained Diana. Her second son, Prince Harry has ironically been assigned carrying that weight in the Royal Family. For the first time in British history, a divorcee married the King and on the sixth of May in Westminster Abbey, Camilla will be his Queen, achieving a position that her great-great-grandmother or any mistress in British history never attained.

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