Palace worries over 'workshy' Camilla


Last updated at 22:01 07 July 2006

Around the time 15 months ago when Camilla Parker Bowles was getting married to the Prince of Wales, one of her relations reportedly described her as 'the laziest woman to be born in England in the 20th century'.

This may have been a trifle exaggerated, and it was certainly unkind, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that since becoming HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla has not exactly been overworked.

While hoping to glide smoothly into the gap left by the death of the Queen Mother - complete with large and exotic hats - Camilla, who is 59 this month, has carried out a mere 38 official functions on her own in the past year: one for every nine days.

Compare this with the Queen Mother herself, who dutifully carried out 130 official engagements at the age of 80, some 118 when she was in her 90th year, and was still managing to clock up no fewer than 58 official engagements in the UK when she was a faltering 97.

The Duchess has, of course, also accompanied Charles on 196 of his engagements, but in many official eyes this falls far short of what a royal duchess married to the heir to the throne should be doing.

Now comes news of an ill-tempered domestic scene at Highgrove carrying echoes of those warring days when Princess Diana was its mistress.

In a fit of exasperation, it appears, Prince Charles kicked out at an antique chair, sending it skidding across the room and breaking it.

In Diana's day, the incident would have been just another unpleasant episode marking their bitter differences.

But behind this petulant kick was not anger with Camilla over her paltry number of official engagements. Charles would never do that because, in his eyes, the woman he loved for three decades before finding himself free to marry her can do no wrong.

On the contrary, he was kicking out on her behalf, infuriated by a chorus of critical voices at Buckingham Palace calling for her - as Prince Philip might put it - 'to pull her finger out'.

Charles cannot bear any criticism of Camilla. He has been further irritated by the widespread astonishment and derision which greeted his private secretary Sir Michael Peat's announcement that Camilla was costing the taxpayer a mere £2,000 a year.

However, the Prince is much more exercised by the groundswell of unease within the Palace walls over Camilla's apparent laziness. But is it true?

Matters have come to a head, we can reveal, over the death last month of her father, Major Bruce Shand, a decorated war hero who lost his battle with cancer at the age of 89. Camilla was utterly devoted to her father but his death at a good age had been anticipated for some weeks.

Camilla was in Scotland with Charles for official engagements when she learned on June 5 that her father's condition had worsened.

Palace eyebrows were raised when the Prince immediately chartered a private jet to fly her from Aberdeen airport - where she had been due to open the new British Airways lounge - to RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire. Charles performed the

ceremony alone.

Major Shand died six days later on June 11, and arrangements were made for him to be buried on the 16th.

Rift between Buckingham Palace and Charles' own household re-opened

The day before his funeral, the special service at St Paul's Cathedral celebrating the Queen's 80th birthday was held. Camilla did not accompany Charles and the other royals to the service, and - in her grief - many will understand why.

But around the Royal Family there was surprise that, even though mourning her father, Camilla wasn't there. To the born royals, the concept of duty transcends private grief.

And although there was great sympathy for Camilla over her loss, some senior Palace figures were critical of her for not being at the St Paul's service, nor joining the Royal Family at the Trooping the Colour ceremony 48 hours later.

"After all," one says, "neither of these important days clashed with the funeral and it isn't as though her father's death was unexpected."

Many will disagree with this point of view, finding it unduly harsh. Prince Charles, aware of what is being privately said, is furious.

The issue has prised open the rift between Buckingham Palace and his own household which everyone thought had been closed when the Queen finally dropped her disapproval of Mrs Parker Bowles.

What seems certain is that the Duchess's absence from the two showcase royal events would not have been commented upon quite so much if she had earned herself a reputation for hard work as the newest senior member of the Royal Family.

And even her friends concede that Camilla, for whom being a royal duchess is her first proper job outside running a family and bringing up two children, has done little to lose her reputation for languor, acquired when she was married to Brigadier Andrew Parker Bowles and her role was purely social support as an officer's wife.

In the months after Charles and Camilla's Windsor wedding in April last year, the dining table at Highgrove was still piled high with unanswered letters of goodwill that had accompanied gifts.

It diminished slowly as Camilla, never a great letter writer, penned a maximum of ten replies a day.

"Being in the Royal Family obviously has its perks, but they come with big responsibilities, and she's finding it heavy going," says one of her circle.

They believe that she should be working much harder to complement Charles's work by carving out her own areas of responsibility.

"Diana carried out hundreds of engagements a year," one courtier recalls. The comparison is ironic since Charles fumed and fretted that crowds who flocked to their visits had come only to see Diana and not him, but with Camilla he is desperate for the crowds to want to see his wife and not him.

'Unlike Diana, she is no young beauty with star appeal'

This they do - up to a point. Mostly they are curious and, it must be said, increasingly friendly, though people rarely turn out in large numbers.

And this is precisely why in some Palace circles it is felt that Camilla must make a bigger effort to market herself and get to know the people by herself, without relying on Charles. It must be said, she doesn't see it that way.

Before she married Charles she made it absolutely clear that she saw her role as supporting him - like the life of an officer's wife that she used to have.

(And it is murmured that in Charles's household, his wife's word is law and that when he takes her to task she gets into her car and retreats to Raymill House, her own home nearby which she still keeps up at some considerable public cost, which goes mainly on security.)

Hence the slow pick-up of her royal patronages, though she added one just this week, the Trinity Hospice in Clapham, South-West London. It brought her total up to a modest 19, compared, for example, to Princess Anne's near 250, although, of course, Anne has been in 'the firm' considerably longer.

Fortunately, in these heatwave times, the new patronage is unlikely to keep Camilla away too many days from the large outdoor swimming pool at Highgrove (which Charles put in for Diana).

Just the other day, when the Prince of Wales was showing a party of his charity benefactors over his Gloucestershire estate, they could all hear whoops and splashes of enjoyment.

Camilla was having a swim.

Of course, the Duchess is no fool. She knows the score - hasn't she known it for more than 30 years? Unlike Diana, she is no young beauty with star appeal.

She is a woman a year away from her 60th birthday whose very demeanour, as well as her face, shows that she has lived life more than a bit - "well worn" as the Queen peremptorily described her in the days (so distant now) when she feared Mrs Parker Bowles could imperil the throne.

Camilla has rationalised that she is never going to take the British public by storm and she needs to build up warmth slowly.

To an extent the ploy is working, though the wave of warmth is little more than a ripple at the moment, which is why so many advisors believe she should be doing more.

Charles, ever protective, believes Camilla is doing as much as can be expected after just 15 months as Duchess of Cornwall. "What do they expect of her?" he has been heard to grumble.

But the issue of Camilla and her workload is, according to an aide, "gnawing at him" and disturbing the calm that came over him after marrying her on April 9, 2005, at Windsor's Guildhall.

No wonder when the couple were in Wales this week, his constant refrain when separated from her was: "Darling, where are you, are you lost in the crowd?"

Meanwhile, her small workload has done nothing to improve her relationship with her sister-in-law, Princess Anne, or brother-in-law, Prince Edward.

Anne continues to treat the Duchess with disdain. According to one of Camilla's friends, Anne "can't abide her" because she hates being upstaged, especially by someone she perceives as not pulling her weight.

Edward's relationship with Camilla is also barely lukewarm, apparently because he sees a "haughtiness" in the Duchess's attitude towards his own wife, Sophie, a mere Countess whose father was a tyre company executive.

All in all, Camilla may have waited over 30 years for her prince to come, but she is finding the royal round hard going.

Not so many years ago when flying off to see friends she would cheerfully boast that she could "get my entire wardrobe in a carry-on bag".

In a way, that carry-on bag and the few things in it were a metaphor for the kind of life she was leading. Today, when she flies, trunks heavily laden with designer clothes travel with her.

Sometimes she must think how relatively uncomplicated life was simply being the Prince of Wales's mistress.

But then, she didn't have to marry him.

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