In new royals tell-all book Battle of Brothers, royal expert Robert Lacey explains the concept of “the heir and the spare,” the roles assigned to the first and second-born in a royal family. The heir — like Prince William or his father Prince Charles — is treated with kid gloves from childhood, his reputation preserved in the press at all costs and his ascent documented in greater and greater detail as the spare fades out of view (think Prince Harry, or Princess Margaret). In an exclusive conversation with SheKnows, author Lacey explains how this approach, intended to preserve the reputation of a future king at all costs, spectacularly failed in the case of Prince Charles and his highly publicized affair with Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall (née Shand). Even after a PR expert was hired to make Charles and Camilla’s marriage more palatable to the public, the public still looks at Camilla as the woman who ruined Princess Diana’s marriage and broke her sons’ hearts in the process — and they’re not too crazy about Charles either.
With many years spent covering the British royal family, Lacey spoke decisively to the UK public’s excitement for future King Charles and Camilla’s reign — or rather, lack thereof.
“As we look ahead, we Brits, we’re not very enthusiastic about King Charles III or Camilla,” he said. “Camilla is a woman who is at the root of all that unhappiness at the ’80s and ’90s.”
That period of time in the ’80s and ’90s when Charles and Diana’s marriage was falling apart and their intimate details were being broadcast to the public represented a new low in public opinion of the Firm. The royals were so eager not to see it repeated that they hired a PR expert in 1997 for the explicit purpose of the “‘sell’-ing of Charles’s eventual remarriage to Camilla,” with his success later judged as having achieved grudging public approval, if not excitement.
— SheKnows (@SheKnows) October 29, 2020
Lacey explains that Camilla’s uphill climb in the public opinion wasn’t solely due to her affair with Charles and her role in his cheating on Diana — though “Camillagate,” the “six-minute, 1,574-word transcript of [Charles] talking on the phone” to Camilla in rather explicit terms certainly didn’t help things. Rather, it was William and Harry’s lasting testimony to the psychological damage of watching Charles and Diana’s marriage fall apart that has hardened the public’s hearts to Camilla.
“The boys themselves talked about the mental, the psychological legacy of that broken marriage,” Lacey explains, describing Charles’ ongoing efforts to win over the public to no avail. “Prince Charles, for example, works much harder than William, he undertakes many more engagements…but you never see them in the papers because the face that people want to see in the papers is William and Kate.”
We’re suddenly understanding why it was quite so important for those Rose Hanbury rumors to be squashed last summer. When there’s a monarchy at stake, the reputation of these royal marriages can be everything.
Before you go, click here to find out which tell-all books expose major royal family secrets.