At the age of five, Camilla was sent to Dumbrells, a co-educational school in Ditchling village. She left Dumbrells aged ten to attend Queen’s Gate School in Queen’s Gate, South Kensington. Her classmates at Queen’s Gate knew her as “Milla”; her fellow pupils included the singer Twinkle, who described her as a girl of “inner strength” exuding “magnetism and confidence”. One of the teachers at the school was the writer Penelope Fitzgerald, who taught French and remembered Camilla as “bright and lively”. Camilla left Queen’s Gate with one O-level in 1964; her parents did not make her stay long enough for A-levels. At the age of sixteen, she travelled abroad to attend the Mon Fertile finishing school in Tolochenaz, Switzerland.
After completing her course in Switzerland, she made her own decision and travelled to France to learn French and French literature at the University of London Institute in Paris for six months. On 25 March 1965, Camilla was a debutante in London, one of 311 that year. After moving from home, she shared a small flat in Kensington with her friend Jane Wyndham, niece of decorator Nancy Lancaster. She later moved into a larger flat in Belgravia, which she shared with her landlady Lady Moyra Campbell, the daughter of the Duke of Abercorn, and later with Virginia Carrington, daughter of the politician Lord Carrington. Virginia was married to Camilla’s uncle Henry Cubitt from 1973 until 1979.
In 2005, she became a special aide to Camilla and Prince Charles. Camilla worked as a secretary for a variety of firms in the West End and was later employed as a receptionist by the decorating firm Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler in Mayfair. In her spare time, she became a passionate horse-rider and frequently attended equestrian activities. She also had a passion for painting, which eventually led to her private tutoring with an artist, although most of her work “ended up in the bin”. Other interests were fishing, horticulture and gardening.
Camilla and Prince Charles reportedly met in mid-1971. Though they both belonged to the same social circle and occasionally attended the same events, they had not formally met. Gyles Brandreth has written that the couple did not meet at a polo match, as has been commonly believed. Instead, they were formally introduced to each other at an event by a mutual friend, Lucia Santa Cruz. They became close friends and eventually began seeing one another, which was well known within their social circle. When they became a couple, they regularly met at polo matches at Smith’s Lawn in Windsor Great Park, where Charles often played polo. They also became part of a set at Annabel’s in Berkeley Square. As the relationship grew more serious, Charles met Camilla’s family in Plumpton and he introduced her to some members of his family. The relationship was put on hold after Charles travelled overseas to join the Royal Navy in early 1973; however, it ended abruptly afterwards.
There have been different statements on why the couple’s relationship ended in 1973. Robert Lacey wrote in his 2008 book, Royal: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, that Charles had met Camilla too early, and that he had not asked her to wait for him when he went overseas for military duties.
Sarah Bradford wrote in her 2007 book, Diana, that a member of the close circle of his great-uncle Lord Mountbatten claimed Mountbatten arranged for Charles to be taken overseas to end the relationship with Camilla to make way for an engagement between his granddaughter, Amanda Knatchbull, and Charles. Some sources suggest the Queen Mother did not approve of the marriage because she wanted Charles to marry one of the Spencer family granddaughters of her close friend, Lady Fermoy. Other sources also suggest Camilla did not want to marry Charles but instead wanted to marry Andrew Parker Bowles since she had an on and off relationship with Parker Bowles that began in the 1960s or that Charles had decided he would not marry until he was thirty years old.
Overall, the majority of royal biographers have agreed that even if Charles and Camilla wanted to marry or did try for approval to get married, it would have been declined, because according to Charles’s cousin and godmother Patricia Mountbatten, palace courtiers at that time found Camilla unsuitable as a wife for the future king. In 2005, she stated, “With hindsight, you can say that Charles should have married Camilla when he first had the chance. They were ideally suited, we know that now. But it wasn’t possible.” “it wouldn’t have been possible, not then.”
When Charles heard of the engagement of Camilla and Andrew Parker Bowles in 1973, he wrote to Lord Mountbatten: “I suppose the feeling of emptiness will pass eventually.” Nevertheless, they remained friends. In August 1979, Lord Mountbatten was assassinated by the IRA. Charles was grief-stricken and relied heavily on Camilla for solace. During this period, rumours began circulating among family, friends and neighbours that they had rekindled their intimate relationship. A source close to Camilla confirmed that by 1980 they had indeed rekindled as lovers. However, other sources assert it occurred earlier. Reportedly, Parker Bowles gave consent to the relationship during their marriage, while he also saw other women. In 1981, Charles married Lady Diana Spencer.