Camilla’s not aloof, she’s authentic and fun says MICHAEL WALDMAN

Camilla’s not aloof, she’s authentic and fun, says MICHAEL WALDMAN, who’s made a warm and revealing TV portrait of the duchess (including her crimes against teddy bears as a child)

  • The documentary, Camilla’s Country Life, features many aspects of her life
  • Shows her in public and private while she guest edited magazine Country Life
  • Michael Waldman glimpsed her informality with Prince Charles while in private 

There’s a dastardly deed with a teddy bear dating back decades, homegrown white peaches, a snifter of vodka, a longing for a handbag big enough to steal a Munnings masterpiece and some serious husband and wife rivalry over who did what best.

This is the outcome of a warm, funny and deeply revealing documentary portrait of the Duchess of Cornwall, who is celebrating her 75th birthday by guest-editing the forthcoming edition of glossy magazine Country Life. In the hands of BAFTA-winning director Michael Waldman, the ITV special was always going to be more than a record of her editorship. 

But few could have predicted how far it would open the window on Camilla’s world as she prepares to become Britain’s Queen Consort. The hour-long programme offers a glimpse into Camilla’s childhood, the spadework that goes into the causes she champions, such as domestic abuse, and depicts a royally happy marriage. 

That said, the duchess has no hesitation in trying to seize the crown for Country Life’s best-ever sales figures from her husband, who last guest-edited the magazine in 2018. ‘She is definitely keen that her magazine outsells his,’ confirms Country Life managing editor Paula Lester.

Camilla, pictured at Highgrove, stars in a film which lifts the lid on her life, following her to locations such as Clarence House and Cornwall

Camilla, pictured at Highgrove, stars in a film which lifts the lid on her life, following her to locations such as Clarence House and Cornwall 

Above all the film, which follows Camilla from Clarence House to Cornwall, at the Grand National on her 17th wedding anniversary and on a pilgrimage to a former family home, reveals palace protocols haven’t crushed her sense of humour (or, at Aintree, her fancy for a flutter on a 100-1 outsider).

When Michael caught up with her at the Royal Cornwall Show last month, official duties had seen her sampling cider and vodka. ‘I’m still standing, they didn’t fell me,’ she tells him. 

At the same show, the green-fingered duchess spots the orangey-pink rose named in her honour. She appears tickled by its properties – it’s a generously petalled, robust bloom with a lightly spiced scent – telling Michael, deadpan, that the ‘Duchess of Cornwall’ is very ‘disease-resistant, I can recommend it’.

The director also shared a joke with Camilla in an art gallery viewing paintings by equine artist Sir Alfred Munnings. 

‘She loves Munnings, but doesn’t have any of his work. I was bantering with her about whether she’d like to take one home. She looks furtively about and says if she had a large enough handbag, she would try, though she worried security would stop her on the way out.

‘She’s not intending to nick a painting of course, but what comes across is that, despite the life she leads, she’s able to engage in this way. The duchess could have given very formal answers to my questions but she’s not aloof or arrogant, she’s authentic and fun.

‘It’s intriguing, I mean, what a weird world she has entered given the one she grew up in.’ Viewers see this non-royal environment when Camilla and her sister Annabel Elliot return to Hall Place in the South Downs village of West Meon, Hampshire.

The Duchess of Cornwall, pictured looking at magazine proofs, guest-edited the forthcoming edition of the magazine Country Life to celebrate her 75th birthday

The Duchess of Cornwall, pictured looking at magazine proofs, guest-edited the forthcoming edition of the magazine Country Life to celebrate her 75th birthday

Previously the home of their maternal grandmother, it was also, unexpectedly, a crime scene. ‘Annabel is recalling that Camilla buried her teddy bear and did not fess up to it for decades, not until they were adults,’ says Michael.

‘She outs the duchess for it. I could see in Camilla’s eyes a desire not to go into too much detail but eventually she said, with a sort of smirk, ‘Oh yes, Tiddy Bar – he had a very happy resting ground.’ 

Annabel affectionately tells the director, ‘I’ve not forgiven her – it still rankles to this day!’ Given that Camilla arrived in the Royal Family as a divorced mother-of-two, her early life unchronicled compared to that of her husband, it’s illuminating to see this closeness to her younger sister and to knoww that she is so familiar with Hall Place she could ‘still find my way around it with my eyes shut’. 

The 17th-century manor stands on a £15m English estate running to almost 300 acres. The duchess describes happy holidays there, rolling down hills and collecting Cabbage White butterflies in jam jars with Annabel, before tucking up for the night in the nursery.

Camilla and her sister Annabel Elliot, pictured as children, returned to Hall Place in the South Downs village of West Meon, Hampshire, during the programme

Camilla and her sister Annabel Elliot, pictured as children, returned to Hall Place in the South Downs village of West Meon, Hampshire, during the programme 

It’s the kind of classic English idyll that began her enduring love affair with the countryside – and also with the magazine which reports on it every week. In print for 125 years, Country Life celebrates, in its own words, ‘country house architecture, fine art, gardens, gardening, food and drink and dogs,’ while digging into the contemporary social, economic and environmental issues facing rural Britain. 

That’s why, when Camilla spotted editor-in-chief Mark Hedges at a reception, she made a beeline for him and asked if she might guest-edit an edition. Clearly the duchess viewed it as a challenge, a pleasure, and as a way of making herself more knowable to the British people.

 Palace protocols have done nothing to crush her sense of humour, or her fancy for a 100-1 flutter at Aintree

A staggering 1,589 emails went backwards and forwards between Paula Lester and Clarence House as the duchess commissioned what the magazine describes as a ‘diverse and eclectic’ series of articles on the places and people close to her heart. One of them is the Prince of Wales who she names as a countryside champion. 

‘It’s a bit of nepotism!’ she tells Michael, adding ‘it’s not very easy to write about your husband’ and that she ‘bit through several pencils’ trying to do justice to his countryside crusading.

Michael said that Camilla and Charles clearly understand the countryside and the people who work in it deep in their souls

Michael said that Camilla and Charles clearly understand the countryside and the people who work in it deep in their souls 

Camilla also commissioned an investigation into rural domestic abuse. ‘That,’ says Paula, ‘was the piece which pushed the boundaries of Country Life. It is a gritty, hard-hitting feature, an important addition.’ 

The duchess agrees, telling Michael, ‘The countryside is not all roses, there are darker things happening.’ Speaking to survivors of abuse in Manchester, she meets a male victim and talks about how people think men never suffer from abuse in the home. 

Michael remembers Camilla saying, ‘Men jolly well do,’ keen to draw attention to a subject which is often taboo. Despite the jocular rivalry over their sales figures, Prince Charles is demonstrably proud of his wife and popped in to watch her at work with the Country Life team, tweaking page proofs on the dining table at Clarence House.

 ‘It’s clear they understand the countryside, and the people who work in it, deep in their souls,’ says Paula. Michael concurs. ‘Camilla says she is embedded in the countryside and it’s embedded in her.

‘You can see it is fundamental to her relationship with the Prince of Wales, that shared love.’

He captures the couple in both facets of their life together, public and private. At one point his camera sees them walking down a Clarence House corridor, on their way to May’s State Opening of Parliament where Prince Charles represented his mother for the first time. 

Michael was also privy to the royal couple’s ordinary informality. ‘It is an easy relationship. I am not saying they bicker in front of me, but they are not overly polite to each other when they’re at home. 

Why would they be?’ he says. He was with the duchess on her wedding anniversary, 9 April, when she was at Aintree. 

 Her official duties saw her sampling cider and vodka at the show. ‘They didn’t fell me,’ Camilla says

‘I was told there was a private dinner that evening and that she couldn’t be late. I did not go so far as saying, ‘Are you looking forward to your anniversary dinner with your husband Ma’am?’ but the timings suggested she was determined to get home for a romantic celebration with her prince.

The documentary is full of personal touches such as this. There’s another when the duchess is editing her son’s work – the Mail on Sunday’s food writer Tom Parker Bowles has contributed a piece about peaches to the magazine.

 ‘He said from the beginning he hoped she wouldn’t meddle with his copy,’ says Paula. ‘She didn’t touch the words, but she asked to swap a picture of yellow peaches for white ones because she grows them. She says they’re like the caviar of the fruit world.’

Really, though, it’s a film showing a woman for so long in the background getting ready to take her place in history, a landmark piece of television that will help fill in the outline of our future Queen: Camilla.

Camilla’s Country Life, Wed, 9pm, ITV and ITV Hub. With thanks to Country Life magazine.

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