Prince Charles’s Intimate Phone Conversation with Camilla Parker Bowles Is Taped Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

In 1993, an Australian magazine published a transcript of a private phone conversation in December, 1989, between lovers Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles, leading to an international scandal. The scandal also led to the divorces of both parties and, for a time, threatened the stability of the House of Windsor. Also, the revelation of the tapes heightened fears that the British security service was monitoring the royal family—primarily Princess Diana—through bugging and wiretapping.

Summary of Event

Late in the evening of December 18, 1989, Prince Charles had a mobile-phone conversation with Camilla Parker Bowles, his friend of many years. The two had a long history together. Bowles often boasted that her great-grandmother had been the favorite mistress of King Edward VII, Charles’s own ancestor. Charles had met Bowles when he was a young man. He was immediately attracted to her. While he was at sea with the Royal Navy, Bowles had married Andrew Parker Bowles. Eventually, they had two children. [kw]Charles’s Intimate Phone Conversation with Camilla Parker Bowles Is Taped, Prince (Dec. 18, 1989) [kw]Bowles Is Taped, Prince Charles’s Intimate Phone Conversation with Camilla Parker (Dec. 18, 1989) "Camillagate"[Camillagate] Charles, Prince of Wales Bowles, Camilla Parker Diana, Princess of Wales "Camillagate"[Camillagate] Charles, Prince of Wales Bowles, Camilla Parker Diana, Princess of Wales [g]Europe;Dec. 18, 1989: Prince Charles’s Intimate Phone Conversation with Camilla Parker Bowles Is Taped[02450] [g]England;Dec. 18, 1989: Prince Charles’s Intimate Phone Conversation with Camilla Parker Bowles Is Taped[02450] [c]Communications and media;Dec. 18, 1989: Prince Charles’s Intimate Phone Conversation with Camilla Parker Bowles Is Taped[02450] [c]Politics;Dec. 18, 1989: Prince Charles’s Intimate Phone Conversation with Camilla Parker Bowles Is Taped[02450] [c]Public morals;Dec. 18, 1989: Prince Charles’s Intimate Phone Conversation with Camilla Parker Bowles Is Taped[02450] [c]Royalty;Dec. 18, 1989: Prince Charles’s Intimate Phone Conversation with Camilla Parker Bowles Is Taped[02450] [c]Sex;Dec. 18, 1989: Prince Charles’s Intimate Phone Conversation with Camilla Parker Bowles Is Taped[02450] Bowles, Andrew Parker

Several years later, at the age of thirty-one and at the urging of his family, Charles was married as well. His bride, Diana Spencer, who had been approved by Bowles, had just turned twenty years old. Princess Diana would give birth to two sons, assuring the continuation of the House of Windsor. Later, according to Charles’s report, after both their Marriage;Charles, Prince of Wales marriages had cooled, he and Bowles became lovers. Older friends of the prince observed that a mature Bowles resembled the most beloved nanny of his childhood. Whatever their deeper needs, the two were now committed lovers, meeting at the homes of friends and indulging themselves in long, ardent telephone conversations. To their misfortune, one was overheard and would eventually be reported to the entire world.

To the parties involved, the conversation was intimate and loving; to a prurient international audience, which later read transcripts of the call, the conversation was ludicrous and salacious. Charles and Bowles expressed their desire to be together and their feelings that Sunday nights were unbearable without each other. Yearning for another meeting before the family holiday festivities intervened, they arranged an assignation. An ambulance strike was keeping Bowles’s husband away on official duties, and the lovers expressed their hope that the strike would continue indefinitely. Surprisingly, to a world that regards princes as privileged, Charles revealed feelings of inferiority, speaking of his bad luck and his low estimate of himself. Bowles reassured him, confessing that she would willingly endure the world’s “indignities, tortures, and calumnies” for him and asking for a copy of a speech he was preparing. He replied to her own expressions of inadequacy that her greatest achievement was her ability to love him. He told Bowles of his desire to be “all over you, and up and down you, and in and out.” Near the end of their conversation they played with the word “tit,” referring both to her anatomy and a button on the telephone.

Destined to be ruler of a land that has produced great bards, Charles attempted his own poetic conceits. Lovelorn English poets of the past have expressed the desire to be a glove upon their lady’s hand, the falcon that lights upon her shoulder, or even a flea within her garments. However, Charles outdid them all, telling Bowles that he would like to live inside her trousers, but that it would be his luck to be reincarnated as a tampon to be flushed down her lavatory. They then agreed that to come back as an entire box of tampons would be a better fate for him.

The prince’s slightly hesitant but well-enunciated speech was known throughout England, and the more voluptuous low register of Bowles’s voice also was easily identified by a listening eavesdropper. Considerable mystery still surrounds the origin of the tape, which would later become a major embarrassment to the British monarchy. Amateur scanners during the decade of the 1980’s found it relatively easy to listen in on personal conversations, and when the identity of these special parties became clear, one unseen listener realized his or her rare fortune. The tapes were later carefully analyzed by the journals that would publish the transcripts, and their authenticity was never denied even by the principals themselves.

The scandal, however, did not break until January 13, 1993, when New Idea, an Australian women’s magazine, revealed the existence of the tapes. The scoop was soon picked up by avid media around the world, to the extreme embarrassment of the lovers, their families, and the entire British government. Meanwhile, the general public savored the melodrama. Jokers started referring to the heir to the British throne as “the royal tampon,” and London shop girls began asking their pharmacists for a “box of Prince Charlies.”

Bowles already was an object of disdain to the millions of admirers of Princess Diana, who had earlier revealed her husband’s adulterous relationship to journalists. Diana’s designation of Bowles as “the Rottweiler” was repeated in the press, along with bewilderment that the prince would reject his beautiful wife, a beloved woman the world over, in favor of one they described as “plain and middle aged.” Even Charles’s father, Prince Phillip, is said to have told Diana that nobody in his right mind would prefer Bowles to her.

Bowles knew that loyalty to the prince had its price. She already had been deluged with hate mail, forced to change her telephone numbers, and been pelted with bread rolls when she attempted to do her grocery shopping. With the publication of the telephone conversation, matters came to a head. Andrew Parker Bowles, a tolerant husband who had his own long-time mistress, soon concluded it was time for a divorce. Princess Diana, whose personal life by this time was not above reproach and who had to endure the embarrassing revelation of some of her own telephone conversations with a lover, realized that her marriage was effectively over as well.

Impact

Celebrity journalism flourished in the last decades of the twentieth century. Accounts of the deeds and misdeeds of popular entertainers, royalty, and even U.S. presidents sold magazines and newspapers. Respect for privacy, previously enjoyed by royalty, disappeared. While Queen Elizabeth II had always behaved with decorum and dignity, the escapades of her children provided a national melodrama for the entire world. Servants were paid for inside stories, and royal vacations were plagued by Paparazzi paparazzi. Though divorce had been verboten in the established Church of England since the traumatic times of King Henry VIII, it was now deemed preferable to the continuing scandal.

After their divorces, Bowles and Charles started living openly at Highgrove House, one of Charles’s favorite residences. Gradually the two started appearing together at social and charitable events, preparing the British people for eventual acceptance of their relationship. After the death of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, Clarence House became the prince’s choice residence in London, and Bowles made herself at home there. Though she had never shown much interest in fashion, being more comfortable in a riding habit, she acquired a new polish and an expensive wardrobe of designer dresses.

The untimely death of Princess Diana in 1997 in a Paris car crash, one year after her divorce was final, sparked nationwide, indeed international, mourning. During this time, Bowles stayed out of public view. Charles was now free to remarry in the Church of England, though not to Bowles, who earlier had been divorced. This placed the prince, destined to be the head of the church upon assuming the throne, in an awkward position. With the help of his family and church dignitaries, a compromise was finally reached. On April 9, 2005, the couple were legally married in the town hall at Windsor, followed by a lavish blessing in Windsor Chapel conducted by the archbishop of Canterbury before families and friends. For romantics not still enthralled by the glamorous Princess Diana, this was a satisfying resolution for a man and woman who had been devoted to each other for thirty years, though separated in youth by status and circumstance.

Now designated the duchess of Cornwall, Bowles continued to support her husband in state visits and other royal engagements. She received his future subjects graciously, though never upstaging him as Diana had frequently done. It seemed only a matter of time before Bowles would be fully accepted as Charles’s “proper” spouse and eventually, perhaps when they were both advanced in years, as queen of England on a throne by his side. "Camillagate"[Camillagate] Charles, Prince of Wales Bowles, Camilla Parker Diana, Princess of Wales

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Brown, Tina. The Diana Chronicles. New York: Doubleday, 2007. Even while focusing on Princess Diana, Brown provides unique information about the Parker Bowles family and the love triangle in Prince Charles’s first marriage.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Graham, Caroline. Camilla and Charles: The Love Story. London: John Blake, 2006. A favorable portrait of Bowles, by her leading biographer. A gossipy read that seems to be well supported by facts.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Paxman, Jeremy. On Royalty: A Very Polite Inquiry into Some Strangely Related Families. New York: PublicAffairs, 2006. A serious exploration of the institution of royalty, with some insightful attention to the late twentieth century problems plaguing the House of Windsor.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wilson, Christopher. Charles, Camilla, and the Legacy of Diana. New York: Citadel Press, 2002. Explores the coupling of Charles and Bowles through almost thirty years and the relationship’s impact on the tragedy of Princess Diana’s life and untimely death.

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