With Charles and Catherine out, it’s Camilla’s time to shine

LONDON – As two of Britain’s most visible royals, Catherine, Princess of Wales and King Charles III, came together in recent weeks. were unable to attend due to illness, a member of the family’s leadership stepped into the vacuum: Queen Camilla.

Last week she traveled to the Isle of Man to give a speech on Charles’ behalf and met with officials and community groups. She then flew to Northern Ireland, where she visited a bakery and butcher shop, attended a literary event and received the salute at a military parade.

Camilla, 76, smiled at photographers and joked on Thursday that a camera-friendly toddler eclipsing her visit to the butcher shop was “natural.” She didn’t reveal how stressful it was caring for a husband with cancer, nor that Catherine, who goes by Kate, would announce a day later that she too had been diagnosed with cancer.

It’s the kind of twist of fate that royal watchers relish: Camilla, the woman whose very existence once seemed to threaten the stability of the royal family, has proven to be a stabilizing force during a major royal health crisis. Lately it sometimes felt like she was carrying the entire House of Windsor on her shoulders.

“This is a vulnerable time for the royal family, when their human frailties are on full display,” said Arianne J. Chernock, an associate professor of history at Boston University and an expert on the modern British monarchy. “Camilla’s own background and training can help her in these situations.”

With her husband canceling public appearances during his treatment and Kate out for the foreseeable future due to chemotherapy, Camilla has taken on high-profile tasks. Her trip to Northern Ireland, planned before the king fell ill, put her in diplomatically sensitive territory given the territory’s sectarian violence and politically fragile government. By all accounts she did well.

Camilla isn’t the only senior royal taking on the burden while Charles and Kate are ill. Princess Anne, the King’s sister, kept her typically dense diary of royal events. Kate’s husband, Prince William, hopes to return to his full-time duties after the Easter holidays, and Charles has continued to meet foreign leaders and hold his weekly meeting with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

But no one was a more conspicuous surrogate than Camilla. She led the royal family alongside William at the Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey this month. Speaking on the Isle of Man, she said: “My husband is so sorry he can’t be with us for this very special occasion, but he has sent me here armed with a copy of his speech for me to read on his behalf .”

Her snappy, no-nonsense style – so tempting for comedians like Tracey Ullman to come forward – has helped calm an unhinged family. She reassures people that the king is fine and tries to provide an air of normality. As a mother held up her baby Louis, Camilla replied that she had a grandson Louis, who she said was “quite heavy.” It was an encouraging contrast to Kate, who spoke in her video announcement about the agony of telling Louis and her two other children that she was sick.

Even before the latest wave of illness, the ranks of the royal family had been decimated by the deaths of Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip. the bitter departure of Prince Harry and his wife Meghan; and the exile of Prince Andrew because of his ties to sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. That had increased the burden on Camilla, who took the title of queen consort after Elizabeth’s death in 2022.

Camilla took a week off this month to spend time with her husband and family, leaving some royal watchers uneasy given the family’s staff shortage. But she quickly threw herself back into her duties.

Camilla’s appearance does not solve what has become an acute problem for the royal family. She carried out 233 engagements last year, while Charles carried out 425, according to a tally by The Daily Telegraph. But both are in their 70s, and the younger generation doesn’t make up for that. Even before Kate’s illness, she and William attended less royal events, citing their young family.

Some experts said they expected the royal family to use social media more to step up their personal appearances. The family’s Instagram account has more than 13 million followers and their account on X, formerly Twitter, has well over 5 million. But the downside of social media became clear during Kate’s extended hospital stay and recovery, when rumors and conspiracy theories arose.

“They need to change what they are doing,” said Peter Hunt, a former BBC royal correspondent. “In William and Kate’s absence, they don’t have the manpower they need. They won’t be able to deliver like they used to.”

For Camilla, this latest release is another twist in her complex relationship with the public – one that has settled, if not in affection, at least in acceptance. In a survey of British adults by market research firm YouGov last year, Camilla achieved an approval rating of 41%. That’s higher than Harry at 27%, but lower than Charles at 51%, Kate at 63% and William at 68%.

For royal historians, last year’s coronation was the capstone of years of rehabilitation of the image of Charles and Camilla, who began a romantic relationship when she was still known as Camilla Parker-Bowles. She took much of the blame for the collapse of his first marriage to Princess Diana, who died in a car accident in 1997. The London tabloids vilified Camilla and featured intimate details about the couple’s private life on their front pages.

But in the years since Charles and Camilla married in a low-key civil ceremony in 2005, they have steadily worked to rebuild their image. Camilla took an active and dutiful part in royal life. Nothing cemented her status more than when, shortly before her death, the Queen laid out a roadmap for Camilla to become Queen Consort, putting an end to years of uncertainty and speculation about her status.

In retrospect, royal watchers say Elizabeth’s blessing may have served both to ensure a smooth transition in the monarchy after her reign and to reward Charles and Camilla for their improved public image.

“Elizabeth could not have predicted the series of challenges the royal family has faced over the past year, but Elizabeth recognized that the monarchy is never just about the monarch, but about the family on the throne,” Chernock said. “Now is Camilla’s moment.”

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