Can the story of Camilla ever be told without Diana? That’s the question I was left asking after watching The Real Camilla (ITV1, April 23rd). This documentary had unrivalled access to the Duchess of Cornwall throughout her 70th year so it seemed a bit of a shame that a chunk of its airtime was spent retelling the story of what happened behind palace doors in the 80s and 90s. And, personally, I feel that ended up doing Camilla a disservice.
Because when we saw the duchess in action she was a total joy. OK, any documentary that follows someone for a year is likely to show them in a positive light but Camilla came out of all those close ups very well indeed. We might have heard that the duchess is down to earth and full of fun but this was a chance to see it in action. There was nothing forced or false about her charming chats whether she was drawing animals with school children or cutting (yet another) cake for her birthday.
Her deep passion for the causes she supports also shone through. There was a revealing moment towards the end of the programme when the duchess spoke about only being able to take on issues that ‘’spoke to her heart’’. Her sadness at not being able to help more was crystal clear as was her deep interest in the issues she had adopted. From her admission that she sometimes needed a good cry after spending time with those facing serious illness, to the empathy she showed while visiting a sexual assault referral centre, these behind the scenes moments gave an insight into a woman who has clearly become integral to the modern Royal Family.
So it was a shame that we went from these up close and personal moments with the Duchess of Cornwall to a rerun of her relationship with Prince Charles over the past four and a bit decades. There was an argument for noting that the anniversary of Diana’s death last summer did, briefly, lead to renewed criticism in some parts for the couple but by the time we hit halfway in the documentary we were well and truly submerged in the unhappy unravelling of marriages that we already know by heart. It added nothing for me, I was just itching for a bit more of Camilla going about her day to day business.
I didn’t really need to hear friends and family tell us how well she and Prince Charles get along because that was clear to see in the moments caught on film of them dancing to an Elvis impersonator or fussing over the rescue dogs the duchess has brought home from Battersea. Both spoke of each other glowingly and in words that only come from a happy married life. These were the moments that showed Camilla at her very best.
What came through, when we watched the duchess in action, was her success in taking on a role and making it her own. The moving moment that she invited children with life limiting illnesses in Clarence House to decorate her Christmas tree didn’t just show how well she can deal with people. This now annual event, created by Camilla herself, has become an important royal tradition. This royal woman is shaping the family she married into with her own ideas and winning while she’s at it.
That’s why, ultimately, I felt a slight sense of frustration with the programme. The past is done and can’t be changed and Camilla is part of the royal future. I was glad we got a chance to see how she sees that in action. I just wish there had been a bit more of it to enjoy.