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Commentary: Making Camilla queen consort doesn’t disrespect Diana. This was 17 years in the making

Britain's Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, attend a reception in London in March 2020.
Britain’s Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, attend the annual Commonwealth Day reception at Marlborough House in London on March 9, 2020.
(Aaron Chown / Associated Press )
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On the eve of her Platinum Jubilee, celebrating a staggering 70 years on the throne, Queen Elizabeth II announced that when she dies and her eldest son, Prince Charles, becomes king, his wife, Camilla, should become queen consort. That directive may seem innocuous, but in the long-running drama that is the British royal family, it was stunning that Elizabeth fully embraced the woman once reviled as the interloper who doomed the marriage of Prince Charles and Diana, the Princess of Wales.

As a social influencer, Elizabeth, 95, isn’t the most progressive, but with that statement, she brought her family and monarchists into the modern era where second wives can be accepted and even become queen.

The spouse of a British king or queen is often known as “consort,” but there was no guarantee that Camilla would be awarded that title upon Charles’ coronation. When she and Charles first married, it was announced that when he became king, she would be known by the less lofty title of princess consort. But reportedly Charles wanted to her to have the title of queen consort, and Elizabeth all but ensured that would happen when she wrote in her public message Saturday: “And when, in the fullness of time, my son Charles becomes King, I know you will give him and his wife Camilla the same support that you have given me; and it is my sincere wish that, when that time comes, Camilla will be known as Queen Consort as she continues her own loyal service.”

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Not only did Elizabeth give her support to Camilla, she gave it to Charles, too. Some critics of Charles, now 73, have said he should somehow step aside and give up the throne to his elder son William, 39. Clearly, the queen does not agree.

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Nothing has been more fraught for the tradition-bound British royal family in the last 40 years than the tortured marriage of Charles and Diana. The details of his ongoing affair with Camilla, herself married during that time, was covered by news media worldwide as Diana and Charles separated and then divorced. Diana famously told a TV interviewer, “There were three of us in this marriage so it was a bit crowded.”

Whether you watched their marriage unravel in real time in the ‘80s and ‘90s or watched it more recently on “The Crown” (I did both), you know that theirs was a mismatch from the beginning, regardless of Camilla’s existence. But the world was enchanted with Diana, and her untimely death in a car crash in a Paris tunnel in 1997 only cemented the public’s adoration of her — and its resentment for Charles and Camilla. No one can forget the heartbreaking sight of Diana’s children, Prince William, then 15, and Prince Harry, then 12, walking stoically behind their mother’s coffin en route to the funeral.

I was fascinated by Diana, met her twice at different receptions for the press, and chronicled the sad aftermath of her death in London when sidewalks were piled with tons of flowers left by well-wishers. But life went on. Charles and Camilla, clearly still in love and undeterred by the wreckage in their past, got married in 2005. Queen Elizabeth didn’t attend the wedding but hosted the reception afterward. The royals’ actions can be loopy sometimes.

I covered the relative newlyweds on a tour of the Bay Area in 2005. When Charles gave a speech in San Francisco on the environment to business and civic leaders, he drew applause when he spoke of how wonderful it was to be back in the area “with my darling wife” who was sitting in the audience.

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Elizabeth has adjusted in many ways to the world around her. Three of her four children have been divorced. She has welcomed a Black daughter-in-law (Meghan Markle) to the family. Elizabeth was at that wedding, though relations are supposedly still rocky between the royal family and Harry, after his and Meghan’s revealing interview with Oprah Winfrey last year.

Had Diana lived — she would be 60 now — she probably wouldn’t have been keen on Elizabeth’s pronouncement. That’s understandable. She had a tough time with Charles and Camilla.

But making Camilla queen consort doesn’t disrespect Diana. In the nearly 17 years since Camilla married Charles, she has dutifully taken up the charity work expected of royals. She is Charles’ wife and partner in royal duties. If he becomes king, of course she should become queen consort.

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