April 2005, The Bulletin

Break out the Baileys Irish Cream and Tim Tams, pass the Kleenex! Here, at last, is a wedding worth watching.

Think of the excitement and celebration as millions of people all over the world tune in to their televisions watch a radiant Camilla walking down the aisle of Westminster Abbey in her flowing white satin wedding gown and diamond tiara . OK, maybe it won’t happen quite like that.

 See then, the happiness as hundreds greet Camilla, looking quite presentable in her navy blue linen suit and matching hat, as she appears at the door of the bridal registry at the Guildhall . Maybe a tad optimistic.

Imagine instead the astonishment of the Japanese couple at the altar, as Camilla, looking slightly dowdy, (but not bad for an old duck), wearing her corduroy jodhpurs, cap and carrying a riding crop , sneaks into the Chapel of the Dead Elvis at midnight to meet her Prince . Whatever!!

Jokes aside, believe it or not, the saga of the love affair between Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles will one day be regarded as poetic as the romantic epics of Tristan and Isolde , Heloise and Abelard, Romeo and Juliet.

And that’s because this marriage , unlike the fairy tale union of Charles and Diana, is an expression of, not romance, but what real love demands – sacrifice, devotion and endurance. 

However it happens, it was always meant to happen. This marriage is a victory for lovers of true love.

There are a few constants which make for a love story which becomes a myth which spans the ages – obstacle, power and tragedy. The Charles and Camilla story has all of these in magisterial helpings.

The obstacles to this marriage have been as challenging as any the Princess Royal may have encountered on an Olympic show jumping course. Consider the brick wall of duty and tradition; the high hedge of deception and death; the water trough of public disapproval.
But rider and horse ( the horse apparently being Camilla, judging by the cruel cartoons circulating in cyberspace) have come through this gruelling course together and with a trust and devotion to each other which is unfathomable to the casual observer. 

Power is the next ingredient which makes a myth .The stakes are high. In the same way Bill Clinton’s infidelity almost cost him a presidency, this story may cost a kingdom. We have seen it before of course, with the love affair between Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII. Almost seventy years later, we are still fascinated by the passion which led a man to forgo his destiny as king, and we are still no closer to an understanding of it.

Tragedy? The enduring myths share death, castration, poverty and exile as the cost of true love. Have Charles and Camilla still to pay the ultimate price? Most of us sense we are watching history unfold and that the story is yet to be played out.

Lest you think there is no sympathy for Princess Diana in this rendering of the Charles and Camilla tale, remember that the dumped, cuckolded and betrayed also play their part in every great love story.

In the affair of Tristan and Isolde, the famous medieval lovers, it’s King Mark who makes up the classic love triangle . In the case of Catherine and Heathcliff in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights it’s Edgar and Isabella Winton who are left stranded in the wake of a grand passion (unconsummated though it may be).These innocents will always, rightly, have their sympathisers, but as time wears on they are reduced to being bit players. Footnotes in history’s pages.

A commonality in the grand tradition of love is that the star crossed lovers will make marriages and alliances which serve duty and respectability before their passion for each other makes them risk all .

From Antony and Cleopatra, Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas to Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, we see couples squander their reputations and empires with extravagance, recklessness and not a little treachery. 

They, like Charles and Camilla, are condemned by the contemporary viewing public, but at the same time grudgingly admired for their single minded pursuit of an ideal. 

So, does the story of Charles and Camilla enrich or impoverish our notion of love? For me the Charles and Camilla story is a triumph because it is a reminder of the heroic myth of love. 
Beyond appearance, beyond respectability, beyond duty, and sometimes , unfortunately, beyond responsibility there is a calling to a higher destiny. 

Selfish or selfless? We can only observe that our culture would be worse off without the ostentatious declarations of devotion between the great lovers throughout history. 
Heloise and Abelard were the hot gossip items of the twelfth century. She was the niece of a Canon of the Cathedral of Paris and he was a distinguished philosopher engaged as her tutor . You want scandal? They were sprung fornicating in the refectory on Good Friday .

During her affair with Abelard, Heloise wrote to her lover:
“I too have been considering with innate reflection what love is. If our love deserted us with so slight a force, then it was not true love. The plain and tender words which to date we have exchanged with each other were not real, but only feigned love. You know, my heart’s love, that the services of true love are properly fulfilled only when they are continually owed, in such a way that we act for a friend according to our strengths, and do not stop wishing to go beyond our strength.”

The Canon had Abelard castrated by thugs and he spent the rest of his life in a monastery and Heloise was consigned to a convent. They continued to communicate with each other and ponder the meaning of love in its many incarnations.

Will we be one day quoting Charles’ infamous line that he wanted to be Camilla’s tampon as a pinnacle of the expression of romantic devotion? 

Perhaps not, but this couple will always be remembered, by me at least, as a pair who challenged the mores and expectations of their day and, as Heloise wrote, almost a thousand years ago, found the enduring strength to fulfil the services of true love.

I raise a glass of Baileys to them both.