Prince Charles and Camilla: a love story for our times
Last week, Prince Charles brought the house down at one of his many engagements in India by referring to his wife, Camilla, as his ‘Mehbooba’. No, he wasn’t inspired by the iconic song of the same name from Sholay. The word had been gifted to him by some of his Indian friends back in the UK, who had explained that it meant ‘beloved’. So, that’s how Charles presented Camilla to the assembled guests, “My wife…my Mehbooba” even as Camilla blushed and then flashed her trademark jolly-hockey-sticks grin. And the audience lapped it up; this unabashed display of middle-aged love.
And indeed, looking at the many images of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall on their recent trip to India, one thing shines clear. Camilla is clearly Charles’ ‘Mehbooba’. The pair of them look as loved up as a newly-wedded couple, exchanging complicit glances, the odd giggle, and touching each other with the ease of long intimacy. They share asides, gaze adoringly at one another, laugh easily and often, and seem to take enormous pleasure in each other’s company. Not bad going for a couple which first met and fell in love in their 20s, and then made their way back to one another after two failed marriages and much rotten publicity. But clearly, all those scandals are long forgotten as the British heir to the throne readies to take over from his mother, with the woman he has loved for most of his adult life firmly by his side.
They were together on the banks of the Ganga in Rishikesh, performing a ritual aarti; they visited the Indian Military Academy (IMA) in Dehradun; they did the rounds of Asha Sadan, a home for abandoned and homeless children in Mumbai; they were the star attraction at a party hosted by Mukesh and Neeta Ambani for the Prince’s British Asian Trust; and then they headed off to Sri Lanka, where Charles was standing in for his mother, Queen Elizabeth, at the meetings of Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).
For us in India, the contrast to the way things had unfolded when Charles visited with his first wife, Diana, were too stark to miss. There was the famous kiss-that-wasn’t when Charles bent down to kiss Diana on the cheek as she handed him a polo trophy only to have her turn away, leaving him red-faced with embarrassment and fury. And who can forget that haunting image of the Princess posing forlorn and alone in front of that monument to eternal love, Agra’s Taj Mahal, while her husband busied himself with engagements in Delhi? They may have been joined together in what was billed as a fairy-tale wedding, but their strained expressions and public unhappiness made it clear that they were rapidly building up to a nightmare divorce.
Who could have predicted then that Charles would one day be back with a new wife, Camilla – then widely reviled as the mistress who had been the third person in the Wales marriage and had, in the Princess’ memorable phrase, made it a ‘bit crowded’ – the memories of the Diana years finally exorcised? Gone was the miserable git who looked perennially pensive and glum. In his place, was a man finally happy in his own skin, who had found the contentment and peace he had always been looking for in his second go-around.
I know that this is an unfashionable view, but I have long believed that the saga of Charles and Camilla is the love story of our times. Theirs is the commitment that has stood the test of time, taking on vicious attacks in the media and the derision and anger of the British public to emerge bloodied but unbowed. And you only have to look at the relaxed body language of the Prince and see how he lights up in the presence of his ‘darling wife’, to know that he is finally in the kind of supportive and loving relationship that he always craved.
But what I like most about the images of Charles and Camilla on their Indian adventure is how they tell us is that even if you screw up big-time the first time round, you are not fated to eternal loneliness. Their shining faces and brilliant smiles teach us that it is possible to find happiness the second time round.
Second marriages have, of late, become a hot topic of discussion in India, not least because of that now-famous Tanishq ad which features a single mother getting married again (Is she single? Is she widowed? Is she divorced? The answer to all these questions is: Who cares? Or even: How does it matter?) I have to confess that it left me touched and a little teary-eyed. Yes, I know it is cheesy (“Aaj sey Daddy bulaoon?” asks the young daughter) and designed to tug at your heartstrings. But it is moving for all that, with its promise of new beginnings and a brand-new love story.
As far as I am concerned, the cynics can carp all they want about second marriages being a triumph of hope over experience. But sometimes – actually most times – hope is all you need when it comes with lavish lashings of love.