The annals of history are full of stories of forgotten royal siblings. They were the ones left out in the cold while their brothers and sisters prospered or ascended the throne. Thankfully, though, times have changed. But, that being said, Princes William and Harry have a stepsister whom few know about. And there are also good reasons why many haven’t heard of her, too. All in all, then, it’s a complicated but fascinating bit of royal history.
In the summer of 1981 Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer. But while the wedding was considered to herald a “fairytale” marriage, that wouldn’t quite prove to be the case. The relationship was apparently strained from the start, in fact, as Charles’ heart seemingly lay elsewhere – with a married woman for whom he had always carried a torch. That woman, of course, was Camilla Parker Bowles.
So, why couldn’t Charles have tied the knot with Camilla before she herself had wed? That could have saved a lot of heartache further along the line, after all. Well, according to those in the know, the answer is simple: Camilla wasn’t considered marriage material. She wasn’t from the upper class, for one, nor was she most likely a virgin. And deprived of the chance to become Charles’ wife, Camilla therefore became his mistress instead.
Diana, meanwhile, knew all about the other woman in her husband’s life – and by all accounts, she loathed her. According to palace insiders, the furious young princess even nicknamed Camilla “the rottweiler.” But although that may seem extremely uncharitable, Diana’s marriage was crumbling around her. And apparently Camilla had a rude name for Diana, too.
Far more embarrassing than that, though, was a phone conversation between Charles and Camilla that was leaked to the media in 1993. The racy exchange happened in 1989 – back when Charles and Diana were still together – and altogether it was certainly not the sort of thing that one would expect the heir to the throne to be involved in.
On the tape, Charles tells Camilla, “The trouble is, I need you several times a week,” before going on, “I’ll just live inside your trousers or something. It would be much easier!” The pair also joke about Charles being reincarnated as “a pair of knickers” or “a Tampax.” The press quickly dubbed the whole affair “Camillagate.”
Indeed, after Diana and Charles had split, the princess would tell the BBC in 1995, “There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.” It was a blunt comment that appeared to come from a place of hurt. Yet despite the trials and tribulations that Diana had faced in her relationship, there was one love that had seemingly never died: her love for her children.
And in her dedication to her sons William and Harry, Diana revolutionized the way in which the royal family worked. It had been usual in the past for royal children to be handed off to nannies, for instance. Diana, however, appeared to be more willing to accommodate her children into her life. She was said to have organized her schedule around them – sometimes even dropping the boys off at school herself.
William and Harry clearly loved their mother very deeply, and the princes still talk to this day about the ways in which she ensured that they had fulfilling childhoods. In the 2017 TV documentary Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy, Harry remembered of the late royal, “Behind closed doors, she was a loving mother and an incredibly funny person.”
William had similar memories of his mom. “She was very informal and really enjoyed the laughter and the fun,” he said in the documentary. “She was a massive card writer, and she loved the rudest cards you could imagine. I would be at school, and I’d get a card from my mother… But I didn’t open it in case teachers or anyone else in the class had seen it.”
But that all came to a tragic end on August 31, 1997, when Diana was killed in a car crash. Prince William was 15 at the time, while Prince Harry was just 12. And millions of viewers around the world watched as the boys, accompanied by their father, grandfather and uncle, walked behind their mother’s coffin at her funeral.
At that point, Charles’ standing in the eyes of the British public was not particularly high. If he hadn’t divorced Diana, people speculated, maybe she would never have got into that car in the first place. Diana had been, after all, on holiday with her lover. And the entire royal family initially opting not to engage with the grieving public also drew criticism from some quarters.
The press were reportedly very keen to speak with Camilla after the crash, too, although she ultimately chose to keep quiet. Many years after the fact, in 2019, royal insider Julia Cleverdon told the Daily Express, “That must have been an appalling period for [Camilla], and I thought she was courageous and humble and decent. [Charles] was in agony about it; he really, really was.”
Prince Charles subsequently did something incredibly unpopular: he went back to his mistress. Charles seemed, in fact, to be genuinely in love with her in a way he had never been with Diana. Camilla was divorced by that time, though. And the pair worked on rehabilitating her image – apparently to some success, too, as the people of Britain seemed to have more or less accepted Camilla at the time of her marriage to Charles in 2005.
William and Harry may have helped considerably in that department, however, as despite everything they had never been publicly antagonistic towards Camilla. Indeed, they had developed a sort of friendship with her over the years and had invited her to events alongside their father. “She’s always been very close to me and William,” Harry said in 2005, during an interview to mark his 21st birthday. “She’s not the wicked stepmother. I’ll say that right now.”
During the same conversation, Harry also described Camilla as “a wonderful woman,” adding, “She’s made our father very, very happy, which is the most important thing. William and I love her to bits.” Hearing tidbits like that, then, may have helped the British public warm to Camilla. Certainly, a 2015 public poll showed that a majority of Brits thought that Camilla should gain the title of queen if Charles became king.
Yet the marriage ceremony itself didn’t go ahead without its own small controversy, as Charles’ own mother, the Queen, chose not to attend. As head of the Church of England, you see, she’s supposed to be anti-divorce, and Charles and Camilla were both divorced people. The Queen did, however, attend the blessing and the reception afterwards.
And at the reception, the monarch would have reportedly heard her son make a touching speech. According to those who were there, Charles thanked his mother, his two sons and, naturally, his bride, whose “precious optimism and humor,” he apparently said, had “seen [him] through.” The heir to the throne is also said to have added, “Down with the press” – a remark that supposedly made the assembled guests cheer.
Yet even as Camilla was welcomed into the British royal family, her own children were largely forgotten. Yes, Camilla has a son and a daughter, Tom and Laura, with her first husband Andrew Parker Bowles. And the relative lack of media discussion about the pair may be all the more surprising considering how much has been written about Camilla – both before and after her marriage to Charles.
The children even received a mention in the infamous Camillagate tape. During the conversation in question, Camilla tells Charles to ring her “before [she has] these rampaging children around,” adding, “It’s Tom’s birthday tomorrow.” Then, after Charles asks her what time the kids wake up, Camilla answers, “Well, usually Tom never wakes up at all, but as it’s his birthday tomorrow, he might just stagger out of bed.”
Of the two Parker Bowles children, Tom has the highest profile; he’s a columnist for The Mail on Sunday and a food critic for Esquire. Laura, on the other hand, has a much more low-key presence in the press. When she married model-turned-accountant Harry Lopes in 2006, for instance, the wedding didn’t make the front pages in the way that William’s nuptials did.
However, both William and Harry were at Laura’s wedding – even if the event wasn’t widely reported. So was Kate Middleton, although she wasn’t married into the royal family at that point. And Laura herself wore a silk dress by Robinson Valentine – the same designer who dressed Camilla for her 2005 wedding to Charles.
What’s more, Laura and her brother were in fact present at William’s extremely high-profile wedding to Kate Middleton in 2011. Laura’s eldest daughter Eliza – only three years old at the time – even served as a bridesmaid for the ceremony. One of the photographs from the wedding shows little Eliza being held aloft on the palace balcony by her step-grandfather Prince Charles.
Other pictures from the day, meanwhile, show Eliza holding a pink toy worm that Prince Harry had given to her. “Harry pulled this wiggly worm out of his pocket in the carriage to keep [the children] amused,” Camilla said at a charity event a few days after the wedding, according to the Daily Mirror. “Eliza loved it so much that she wouldn’t let go, and it even made the official photographs.”
It should be noted, though, that Laura actually has two other children besides Eliza: twins Louis and Gus. Yes, there was in fact a Louis in the royal family before William and Kate’s son Prince Louis came along, and now the step-cousins share the same name. Tom, too, has children: son Freddy and daughter Lola.
Meanwhile, when Harry married American actress Meghan Markle in 2018, both Laura and Tom were on the guest list, as were their respective spouses. The groom’s step-siblings were also photographed walking with other guests to the ceremony at Windsor Castle’s St. George’s Chapel.
But whether Laura will choose to appear in any future photos is perhaps more open to question, as she’s very much kept away from the spotlight. Indeed, the world knows what Laura does for a living – she manages an art gallery – but little else. In a 2015 interview with The Mail on Sunday, however, brother Tom shed some light on why that might be.
During the height of Camilla’s unpopularity, things hadn’t been easy for the Parker Bowles family. The paparazzi were a constant presence in their lives, often camping out around the family home. “When it first started, we thought it was entirely normal growing up to have five or six paparazzi hanging around,” Tom said. “We would go up there with binoculars and say, ‘Oh look, mummy, there’s five today.’”
But, of course, these circumstances were far from normal; they would also become worse over time. The paparazzi would even chase the Parker Bowleses through traffic – an uncomfortable echo of what would occur on the night that Princess Diana died. However, neither Tom nor Laura – both still children – were ever given any training on how to deal with the constant press attention.
And in the Daily Mail interview, Tom spoke of the disgust that he felt towards the media. “They’re bullies, half of these people, and they made you very angry,” he said. Furthermore, it seemed as if the constant intrusion had had a significant impact upon his teenage life. “All I wanted to do was smack them in the face and beat the hell out of them. But you couldn’t do that,” Tom added.
But although Tom never punched any photographers in the end, he did still make a few headlines for other reasons. While Tom was a student at Oxford in 1995, for instance, he was caught in a nightclub with ecstasy and cannabis. Then, in 1999 he offered cocaine to a man who turned out to be an undercover reporter.
Yet while Laura made no similar transgressions as far as we’re aware, rumor has it that she didn’t get along with William when both were teenagers dealing with divorce. For instance, Katie Nicholl, author of the 2010 book William and Harry, has asserted, “William and Laura used to have terrible fights over who was to blame for their broken homes.”
Nicholls also claimed that a friend of the family had once told her, “William would blame Camilla for all the hurt she had caused his mother, which would send Laura into a rage.” The writer added, however, “Laura was not having any of it. She would take a hard line and fire back at William, ‘Your father has ruined my life.’” Apparently, both she and Tom were taunted at school about their mother and Charles.
According to Nicholls, Laura’s rage even allegedly extended to Charles himself. She wrote, “When Charles telephoned Camilla at the family home in Wiltshire, Laura would pick up an extension and shout down the receiver, ‘Why don’t you stop calling mummy and leave our family alone?’ She couldn’t care less that it was the Prince of Wales; she blamed him for breaking up her parents’ marriage and was not afraid to tell William so.”
So, bearing all that in mind, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Laura chooses to stay well out of the public eye. Nonetheless, her famous mother does speak about her daughter every now and again. Notably, in a 2017 Daily Mail interview, Camilla said that she couldn’t have survived the pre-marriage press intrusion “without [her] family.”
Camilla’s not the only one who has been through such a trial by media, either. Meghan, too, was subjected to extreme scrutiny by the press when she first started dating Harry – to the extent that her future husband even released a statement condemning the commentators. And after Harry married Meghan, Tom began standing up for his step-sister-in-law in public.
While appearing on breakfast TV show Good Morning Britain in December 2018, Piers Morgan asked Tom if he had any advice for Meghan, who was pregnant with her and Harry’s first child at the time. Tom answered, “I think she’s wonderful. How could I give advice about that? I think she should carry on what she’s doing.”
In the same interview, Tom also dished on why he and Laura weren’t seen out and about very much. Specifically, he told the Good Morning Britain audience that the siblings basically just were “not quite part of the royal family, to be honest.” He went on, “My mother married into [the royal family]. She’s part of it. We’re the common children. We’re just on the side.”
All is not lost for the common children, however. After the Queen dies, Charles will take the throne and become king. Then, after that, Charles could potentially bestow Tom and Laura with the royal titles that they don’t currently possess – thus putting them on a slightly more equal footing with William and Harry.
Tom has had kind words for his stepbrothers, too, describing them as “lovely and proper” while talking to The Daily Telegraph in 2017. But although Laura’s presence at William’s wedding indicates a degree of closeness, she has never given an interview about him or any of her other relatives. The secret stepsister, it seems, is perfectly happy to remain so – at least for now, anyway.