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EDITOR IN CHIEF- ABDULLAH BIN SALIM AL SHUEILI

With Charles and Catherine sidelined, It’s Camilla’s time to shine

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LONDON — In the past few weeks, as the illness has sidelined two of Britain’s most visible royal figures, Catherine, Princess of Wales, and King Charles III, one member of the family’s frontbench has stepped into the vacuum: Queen Camilla.


Last week, she traveled to the Isle of Man to deliver a speech on Charles’ behalf and met with public officials and community groups. She then flew to Northern Ireland, where she visited a bakery and butcher shop, attended a literary event, and accepted salutes at a military parade.


Camilla, 76, smiled for the photographers, joking on Thursday that a camera-friendly toddler who upstaged her visit to the butcher shop was a “natural.” She betrayed neither the strain of taking care of a cancer-stricken husband nor that a day later Catherine, who is known as Kate, would announce that she, too, had been diagnosed with cancer.


It is the kind of twist of fate that royal watchers savor: Camilla, the woman whose very existence once seemed to threaten the stability of the royal family, has emerged as a stabilizing force during a major royal health crisis. At times recently, it has felt as if she was carrying the entire House of Windsor on her shoulders.


“This is a vulnerable time for the royal family, where their human frailties are fully on display,” said Arianne J. Chernock, an associate professor of history at Boston University and an expert on the modern British monarchy. “Camilla’s background and training can help her in these circumstances.”


With her husband canceling public engagements while he undergoes treatment, and with Kate out for the foreseeable future for chemotherapy, Camilla has taken on high-profile duties. Her trip to Northern Ireland, scheduled before the king became ill, thrust her onto diplomatically delicate terrain, given the territory’s legacy of sectarian violence and its politically fragile government. By all accounts, she performed well.


Camilla is not the only senior royal picking up the load while Charles and Kate are ill. Princess Anne, the king’s sister, has kept up her typically packed diary of royal events. Kate’s husband, Prince William, hopes to return to full-time duties after the Easter holiday, and Charles has continued to meet foreign leaders and hold his weekly session with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.


But nobody has been a more conspicuous stand-in than Camilla. At the Commonwealth Day service in Westminster Abbey this month, she led the royal family along with William. Speaking on the Isle of Man, she said, “My husband is so sorry that he cannot be with us on this extremely special occasion, but he has sent me here armed with a copy of his speech to read out on his behalf.”


Her brisk, no-nonsense style — so tempting for comedians such as Tracey Ullman to send up — has helped steady a family thrown badly off balance. She reassures people that the king is doing well and tries to project an air of normalcy. When a mother held up her baby, Louis, Camilla replied that she had a grandson Louis, who she said was “quite a handful.” It was a leavening contrast to Kate, who spoke in her video announcement about the anguish of telling Louis and her other two children that she was sick.


Even before the recent spate of illness, the royal family’s ranks had been depleted by the deaths of Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip; the bitter departure of Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan; and the exile of Prince Andrew over his links to Jeffrey Epstein, the sexual offender. That had increased the burden on Camilla, who assumed the title of queen consort in 2022, upon Elizabeth’s death.


Camilla this month took a week off to spend time with her husband and family, which unsettled some royal watchers, given the family’s staffing shortage. But she threw herself quickly back into her duties.


Camilla’s emergence does not solve what has become an acute problem for the royal family. She carried out 233 engagements last year, according to a tally by The Daily Telegraph, while Charles carried out 425. But both are in their 70s, and the younger generation is not picking up the slack. Even before Kate’s illness, she and William attended fewer royal events, citing their young family.


Some experts said they expected the royal family to make more use of social media to amplify their in-person appearances. The family’s Instagram account has more than 13 million followers and its account on X, formerly Twitter, has well over 5 million. But the downside of social media became clear during Kate’s prolonged hospitalization and convalescence when it exploded with rumors and conspiracy theories.


“They’re going to have to change what they do,” said Peter Hunt, a former royal correspondent for the BBC. “In the absence of William and Kate, they don’t have the manpower. They are not going to be able to deliver as they once did.”


For Camilla, this latest iteration is yet another twist in her complex relationship with the public — one that has settled into, if not affection, then acceptance. In a poll of British adults by the market research firm YouGov last year, Camilla had an approval rating of 41%. That is higher than Harry, at 27%, but below Charles, at 51%, Kate, at 63%, and William, at 68%.


To royal historians, last year’s coronation was the capstone of years of image rehabilitation by Charles and Camilla, who became romantically involved when she was known as Camilla Parker-Bowles. She had shouldered much of the blame for the failure of his first marriage, to Princess Diana, who died in a car crash in 1997. London’s tabloids vilified Camilla, splashing intimate details about the couple’s personal lives on their front pages.


But in the years since Charles and Camilla were married in 2005 in an understated civil ceremony, they have worked steadily to rebuild their images. Camilla became an active, dutiful participant in royal life. Nothing did more to cement her status than when the queen, shortly before her death, laid out a road map for Camilla to become queen consort, putting to rest years of uncertainty and speculation over her status.


In hindsight, royal watchers say, Elizabeth’s blessing may have been as much about ensuring a smooth transition in the monarchy after her reign as it was a reward to Charles and Camilla for their improved public images.


“Not that Elizabeth could foresee the series of challenges that the royal family has encountered this past year, but Elizabeth recognized that the monarchy is never just about the monarch, it’s about the family on the throne,” Chernock said. “Now is Camilla’s moment.”


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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