Camilla, queen in waiting, makes Paris debut

Story highlights

The Duchess of Cornwall began her first solo overseas tour in Paris on May 28

The French capital is closely associated with Diana, the first wife of Prince Charles

Camilla shows a common touch and moved comfortably between different groups

Paris CNN  — 

It was a confident decision and it paid off. The Duchess of Cornwall could have chosen other cities for her first solo overseas tour, but she chose Paris, a city closely – and tragically – associated with Diana, the first wife of Prince Charles. But Camilla came here despite that, not because of it. This is more about Camilla’s long-term rehabilitation from being “the other woman” to queen-in-waiting and the strategy is working.

Diana may have been a fashion icon who famously championed Dior handbags, but Camilla didn’t shy away from accepting an invitation to Dior in Paris in her own right. A Clarence House spokeswoman told me the duchess was, “delighted to accept as she was keen to highlight the wonderful skill and craftsmanship involved in this renowned french fashion house.” And I saw her clearly fascinated by the intricacy of the work being done in the couture workshop on the top floor.

Camilla, unlike Diana, isn’t defined particularly by fashion. She’s more about country living and was in her element watching an equine display by the Republican Guard in Paris. She went behind the scenes to meet the horses and speak to the farrier making their shoes.

She’s a hands-on duchess, unafraid of getting her hands dirty. She’s as comfortable with a farrier as she is with presidents and prime ministers. She is something of a social chameleon, able to move between easily different groups with ease, including the press pack. In a typical Camilla moment, she arrived Paris with a smile and greeted the media with a big hello, then went on to admit nerves.

Camilla’s common touch came out during an unannounced visit to a street market. A butcher asked her to try a sample. She of course obliged and he was struck about how nice she was: “Very agreeable, bearing in mind her status,” he told me.

At another stall, she bought five dresses for a grand-daughters from a trader who described the duchess as polite and said she “loved everything. She was very respectful.” A royal source in the past described to me how the duchess is a “professional grandmother.”

There’s more to the Duchess of Cornwall than you see: invariably she manages to win people round when she comes face to face with them, despite the Diana back-story we all know so well. We will be getting more insight into her character as she takes on more official duties. The queen is cutting back on her travel and Prince Charles with Camilla are increasingly being asked to represent the monarchy, which will one day be theirs. We’re being given in a sense Camilla, queen-in-waiting, not just Prince Charles’s wife.