Part one of The Crown's sixth and final season dedicated a pretty big chunk of time to an extravagant birthday party Prince Charles hosted for his then-girlfriend Camilla Parker Bowles—using it as a launching point to show just how desperate he was for the British public, and the Queen, to accept her.
In the show, we see Charles invite his "mummy" to the party (she declines), get tons of footage from the event (including a speech from the future king), and watch Charles absolutely lose it when party press coverage is eclipsed by coverage of Princess Diana. So...how much of the above is true? Let's dive in to what really went down during Camilla's 50th rager*.
*By "rager," we mean extremely posh black tie event involving passed canapés.
Camilla's 50th Birthday Party Was Essentially a Soft Launch
As The Crown makes clear, the party (held in mid-July 1997) was essentially a test run to see if the British public would accept Charles dating Camilla. Here's some ~1997 footage from The AP of some of the chatter surrounding the event—including a coverline that reads "68 percent of Mirror readers say marry her."
"I think that this trial balloon which was organised in the shape of a fiftieth birthday party for Camilla Parker-Bowles is trying to reveal to the world whether Prince Charles is on shaky ground or not," royal expert Harold Brooks-Baker says in the video. "You can be certain that if the public accepts Mrs. Parker-Bowles then attempts will be made to make a marriage possible which today it is not because of the Church, the Queen, and parliament."
Camilla's Party Went Down During Diana's Summer Vacation
A Guardian article published one day after the party notes that "As the party preparations proceeded, eyes were also on Diana, Princess of Wales, who was due to fly home from her French holiday yesterday. Her last public response to intense publicity over her ex-husband's relationship with Mrs. Parker Bowles was the night he admitted adultery in a television interview two years ago, when she went out in a striking black Versace cocktail dress."
Meanwhile, the New Yorker wrote a piece about a month later (on August 25, 1997—just days before Diana's tragic death) noting it had taken Charles and Camilla "more than half their lives" to "face the world as a couple" and that Camilla's birthday "set off a frenzy of speculation" about whether they'd get married.
They also claimed Princess Diana's romance with Dodi Fayed "only helped Camilla's cause" and "history may judge Charles and Camilla kindly."
So What Was the Real Party Like?
According to reporting at the time, 80 guests were invited to Charles' Highgrove estate, gathering for canapés, a five-course meal, cake, and dancing. Even though the event was private, papers ran aerial photos of the party tent, and an archived Mirror article from 1997 notes that Camilla arrived in the passenger seat of a Vauxhall Omega estate car which was "driven slowly past photographers."
Did the Queen Really Snub the Invitation?
There isn't much reporting on whether Charles invited Queen Elizabeth II, but considering she wasn't a huge fan of Camilla's during this period, it doesn't seem like The Crown stretched reality too much. That said, the show did take liberties by including Princess Margaret on the guest list. According to The Telegraph, there's no record of her being in attendance!
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