When Prince Charles reached 30 on November 14th, 1978 he was a young man in turmoil and, as the year progressed, things only got worse.
In 1973, the girl he had loved best, Camilla Shand, had married his best friend, Andrew Parker Bowles. Some time afterwards, Charles and Camilla resumed their passionate affair.
Charles covered his tracks with a series of public dates with high society girls nicknamed ‘Charlie’s Angels’, but he also had secret relationships with other married women - some were the wives of his friends.The late Lady Tryon was among them. Within a year of Charles’s 30th birthday, Dale Tryon and Camilla Parker Bowles began the task of finding a suitable bride for him.
Charles was a reluctant groom. Some say he had dithered over Camilla in the early 70s because of his Royal Navy commitments and, having lost her, had no real wish to marry anyone else. However, his position as heir to the throne meant he had to marry and produce heirs, but he preferred seeing married women or unsuitable girls. His elderly mentor, Lord Mountbatten, warned him in 1978 against ‘beginning on the downward slope which wrecked your Uncle David’s (Duke of Windsor) life and led to his disgraceful abdication and his futile life ever after’.
Charles considered marriage with Mountbatten’s granddaughter, Amanda Knatchbull, who is said to have wisely turned him down. He then pursued romances in 1978-1979 with Lady Sarah Spencer, heiress Sabrina Guinness, landowner’s daughter Anna Wallace, and polo club manager Mrs Jane Ward. He also found time to see actress Susan George and he formed a spiritual connection with another actress, Zoe Sallis, who had been director John Huston’s lover. Additionally, he had an ongoing romance with a Welsh girl, Janet Jenkins.
In August 1979, Lord Mountbatten was assassinated. Devastated, Charles relied on Camilla to carry him through his grief, but Mountbatten’s death made Charles face his own mortality. At the time his two younger brothers, Andrew and Edward, were heirs-in-line (just as William and Harry are today). Andrew was 19, committed to a life in the Royal Navy, and already showing signs of becoming a playboy prince. Edward, 15, was slow to mature.
And so Charles at 30 was forced to find a bride. According to the presiding expectations of the day, she had to be royal or aristocratic and virginal. Camilla and Dale had a shortlist: Lady Sarah Spencer’s younger sister, Diana, was at the top. Diana, then 19, simultaneously targeted Charles and charmed her way into his life. Theoretically, the union of the beautiful Diana and the Prince of Wales was ideal, but as they married in 1981, we now know that they were staring into an abyss.
By contrast, Prince William at 30 was never seen dating any other girl than Kate Middleton who became his wife last year. He had a few teenage flings, but has been effectively committed to Kate for a decade. He was fortunate to marry the girl he really loved, while Charles had to wait till 2005 to marry Camilla - after causing so much heartache along the way.