He famously fell for Camilla before marrying Diana. But it was another 'Charlie's Angel' who truly broke the Prince's heart. Here, we look back at his decade of dating - and reveal the one who got away
Words by Michelle Davies
It’s inconceivable to think now, but there was a time when Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall was not the ‘soulmate’ Prince Charles was desperate to marry. In 1976, the heir to the throne was left licking his wounds after Camilla decided to end their affair and recommit to her husband Andrew Parker Bowles, who she’d married three years earlier. Convinced their relationship, which had begun in 1971, was over for good, Charles, then 28, decided to throw himself into dating so he could meet his self-imposed deadline of marrying by 30. In doing so, he fell head over heels for a woman described by one royal watcher as ‘the soulmate he was searching for’.
Her name was Davina Sheffield and, on paper, the 24-year-old was certainly a great match for the Prince. The granddaughter of celebrated industrialist Lord McGowan, and a cousin of Samantha Sheffield – now married to former Prime Minister David Cameron – she moved in the right circles and was a keen horsewoman. She was also undeniably the prettiest of ‘Charlie’s Angels’, as the press collectively dubbed the women he dated.
However, when Davina was introduced to Charles for the first time she was already seeing someone else – Old Harrovian and powerboat racer James Beard. Detailing Charles’s romance with Davina in her 2005 book The Firm, royal expert Penny Junor said Davina initially turned down the Prince’s invite to have dinner with him because of Beard. But ‘[Charles] was so persistent that she eventually succumbed and the boyfriend soon fell by the wayside,’ she wrote.
Unfortunately for the new couple, whom Junor described as being ‘very much in love’, the ex didn’t disappear completely. In fact, as rumours that Charles was going to propose began to circulate, Beard became a media target and he was duped by one reporter into sharing details of his relationship with Davina – revealing they’d ‘lived in sin’ together before she dated Charles.
The scoop brought Charles and Davina’s romance to an abrupt end; royal tradition followed at the time dictated any bride of a future King must be ‘intact’. ‘It killed the relationship stone dead,’ Junor noted. Charles was said to be devastated: it was the same reason used by courtiers for rejecting Camilla as a suitable bride.
While Davina was the ‘one who got away’, Charles certainly wasn’t short of other admirers. In fact, between 1971 and 1981, when he married Diana, Princess of Wales, he was said to have dated 20 women. These flames included Diana’s own sister, Lady Sarah Spencer, and actress Susan George.
After he was forced to break things off with Davina, Charles resumed his search for a suitable bride and, in 1980, proposed to Lady Amanda Ellingworth (nee Knatchbull), granddaughter of Earl Mountbatten; the Prince’s second cousin; and long-time confidant. But she turned him down, citing the glare of the royal spotlight.
Undeterred, later that year Charles proposed to Anna Oates, the daughter of a Scottish landowner. Known as ‘Whiplash Wallace’ for her fiery temper, she reportedly broke off their relationship during the Queen Mother’s 80th birthday party because Charles had ignored her all evening. It was widely reported afterwards that she told him: ‘I have never been so badly treated in my life. You’ve left me alone all evening and now you will have to continue without me.’
It later emerged that Camilla, still friends with Charles despite their breakup, was not keen on him marrying Anna and was pleased when the relationship ended. Anna was not someone who would’ve taken kindly to Charles and Camilla resuming their affair, which was seemingly always on the cards. Indeed, Camilla is said to have actively encouraged the Prince to pursue a relationship with his future wife Diana, who – at 19 and far from worldly wise – was thought to pose less of a threat. Camilla reportedly called her ‘a mouse’. Charles subsequently proposed to Diana in February, 1981; married her in July the same year (having only met her 13 times in total); and then resumed his affair with Camilla in 1986, following the births of William and Harry.
Yet Diana turned out to be a formidable adversary. She all but trashed Camilla’s reputation when she famously quipped in her bombshell Panorama interview in 1995 that ‘there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded’, confirming you should never underestimate the quiet ones. After the interview aired, Camilla wasn’t seen in public for a year.