20 years on from Operation Ritz, Charles and Camilla’s public debut as a couple

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This week sees the 20th anniversary of a major milestone for the Duchess of Cornwall.

It is unlikely to be marked on Monday by the Royal Household – but Operation Ritz in 1999 was a big deal.

Just before midnight on January 28 1999, the Prince of Wales and his long-term love, Camilla Parker Bowles, stepped out in public for the first time as a couple.

Charles and Camilla outside the Ritz
The Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles leave the Ritz Hotel in London after attending the 50th birthday party of Camilla’s sister, Annabel Elliot (Toby Melvilla/PA)

Prince of Wales & Camilla: Ritz
The Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles on January 28 1999 (John Stillwell/PA)

Future king Charles, then 50, and his former mistress had gone to great lengths to avoid being seen – or photographed together in public.

But the carefully choreographed “coming out” signalled their relationship was finally official.

Charles and Camilla leaving the Ritz
Camilla and Charles leaving the Ritz (Neil Munns/PA)

Charles emerged first, just ahead of Camilla, and walked down the steps of the hotel into a barrage of camera flashlights.

At the foot of the steps, a beaming prince momentarily lost sight of Camilla, glancing to either side before guiding her with his arm towards the kerb side rear passenger door of their waiting Vauxhall Omega.

Charles and Camilla
Charles and Camilla being driven away from the Ritz (Peter Jordan/PA)

Prince farewells Camilla children
Charles bids farewell to Camilla’s children, Laura and Tom, before he leaves the Ritz with Camilla (Neil Munns/PA)

Charles/Camilla together/papers
The front pages of the daily papers outline the media interest in the Prince of Wales and his long-term companion Camilla Parker Bowles leaving the Ritz Hotel in London (PA)

Royal Charles/Camilla press
The press photographers outside the Ritz (Peter Jordan/PA)

Charles & Camilla At Ritz
Ladders outside the Ritz Hotel in London ready for Charles and Camilla’s appearance (John Stillwell/PA)

25th anniversary of the National Osteoporosis Society reception
The Duchess of Cornwall talks to Mark Bolland (right) who masterminded her public acceptance (John Stillwell/PA)

The Queen recognised their relationship in 2000 by attending a birthday lunch for King Constantine with Camilla present.

In June 2001, the prince and Camilla shared their first public kiss at a party thrown to support the National Osteoporosis Society.

Charles & Camilla greeting
First public kiss: Charles gets a kiss on the cheek from Camilla Parker-Bowles at a National Osteoporosis Society event in 2001 (John Stillwell/PA)

Royal Wedding – Marriage of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles – Service of Prayer and Dedication – St George’s Chapel
The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall on their wedding day in 2005 (Dwayne Senior/Sunday Times/PA)

Now she has developed her own role through her charity work, including raising awareness of osteoporosis, promoting literacy, and supporting survivors of sexual assaults and domestic abuse.

Royal reception at Clarence House
The Duchess of Cornwall talks to Mia James during a reception in support of survivors of rape and sexual abuse, at Clarence House (John Stillwell/PA)

Royal aides insisted, when she married Charles, that Camilla did not want to be queen and said originally that she “intended” to be known instead as Princess Consort – the first in British history – when Charles acceded to the throne.

Any mention of “Princess Consort” was removed from Charles’s website during a revamp in 2018.

State Opening of Parliament 2016
The Duchess of Cornwall and the Prince of Wales during the State Opening of Parliament in 2016 (Arthur Edwards/The Sun/PA)

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