Postcards of Camilla

Essay & Memorabilia by Vernon Manzini-Shimwell



I was thirteen years old when Princess Diana died. It didn’t seem like a big loss at the time because I had always overheard adults finding fault with her. Every morning began with my family flipping through the Daily Mail, rolling their eyes and tutting at how Diana airs her dirty laundry in public. How she plays the victim with her demure doe eyes. How she milks every photo opportunity for all its worth, sweeping for landmines in a flak jacket, the surgical gown with a dash of blood on it. I remember a lot of scoffing at her sitting on the Taj Mahal bench by herself, the world’s most romantic place, and there she is, alone, poor Diana, boo hoo hoo. 


And then she died and instantly everyone worshipped her. Diana suddenly became the People’s Princess. Even the Daily Mail did a 180 and churned out endless special edition dedications. The kitchens of my childhood friends became shrines to Diana, her portrait on porcelain plates hung on walls, and the ubiquitous Diana tea towels so we could honor her by drying our hands on her face. How dare you even insinuate that we haven’t always adored her, and that we feel her loss more than anyone? 


With the scales tipping so immediately, the hatred had to slide onto someone else. And this landed on Camilla Parker Bowles like a big fat pie in the face. Take that, Camilla, Diana would be alive if it wasn’t for you! This was the general consensus I remember. As well as someone hysterically yelling, “Camilla has blood on her hands!”


Nothing unites a nation more than basking in the irrational hatred of someone. Camilla served the purpose perfectly. She became the people’s punching bag. Charles was never hated as much as Camilla, it was still the nineties, and slut-shaming and pitting women against one another was how we made sense of the world. 


When I left home and moved from Manchester to London, to keep in touch with my grandmother, I decided to send her postcards instead of using the phone. There’s an art to holding a conversation on the phone, and none of my family have it. I’m the worst offender – but all of us sound uncomfortable, and then make some excuse to end the call shortly after it’s begun. Postcards were a better way to let her know I was thinking of her. 


I went to a tourist shop, and there shining out to me like destiny, was a thick stack of Camilla Parker Bowles postcards. A close up of her grinning, dressed in Royal blue. Gran would absolutely fucking hate to receive this in the mail, I thought to myself. So I bought all of them and sent her one every couple of weeks for more than a decade. 


If I went to a different country, I’d pre-pack a Camilla postcard in my luggage and send it once I arrived, inscribed with, “Can you believe it, they only have Camilla postcards here in Brazil!”


My Gran called it bullying, but I knew she loved it really. The first time I spoke to her after sending her the first Camilla postcard she told me off, “I don’t want to see that horse faced bitch on my doorstep ever again!” So I increased the frequency to once a week, and stockpiled as many Camilla postcards as I could to send her from my two years working in Asia.


She told me when she gets a postcard, she shows her neighbors so they can read what I’ve been up to. My Gran would hide Camilla’s face on the other side of the postcard. The shame of it. Why is he sending you a Camilla postcard from China? “The Chinese LOVE Camilla, she’s bigger than Chairman Mao over here,” I’d write.


The last time I visited, six years ago, she showed me the pile of Camilla postcards in her drawer, turned upside down so she doesn’t have to see her face. It touched me that she had kept them all; I hadn’t expected it. I flipped through the years and memories, a symbol of our bond that something as silly as this had continued for such a long time. 


Since that visit I had two kids of my own in Seattle, far away from my Gran, and when my youngest was born with cancer the postcards abruptly stopped and I had to focus everything on my children for a couple of years. When I came back up for air I felt the void from not having kept in touch. The guilt in knowing old age has crept up on her, she can’t travel now. She’s not met my daughters, and I don’t want to be far from the hospital until we’re fully out of the clear, so it’s possible she’ll never meet them. 


I watched the Coronation of King Charles with my daughters and my husband, and I realized Camilla had become my favorite Royal. It was a slow burner. Memes helped to sway me, especially, Side-chicks around the world rejoice. Your reign has begun with Queen Camilla. She is the ultimate side-chick. They are devoted to one another, and whether you like it or not, their story is a love story. 


What cemented my love of her was watching Camilla’s Coronation entrance as the choirboys sang uproariously, “I like vagina Camilla.” The clip went viral, and Royal talking heads explained that the Latin “Vivat Regina Camilla” just happened to sound exactly like “I like vagina Camilla” with the acoustics of Westminster Abbey. I couldn’t think of a better welcome to honor our new Queen; it’s naughty, it’s non-traditional, it’s what the people expect from Queen Camilla.


The night of the Coronation was one of the first nights we got a babysitter and went on a date night. We went to a restaurant and my husband argued with me after the meal because when he went to the restroom, I showed the couple on the table next to us the YouTube clip of the choirboys singing, “I like vagina Camilla.” Apparently, it wasn’t the time or place, but in my defense, I wanted to express my newfound love of our new Queen.


It’s now more than 25 years since Diana died. I’m fascinated with how her portrayal in the media has shifted. Film and television present her as beautiful, innocent, loving, relentlessly used and abused. The legacy of a beloved icon who exerted her fame to help others despite the intense media scrutiny. And Camilla’s portrayal as the mousy antagonist, the untrustworthy chain smoker, the dowdy schemer, the homely adulteress. 


In lieu of a postcard, I phoned my Gran after the Coronation. I was nervous because I wanted to tell her that I do actually like Camilla now. More nervous in fact than when I told her I was gay, and of course my Gran was more disappointed by the Camilla bombshell. She wouldn’t budge. She refused to watch the Coronation with the rest of my family. I told my Gran I had baked the special Coronation quiche to celebrate Queen Camilla. This was not what she wanted to hear. My Mum jumped on the phone and said, “your Gran keeps calling Camilla a whore.” I find talking to my family difficult on the phone. We all make up for the distance by shouting. If I lived around the corner from them we’d speak in a gentle voice, but because I live on the other side of the world everyone screams, and it’s genuinely difficult to comprehend what’s being said. I hung up feeling the separation from my family more than ever. 


How do you reconnect with a grandparent when your main bond spanning decades was always the meticulously built-up mutual hatred for someone, and now you can’t find common ground? This is where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have come to the rescue. I found the perfect card for my Gran’s 89th birthday, a cartoon rendering of Harry and Meghan smiling with “Happy Birthday Peasant” written on the front. It joined her stack of Camilla postcards. The cycle of Royal drama feeding the public for generations continues, as does a bond between grandmother and grandson that can’t be broken despite the distance. 





Vernon Manzini-Shimwell is from Stockport, the rainiest town in England. He currently lives in Seattle, the rainiest city in America. When he isn’t complaining about how miserable the rain is, you’ll find him with his nose in a book, drinking builder’s tea, and secretly enjoying the rain because he loves nothing more than having something to complain about. He lives with his rain-soaked husband and two daughters on a windswept corner of Lake Washington. An educator and lifelong lover of books, his writing bursts with humor and an honest introspection of the everyday. C FOR CARTER, a tragicomic memoir about his daughter Carter’s battle with a malignant brain tumor, is his first book. An excerpt was published in the Gotham Writers Workshop journal The Razor. You can find him on Instagram, dishing out dad jokes and flaunting his dad bod. Follow him there @vernon.manzinishimwell