Girls in Pearls

My cousin Camilla is going to be included in the Wonderland: High Society Brides on BBC2 next Wednesday, 20th October at 9pm. There was also a piece in the Telegraph and Daily Mail about the programme, so good job my mother let me know as they are two papers I never read. I’ve created an edited version of their inclusion about her. Think I last saw Camilla in Courchevel probably 10 years ago and that was only from a distance.

Cousin Camilla (1957) was featured in the BBC Wonderland: High Society Brides TV documentary last year, that looked at fifty years of Country Life magazine’s legendary ‘girls in pearls’. There were also companion pieces in The Telegraph and The Daily Mail.
After appearing in Country Life’s girl-in-pearls in January 1980, Camilla (née Birtwistle), married Myles Sandys later that year. They then moved into Graythwaite Hall, his 5,000-acre estate in the Lake District.
Camilla explains in The Dail Mail piece that she met Myles, when she was 21, at a society drinks function. Everyone joked: ‘You can’t marry Myles Sandys because he’s so wild and has so many girlfriends.’ She laughed it off, never thinking it would happen, but three dates later and he asked her to marry him!

Myles lived in a little flat off the Fulham Road and she’s says she honestly didn’t think beyond that — when they returned from honeymoon, she had writing paper made for their London address, then Myles said: ‘Pack up, we’re going to live in Cumbria.’ She was stunned.

In The Telegraph, Camilla says the isolation of Graythwaite Hall drove her to leave home after the birth of their first child:

“I was 23 and hadn’t thought beyond the honeymoon,” she admits. “We were miles from anywhere, there was no one to have tea with, no young people. Our first child was soon born and it’s terribly lonely having one baby and nobody to have tea with, and nowhere to go except round the garden. The loneliness became so acute that I left Myles on the day of the Royal Wedding in 1981. Watching Charles and Diana’s ­fairytale, I just thought: ‘There must be more to life than this.’ So I picked up the baby, put the wedding presents into my Fiat and drove off.  But at the top of the drive, I stopped and thought:

“‘Where on earth am I going to go?’ I sat and thought about things — then an hour later went back. Neither of us said anything about it. I just unpacked the car and cooked dinner.”

Apparently the house was very grand under Myles’ grandmother Dulcie ­Redford, but that all changed when they came. Myles and Camilla didn’t need and couldn’t afford staff. Though the estate is 5,000 acres and contains almost 100 properties, but there’s no goldmine.

So a marriage followed in which keeping the home fires burning was a challenge: forestry and agriculture turned out not to be enough to keep them afloat. To survive, they started a holiday cottage business with shoots, which they still run. “We had five children at boarding school. It was a no-brainer.” Dealing with the guests, however, has its downside. “A lot of these people are spoiled,” she says. “They would ring in the morning and ask for a masseuse because they didn’t feel like the shoot. A masseuse in our part of Cumbria is quite a tall order.”

Camilla is unapologetic about her lack of qualification for anything but a charmed life – negligently educated at Heathfield, brought up in the sole expectation of marriage and children. “There was absolutely no necessity to get a job.” Myles had been to agriculture college but knew his prime duty was to find a wife in the marriage marketplace of society balls.

Myles recently bought Camilla a house in Marrakech for her 50th birthday. “She deserved it after Cumbria,” he felt.

The Telegraph piece ends by explaining that laws of primogeniture dictate that Edward, their eldest son, will inherit all and his two brothers appear cheerfully to accept they will get nothing. One of their two daughters, Emily White, who teaches English at a secondary school in Bristol says: “I would love the same life as my mother but I won’t get it.”

In 2009 Camilla’s husband Myles went with Charlie Brockett and “similar like minded old farts” on a 10,000 mile charity motorcycle tour that went anti-clockwise right round the Mediterranean/North Africa:

“Having educated five children, married off one daughter and paid for the wife’s Moroccan residence, an impoverished Cumbrian bumpkin felt a mid life crisis coming on and needed an adventure”


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