CAMILLA and Charles had loved one another for nearly 34 years when they finally wed on April 9, 2005.
A queen had tried to prise them apart. A princess had shamed them. A whole country had turned against them.
But their love held strong, even when everything else around them had fallen apart.
And so when the new Duke and Duchess of Cornwall stepped back into Windsor Castle after becoming husband and wife, they both wept.
Their tears set off the staff who were waiting for them, and soon everybody was sobbing.
They were crying for joy, and for love.
Charles had the rock he needed, after a lifetime of torturous relationships which always left him feeling that he was not good enough.
And Camilla had a decent, kind husband who loved her. It is what she had longed for ever since she was a child, when her own happy family gave her the model of what she wanted herself.
In the end, she brought a family shattered by tragedy back together again, and gave confidence to a lost soul in time to make him a man fit to be King.
According to opinion polls, it now seems as if our new Queen will be embraced by the British people, too.
That is fitting.
Camilla is an extraordinary, courageous and likeable woman, who is already bringing her own style and informality to the role which she had been quietly dreading.
But for many years she would not have dared to dream of ever managing to win over the public.
In fact, 25 years ago the mere idea of Charles marrying his long-time love threatened his very succession.
In a poll of 100,000 TV viewers in July 1997, two-thirds said that if Charles married Camilla, he should not be King.
And that was before Diana’s death the next month. Afterwards, Camilla was even less popular.
The Queen, for one, believed that her son’s long-term mistress was so loathed that she was beyond redemption.
Elizabeth was so concerned about the consequences for the monarchy that she waged a campaign for years to try to get Charles to give her up.
Camilla had first been linked publicly to Charles in 1992, when the Princess of Wales spoke out about her in Andrew Morton’s book Diana: Her True Story.
But it was not until early 1993 that Camilla Parker Bowles became one of the most disliked women in Britain.
That was when the infamous Camillagate tapes hit the headlines, detailing a phone conversation in which Charles told his lover he wanted to “live inside your trousers” or be reincarnated as a Tampax.
It had been recorded in December 1989 by an amateur radio enthusiast who stumbled upon the call, and proved that Charles was a cheat.
As royal biographer Anthony Holden noted, it “persuaded most of the nation that the heir to the throne, the would-be Defender of the Faith, was a lavatory-minded adulterer”.
Meanwhile, Camilla was branded a marriage wrecker.
According to The Times, she became the butt of lewd jokes, lurid headlines and crude cartoons — 12 of which Diana cut out and used to decorate her bathroom at Kensington Palace.
These cartoons often made fun of Camilla’s appearance, and in Piers Morgan’s 2005 book The Insider, the former newspaper editor recalled Diana relishing these jibes.
He went to lunch with Diana and William in May 1996, and during the meal the 13-year-old prince told his mother about a segment on the BBC panel show Have I Got News For You.
Morgan wrote that Wills said: “Oh Mummy, it was hilarious. They had a photo of Mrs Parker Bowles and a horse’s head and asked what the difference was — and the answer was there isn’t any.”
Morgan reported: “Diana absolutely exploded with laughter.”
Camilla was also dubbed “Cowmilla”, and even branded “evil” in headlines.
She was relentlessly sneered at as the “older woman” for being Charles’s senior by 16 months.
Life became horrendous, not just for Camilla herself but for all her immediate family.
But she internalised the pain and presented a brave face.
She has a wonderful ability for self-preservation, to put her head in the sand and not think about things that are too difficult.
As a friend said, rather than agonise about things, she would clear her head with a horse ride — then come back home and add a glug of rum to her tea.
She also has an unerring ability to laugh even in the most terrible of situations and her family, including children Tom and Laura, are cut from the same cloth.
This is the side that Charles has always loved, and which the rest of the world has slowly come to see.
By February 2005, when the couple’s engagement was announced, The Sun wrote in an editorial: “Many of us have endured broken relationships or suffered the pain of bereavement and then found joy again with another partner.
“If it is right for us, then why should it not be right for Charles and Camilla, too?”
Not everybody was convinced.
At the time, only seven per cent of people questioned in a poll thought Camilla should be Queen.
By 2015, that was 53 per cent.
Simply, by then we had come to know her.
As Charles said happily in 2012 after the couple’s trip to meet the people of Papua New Guinea: “I hope they found out just how special she is.
“And I think they very much responded to her just being jolly good and down to earth.”
We also witnessed her formidable work ethic, becoming an advocate on issues including rape and domestic abuse as well as the problem of illiteracy.
In 2016 alone she carried out 221 public engagements, with only Charles and the Queen doing more.
And the advantage of coming to her royal role later in life is that she has nothing to prove.
She is a grand-mother, she has been around the block, she is not jostling to make her mark in the world, to look 30 years younger or to steal the limelight.
That means nobody feels threatened or intimidated by her.
She is happy to be herself, and if she can make a difference here and there to people’s lives, then so much the better.
For my biography, I followed her on official engagements in Britain and abroad for more than a year.
I also spoke to friends, family and the people who work with her. What became absolutely clear is that Camilla is warm, she’s funny, she’s friendly and she’s fun to be with.
When things go pear-shaped, her first instinct is to laugh. In fact, she is a terrible giggler.
But she can be tough when needs be. She is nobody’s fool and won’t be pushed around.
That said, she is not ambitious, and she is not moody or tempera-mental — although those eyes can flash and she can get cross.
Importantly, she has compassion.
She is finely attuned to other people and their needs, in a way that her husband is not.
But perhaps most endearing of all is that for her, her family is paramount.
She put them through hell because of her relationship with the King and now she is making amends.
She also utterly dotes on her five grandchildren — three of whom will be her pages at the Coronation, along with a great-nephew.
Since becoming a grandmother, Camilla has set aside most weekends for these youngsters, as well as taking regular holidays with them in Devon and Cornwall.
They adore her, as do the strangers she meets while doing her duties.
She is utterly charming to everyone.
She even chats to all the familiar reporters and photographers who follow her, and is happy to pull a face or to be photographed eating a tricky canape.
This is by no means how every member of the Royal Family behaves.
Camilla has such a twinkle in her eye that you feel the world is a better place after a couple of moments in her company.
The last member of the Royal Family who had such an effect on the people she met was the Queen Mother.
Today, she is what the King refers to as “My darling wife”, and when he is with her, you can see why.
Everything about him, from the grin on his face to the relaxed body language, tells you that he adores her, depends upon her and that with her in his life he feels complete, I suspect for the first time.
She is a strong person, far stronger than he, and she has transformed him.
They are a compelling and well-matched couple, fired by the same ideals, tickled by the same sense of the absurd. They are friends, companions and soulmates.
Before she came back into his life in the dying days of his first marriage, the Prince of Wales was lonely, depressed and angst-ridden, under-appreciated for his tireless charity work, and widely despised for his infidelity.
Today he is happy, laughing and fulfilled.
That makes him a better royal, a better father and a much more productive and popular figure.
And now that the time has come, it will make him a confident, capable and much-loved King.
Without Camilla, there might have been a very different outcome.
In my view, when history comes to judge her, Camilla will not be seen as the woman who nearly brought down the House of Windsor.
Instead, she will be recognised as the woman who shored it up and set it back on solid foundations.