Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall: ‘The brave women who move me to tears’

The duchess recalls a life-changing visit to a charity in the UK.
Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and Prince Charles Chris Jackson/PA Wire

When the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall fly into Auckland this month, it will be their third joint visit to New Zealand, and for once they won’t be linking the trip with a visit to Australia.

The royal couple is here at the invitation of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and, behind the scenes, the New Zealand Government has been beavering on arrangements for the tour with the royal couple’s team for months.

With the Queen as our Head of State, visits from royals are a given, but the Duchess confesses she has developed a special affection for our shores.

“I have the most wonderful memories of our trips to New Zealand. The welcome that my husband and I receive whenever we have the good fortune to visit has always been unforgettable,” Her Royal Highness tells me as she starts preparing for the royal tour.

“But it is not just the people who make New Zealand such a special place, it is the country itself which is so spectacular in its beauty and quite unlike anywhere else that I have visited.”

While the Duchess has never been a fan of long-haul flying, she has learned that the end can justify the means where New Zealand is concerned.

The great outdoors is where she is happiest, having been raised in the heart of the English countryside in East Sussex with horses and dogs.

When the Duchess and Prince Charles head to their home in Birkhall in Scotland their favourite pursuit is long walks in the highlands, so it’s no wonder that she is especially impressed with the fresh air and pristine quality of the Kiwi landscape.

Away from her official royal duties, the 72-year-old mum of two still loves to cook at home and entertain friends and family with good food and wine.

And here in New Zealand, Her Royal Highness says she finds plenty of inspiration.

“In New Zealand I always also look forward to being able to sample the culinary delights that are on offer, your vineyards and the wine they produce are really remarkable.”

Duchess Camilla and Prince Charles will visit New Zealand for their Royal tour between November 17th and 23rd.

This week-long tour will see the couple travelling around Auckland, the Bay of Islands, Christchurch and Kaikōura, and has been tailored to showcase New Zealand, but also specifically to visit programmes and organisations working in areas the royal couple is committed to supporting.

For the Duchess this will include a focus on domestic violence. It is an area Her Royal Highness has become increasingly concerned about following a life-changing visit to a charity in the UK where she spent a long time listening and talking to women who had been trapped in a dark cycle of abuse.

“I first began to understand the scale of the issue in 2016 when I visited the domestic violence charity SafeLives in the UK. I listened to the stories of some of the women who had been helped by the charity and they moved me to tears,” she explains.

“It is just impossible not to be deeply affected when you hear what they have been through. Until that time, I had no real sense of how deep-rooted the problem is and just how many people have been affected by it.”

While it may not seem like a traditional royal area to focus on, since that first meeting the Duchess has become determined to raise awareness of what has become a global scourge and to lend her support to charities and bodies working in this area.

Privately Camilla has met with many victims and made a number of low-key visits to rape crisis centres to meet staff and clients who use these vital confidential services. And as her knowledge of the issue grows, the Duchess wants to do all she can to help change lives, which includes making it a focus on overseas tours.

“It is incredibly harrowing to hear what these women and their children have had to endure. I am always so struck by how brave they are – their experiences are so awful but they also give me the motivation to do whatever I can to help,” the Duchess says.

In New Zealand she is aware the issue is just as alarming as it is in the UK. The statistics make for grim reading and cry out for immediate action.

One in three women has experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence in their lifetime and when psychological and emotional abuse is added into the numbers, it is estimated 55 per cent of women are affected.

The fact that attacks happen right in the heart of family units behind closed doors makes the issue all the more difficult to detect and deal with.

“Tragically it doesn’t matter who you are, no one is immune from this horrific issue,” explains the Duchess.

In many cases victims are ashamed and hide what is happening, while others are terrified.

Achieving a positive outcome is tough and the issue seems to be worsening. Indeed approximately half of all homicides in New Zealand are committed by an offender who is identified as family.

I ask Her Royal Highness what can be done.

“The one thing that I think is perhaps most important is that we encourage people to talk about it. If you can bring the issue out into the open, wherever it is happening in the world, then you can deal with it and find ways to stop it happening as much as it is.”

Playing her part, the royal has increased her involvement with charities to keep the issue in the public eye and also to talk to victims and support them in sharing their experiences.

Promoting literacy is a passion for the Duchess – here she reads with a student during a school visit in London.

Another passion project that Her Royal Highness will be highlighting on the tour is literacy.

An avid reader, the Duchess works to promote the benefits of reading both to children and adults. She often reads aloud to children – including her own grandchildren – and has engaged with adult readers aiming to improve their reading skills.

Camilla is an aficionado of a rather magical New Zealand author who combines the royal’s love of reading with her love of dogs.

“It was my great privilege to meet the author Dame Lynley Dodd, author of the Hairy Maclary books during one of our visits,” she tells me.

“All my grandchildren have been such big fans of her work so I didn’t miss the chance to bring some of her books back for them which they absolutely loved.”

Meanwhile, away from her official functions on this visit Down Under, the Duchess says she will be on the lookout for potential Christmas gifts for her five grandchildren and four step-grandchildren.

“I shall be keeping my eyes peeled for new ideas on this trip as well.”

For more great stories pick up the Christmas issue of The Australian Women’s Weekly, out now.

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