Camilla’s lookalike sister who is the Queen’s ‘rock’: They squabbled as girls, but Annabel Elliot became a moral support and sanctuary in the toughest years. Now, she’s starred in a hit Boxing Day documentary, writes ROBERT HARDMAN

Camilla, just 18 years old, is pictured at a society dance in 1965,
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When Buckingham Palace staff gather to explore the pressing issues facing the monarchy in 2024, I doubt public indifference will be on the list.

The most-watched television event of 2023 was, by a country mile, the King's Coronation, and the most-watched program during the holiday season was its Christmas broadcast (just as it was the highest-rated TV event this time last year).

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Perhaps more remarkable were the viewing figures for the following day, as Boxing Day is always a more open field. But once again it was the King who topped the charts. The BBC1 documentary Charles III: The Coronation Year was by far the most watched show on one of the biggest television days of the year.

The King and Queen were of course the stars of the program, which followed behind the scenes the preparations for the coronation, the events of that day and royal life since then. (I should declare my interest, as I was part of the small Oxford Films team that made the film.)

But as many reviewers and commentators have noted, this film also underscored a truth appreciated by families everywhere, royal or otherwise: the importance of sisters. If any 'best supporting' kudos have to be handed out after the documentary, it goes to the Princess Royal and Annabel Elliot, Queen Camilla's younger sister.

Camilla, just 18 years old, is pictured at a society dance in 1965,

Annabel Elliot, Camilla's sister

Annabel Elliot, Camilla's sister

Camilla, just 18 years old, is pictured at a society dance in 1965, while her younger sister Annabel is pictured on the right

Queen Camilla and her sister Annabel Elliott watch Andy Murray in action at Wimbledon in 2015

Queen Camilla and her sister Annabel Elliott watch Andy Murray in action at Wimbledon in 2015

Queen Camilla and her sister Annabel Elliott watch Andy Murray in action at Wimbledon in 2015

Camilla and her sister Annabel leave a concert together at Spencer House in London in 1998

Camilla and her sister Annabel leave a concert together at Spencer House in London in 1998

Camilla and her sister Annabel leave a concert together at Spencer House in London in 1998

The British public has long valued and admired Princess Anne as a tireless, loyal, tenacious harbinger of common sense within royal circles. We saw it during the Queen's final years and we saw it during the new reign.

It's a priceless scene in this week's documentary when she greets the newly crowned king, just before entering the palace balcony, with: “Hello, old bean!” Her older brother roars with laughter and kisses her hand.

Less known (or not known at all), however, is the role of the other sister within the Court.

If we can say that Queen Camilla has a best friend and ally, it is surely the 18 months younger sibling with whom she has experienced the happiest and saddest periods of her life – from the brickbats and the intrusion after the end of her first life. marriage until her coronation in Westminster Abbey.

Certainly, there is no one else who could say with unquestionable authority about the relationship between the King and Queen, “She is his rock, and I can't really stress that enough… You know, they are yin and yang. , Real. They are actually opposites of each other, but I think it works excellently.'

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What is equally clear is that the queen also has her own 'stone'.

One of the most moving moments in the entire ninety-minute film is when the king and queen leave for the abbey on the morning of the coronation.

1703834373 424 Camillas lookalike sister who is the Queens rock They squabbled

1703834373 424 Camillas lookalike sister who is the Queens rock They squabbled

Camilla and her younger sister Annabel are depicted as young children. They were born 18 months apart

Camilla (L), four years old, and Annabel, two years old, are pictured dressed as bridesmaids in 1952

Camilla (L), four years old, and Annabel, two years old, are pictured dressed as bridesmaids in 1952

Camilla (L), four years old, and Annabel, two years old, are pictured dressed as bridesmaids in 1952

Director Ashley Gething and cinematographer Chris Openshaw capture Annabel Elliot, in her official role as Queen's Companion, with handkerchief in hand, waving to her big sister.

“I thought back to… watching the Queen's coronation on a little black and white television,” she later recalls, welling up in memories of both 1953 and 2023. “And there goes this golden carriage with my sister in it. . I can't explain the feeling because it's so surreal and this can't happen. It was quite a moment.'

In retrospect we know that May 6 was a great success. However, there was plenty to worry about at the time, not least the safety, the precise timing, the potential protests and the gloomy weather – all unfolding in front of a global television audience.

“When I went into the abbey, I think I had that nervousness the whole time,” says Annabel, echoing the same protective instincts she's always had for sweet Camilla. 'She's a lot smaller than me. I feel like, 'Is she okay?' '

It's a feeling that goes back to a childhood in Sussex, which both women have described as 'perfect'. They had a very close, loving family. Their father, Major Bruce Shand, was a much-decorated war hero (he twice won the Military Cross) and made a career in the wine business.

Their mother, Rosalind, devoted herself to family life and charity work. After the birth of Camilla in 1947 and Annabel in 1949, brother Mark was born in 1951.

The two girls had all the usual rivalries and scrapes. In a documentary to mark the then Duchess of Cornwall's 75th birthday, Annabel revealed she still had not forgiven her older sister for burying her beloved cuddly toy, Tiddy Bar, in a bed of roses.

Yet they always supported each other because they went to the same schools, participated in the same pony club events and later went to the same parties. They married within a year of each other and had children at the same time (three in Annabel's case), regularly holidaying together in a family group.

King Charles and Camilla are pictured on the day of their coronation at Buckingham Palace.  The Queen's sister, Annabel, is depicted to the right of Camilla

King Charles and Camilla are pictured on the day of their coronation at Buckingham Palace.  The Queen's sister, Annabel, is depicted to the right of Camilla

King Charles and Camilla are pictured on the day of their coronation at Buckingham Palace. The Queen's sister, Annabel, is depicted to the right of Camilla

When Camilla's first marriage, to Brigadier General Andrew Parker Bowles, ended shortly before that of the then Prince and Princess of Wales, Annabel provided both moral support and refuge. Looking for a break from the incessant media coverage, the future queen and her sister disappeared together to Venice to paint and collect their thoughts.

(Both share an artistic streak, which has guided Annabel through a successful career as a leading interior designer.) When the time finally came for the Prince of Wales to appear in public alongside the “non-negotiable” woman in his life, it was a milestone Annabel's 50th birthday party at The Ritz in 1999.

In the years before their wedding in Windsor in 2005, when the prince and the then Mrs Parker Bowles spent Christmas apart, she would go to Annabel and her husband Simon's home in Dorset. The two sisters are said to be 'rocks' for each other following the deaths of their mother in 1994, their father in 2006 and, tragically, their younger brother Mark, following an accident in 2014.

So when Queen Camilla came to choose the two companions to support and accompany her during the coronation, it was no surprise when she chose Annabel, along with her lifelong friend, the Marchioness of Lansdowne.

But what viewers of this week's film may not have known is that Annabel had to endure great personal sadness during the intense run-up to the ceremony. Simon, the highly respected source of wise advice and good humor to keep calm and carry on, died in March after a long illness at the age of 82.

It meant Annabel arranged the funeral of her husband of more than fifty years, while at the same time preparing for the big occasion at the abbey. In the best family traditions of perseverance, she did just that, as sisters – and 'rocks' – always do.

“She's someone who is completely loyal,” says Annabel when asked to sum up her sister, “and she's not someone who has big highs and lows.” I dare say that if we had asked Queen Camilla the same question, the answer would have been identical.

Charles III: The Coronation Year is available on BBC iPlayer. Charles III. New king. New Court. Robert Hardman's The Inside Story will be published by Macmillan next month

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