CHRISTOPHER WILSON tells the story of Camilla’s adored Uncle Jeremy
As she prepares for Coronation Day, it would not be surprising if Camilla did not get out her family scrapbook and reflect on the milestones which have led her to become Queen.
Of her varied and colorful life, there’ll be many mementoes, but one photo taken 71 years ago stands out.
It shows a four-year-old Camilla and her younger sister, Annabel, making their public debut, as bridesmaids at a society wedding in Mayfair.
The glamorous bride is Diana du Cane, daughter of a wealthy Hampshire landowner and designer of Donald Campbell’s record-breaking powerboat Bluebird II. The groom is Jeremy Cubitt, dashing former Guards officer and Camilla’s favorite uncle. Rich and well-connected, the couple’s happiness seemed serene and assured.
Jeremy, then 25 and the younger brother of Camilla’s mother, Rosalind Shand, was the Eton-educated son of the 3rd Baron Ashcombe, whose forbears constructed London’s poshest enclave, Belgravia. His brother, Harry, went on to inherit the family peerage and marry the daughter of former Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington.
But the family story is marked by unanswered tragedy.
The Queen Consort during the State Banquet held at Buckingham Palace in London, during the State Visit to the UK by President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, November 22, 2022.
A gifted artist and companionable man, Jeremy joined the Coldstream Guards after school before entering the family firm, while also joining the Territorials as a highly-regarded platoon commander in the 10th Parachute Brigade. But despite his glittering wedding at St Mark’s Church, North Audley Street, on January 17, 1952, there were problems with the marriage, and after the birth of a daughter, the Cubitts parted.
At about this time, Jeremy quit the family firm and volunteered to help at the Oxford and Bermondsey Boys’ Club in London’s deprived docklands – an organization which a few years earlier had encouraged a young Tommy Steele on his way to fame as a singer and entertainer. .
‘He rang us up out of the blue and offered his services,’ recalled Edwin Harlow, warden of the club. ‘He was a well-bred, wealthy young man who had not been very happy. We thought he was trying to find himself by helping others.
Jeremy abandoned his smart Chelsea flat and moved into a modest working-men’s hostel in Fair Street in the docklands area.
As well as working for the boys’ club, he volunteered for the New Bridge Association – run by anti-pornography and prison reform campaigner Lord Longford – to help discharged prisoners find personal friendships.
The peer remembered him as a ‘moving spirit in the association’, adding: ‘Nobody showed more zeal or sympathetic understanding than Jeremy, and no one was more effective at finding jobs for these unfortunate people.’ Jeremy’s duties at the boys’ club included looking after a unit of young men under the age of 18.
‘He took a great interest in cultural activities and frequently took parties hiking and camping,’ recalled Mr Harlow. ‘He was also an accomplished boxer and runner.’
In June 1957, when his niece, Camilla Shand, was nearly ten, Jeremy’s marriage was dissolved.