Childhood and young adulthood
Camilla Rosemary Shand was born at King's College Hospital, London, on 17 July 1947.[fn 2] She grew up in The Laines – an 18th-century country house in Plumpton, East Sussex – and a three-storey house in South Kensington, her family's second home. Her parents were British Army officer turned businessman Major Bruce Shand (1917–2006) and his wife, Rosalind (née Cubitt; 1921–1994). She has a younger sister, Annabel Elliot, and had a younger brother, Mark Shand (1951–2014). Her maternal great-grandmother, Alice Keppel, was a mistress of King Edward VII from 1898 to 1910. On 1 November 1947, Camilla was baptised at Firle Church, East Sussex. Camilla's mother worked for an adoption agency, while her father had various business interests after retiring from the army. He was most notably a partner in Block, Grey and Block, a firm of wine merchants in South Audley Street, Mayfair, later joining Ellis, Son and Vidler of Hastings and London.
During her childhood years, Camilla became an avid reader due to the influence of her father, who read to her frequently. She grew up with dogs and cats, and, at a young age, learnt how to ride a pony by joining Pony Club camps. According to her, childhood "was perfect in every way". Biographer Gyles Brandreth describes her background and childhood:
Camilla is often described as having had an "Enid Blyton sort of Childhood". In fact, it was much grander than that. Camilla, as a little girl, may have had some personality traits of George, the tomboy girl among the Famous Five, but Enid Blyton’s children were essentially middle-class children and The Shands, without question, belonged to the upper class. The Shands had position and they had help—help in the house, help in the garden, help with children. They were gentry. They opened their garden for the local Conservative Party Association summer fête. Enough said.
At the age of five, Camilla was sent to Dumbrells, a co-educational school in Ditchling village. She left Dumbrells aged ten to attend Queen's Gate School in Queen's Gate, South Kensington. Her classmates at Queen's Gate knew her as "Milla"; her fellow pupils included the singer Twinkle, who described her as a girl of "inner strength" exuding "magnetism and confidence". One of the teachers at the school was the writer Penelope Fitzgerald, who taught French and remembered Camilla as "bright and lively". Camilla left Queen's Gate with one O-level in 1964; her parents did not make her stay long enough for A-levels. At the age of sixteen, she travelled abroad to attend the Mon Fertile finishing school in Tolochenaz, Switzerland. After completing her course in Switzerland, she made her own decision and travelled to France to learn French and French literature at the University of London Institute in Paris for six months.
On 25 March 1965, Camilla was a debutante in London, one of 311 that year. After moving from home, she shared a small flat in Kensington with her friend Jane Wyndham, niece of decorator Nancy Lancaster. She later moved into a larger flat in Belgravia, which she shared with her landlady Lady Moyra Campbell, the daughter of the Duke of Abercorn, and later with Virginia Carington, daughter of the politician Lord Carrington. Virginia was married to Camilla's uncle Henry Cubitt from 1973 until 1979 (and in 2005 she would become a special aide to Camilla and Prince Charles). Camilla worked as a secretary for a variety of firms in the West End and was later employed as a receptionist by the decorating firm Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler in Mayfair. In her spare time, she became a passionate horse-rider and frequently attended equestrian activities. She also had a passion for painting, which eventually led to her private tutoring with an artist, although most of her work "ended up in the bin". Other interests were fishing, horticulture and gardening.