Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles Release an Unexpected — But Perfectly 2021 — Christmas Card

It’s part holiday cheer and part PSA.

charles camilla
(Image credit: Getty)

It’s the most wonderful time of the year for fans of the monarchy: the time when each branch of the royal family releases its Christmas card. This week, Prince William and Kate Middleton released their card, a photo taken on a previously unannounced holiday in Jordan earlier this year of the couple with their three children, Prince George, 8, Princess Charlotte, 6, and Prince Louis, 3.  It’s casual and affectionate, and exactly what you’d expect from the modern royals.

Prince Charles’s card, however, is the complete opposite of that image. The photo released by the heir to the British throne and his wife Camilla Parker-Bowles is totally unstaged, and could only be released in 2021. 

In the image, Charles and Camilla are dressed to the nines for the Royal Ascot, a horse racing event that happens every June and is one of the see-and-be-seen events of the year for the British upper crust. The thing that makes it an iconically 2021 photo? The Prince and Duchess are both wearing masks. In fact, in the shot, neither royal is looking at the camera, and Charles is helping Camilla put on the cream polka dot mask that coordinates with her dress.

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"Clarence House are pleased to release the photograph chosen by The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall for their Christmas card this year," Clarence House said in a statement, per People

Royal Week at Ascot Racecourse has been a tradition since 1911, when royals and the British upper crust turn out for five days of horse racing at the track near Windsor Castle, which has hundreds of years of history of racing and affiliation with the royal family. In 2020, the races weren’t open to the public, but were reopened in 2021. “Ascot strongly encouraged attendees at the time to wear face coverings and masks when moving around the venue,” according to People.

In a year that has seen substantial breaks with longstanding tradition, like Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s tell-all interview with Oprah in March, a non-traditional photo choice isn’t totally unexpected. Such an unposed photo, that sends a clear message about safety concerns and Covid protocols, is a subtle way for Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, to acknowledge a changing landscape while keeping up with one of the most beloved royal traditions. 

The photo also has a lot in common with past Christmas card choices from the Prince and Duchess. While the Cambridges generally release a posed photo from a photo shoot for their card each year, Prince Charles and Camilla often go for a less-staged option. Last year’s Christmas card photo featured the couple in their garden at Birkhall, their Scottish estate. In that shot, Camilla is wearing jeans and smiling at the camera, while Charles, in khakis and an open-collar shirt, looks at his wife. 

The Prince’s 2019 card featured a photo of Charles and Camilla on a royal tour in Cuba, with Charles driving a vintage convertible MG and Camilla waving to onlookers. 

Julie Tremaine is an award-winning food and travel writer who’s road tripping — and tasting — her way across the country. Her work appears in outlets like Vulture, Travel + Leisure, CNN Travel and Glamour, and she’s the Disneyland editor for SFGate. Read her work at Travel-Sip-Repeat.com.