Prince Charles's companion Camilla Parker Bowles yesterday used her first public speech to tell of her mother's agonising death from the crippling bone disease osteoporosis.
Parker Bowles, 54, who is president of the National Osteoporosis Society, told a meeting in Lisbon, Portugal, of the final days of her mother Rosalind Shand, who died aged 72 in 1994. Her father, Major Bruce Shand, co-wrote the speech.
'We watched in horror as she quite literally shrank before our eyes,' said Parker Bowles. 'She lost about eight inches in height and became so bent that she was unable to digest her food properly, leaving her with no appetite at all. The quality of her life became so dismal and her suffering so unbearable that she just gave up the fight and lost the will to live.'
Parker Bowles's address to the conference, organised by the International Osteoporosis Foundation, signalled a further step towards defining her as a public figure in her own right.
Last week it was reported that the Prince of Wales is to pay for two bodyguards to accompany her at all times. It was also claimed that he instructed a senior aide to travel with his companion on her Portugal trip, and that all the arrangements were made through his office.
Parker Bowles, whose grandmother Sonia, 88, also died from the condition, told the conference that if more NHS money were spent on early diagnosis, it could prevent 'the suffering of my mother and grandmother and thousands of people worldwide.'
One in three women over 50 in the United Kingdom suffer from the disease.
She went on: 'As a result of my mother's death, I became determined to find some way of helping people with osteoporosis from experiencing the same fate and general disregard that she encountered.'
Parker Bowles became president of the NOS last November, having been a patron since 1997.