DUNROYALIN'; Why Does Camilla Need Her Own Home (at a Cost to You of [Pounds Sterling]1.8m) When She Has Three Royal Houses? Answer: Nowno Longer the Mistress,she Needs a Place to Escape Charles - and Those Royal Duties

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Byline: GEOFFREY LEVY;RICHARD KAY

THE question, you may feel, is an entirely fair one: what kind of marriage is it where, although the husband has three grand houses to offer his new wife, she insists not only on keeping her old home, but often actually sleeping in it? We are used to the eccentricities of the aristocracy, and the single-mindedness of royalty, but the Duchess of Cornwall's insistence on retaining Raymill House as her personal 'bolt-hole' inevitably raises intriguing questions.

The expense involved is straightforward enough, if exasperating to an already overtaxed public.

Because it belongs to the Prince of Wales's wife, the Georgian house at Laycock, Wiltshire, which Camilla acquired for [pounds sterling]850,000 after her 1995 divorce from Brigadier Andrew Parker Bowles, has to be protected like any other royal residence.

So far the security bill to the taxpayer is running at nearly [pounds sterling]2 million, mainly for state-of-the-art surveillance equipment and a lodge the size of a four-bedroom bungalow which is being built for the police.

In addition, there is a costly burden on the Wiltshire police, who have to foot a bill of several hundred thousand pounds a year for day-today policing of the house - with special patrols when Camilla is 'in residence'.

These figures make nonsense of the claim by Prince Charles's private secretary Sir Michael Peat that Camilla cost the country a paltry [pounds sterling]2,000 in her first year as a royal duchess.

But why should Raymill cost us anything? A mere 17 miles from the farmhouse, just over the border in Gloucestershire, is Charles's Highgrove estate, with six bedrooms and four sitting rooms, set in charming gardens and 350 farmed acres.

When Princess Diana was in the depths of her marital misery, she always referred bitterly to Highgrove as 'another woman's house' - meaning that it was already Camilla's.

How ironic - indeed, how bizarre - coming so close to what would have been Charles and Diana's Silver Wedding anniversary today, that 15 months after Camilla became the official mistress of Highgrove at last, the appalling price of maintaining her old home as a royal perk has been disclosed.

Apart from Highgrove, Camilla is also the mistress of Clarence House just along the road from Buckingham Palace, as well as the Scottish retreat of Birkhall on Royal Deeside - both of which used to belong to the Queen Mother, whose treasured place in the nation's heart the Duchess is thought to be trying to fill.

And yet when Mrs Parker Bowles agreed to marry Charles she made it a condition of formalising their relationship that on no account was her own home to be sacrificed.

But why, when, at a stroke, she suddenly had so many other places to lay her head? The given wisdom that she 'likes to spend time' at Raymill explains little. It is, in fact, a gross oversimplification of a complicated situation that is based on the central theme that being the Prince of Wales's mistress is one thing, but being married to him is quite another.

It must be stated - and stated strongly - that there are no serious problems with the marriage.

But, as their friends point out, these are two people who were both very set in their ways when they married.

What is more, marriage was not something that either of them thought was important, even though Camilla was anxious for a mechanism to be found to formalise her position.

Early in 2004, Charles's office asked his former private secretary Sir Stephen Lamport to chair a small committee of courtiers. Their brief was to look into the issues surrounding the Prince's succession to the throne.

Sir Stephen's team came back with only one real problem: Mrs Parker Bowles.

They felt that although the Queen was in excellent health, it was foolish not to plan for the unexpected possibility of Charles suddenly finding himself on the throne with a woman at his side who was not his wife, but the King's mistress. …