The royal visit: Keeping up with the Euroroyals
It's an easy life being royalty, so long as you keep your subjects entertained. As the Windsors become increasingly ordinary and suburban, we take a look at how other European royal families are keeping it interesting
Published 11/05/2015 | 02:30
A couple of weeks ago, the never comment-shy Paul Costelloe was asked what he thinks of Kate Middleton. "Kate is lovely, but she's no Princess Diana," said the Irish designer, who dressed the late Princess of Wales.
"Different backgrounds, different everything," he continued of Kate. "She's obviously very obedient and carries out the royal message. She won't be running around and hanging out with Elton John anytime soon."
That about sums up the current state of the UK royal family. Basically, they've become very safe and, strangely, terribly middle-class.
The easy and increasingly popular thing to do is to blame this on Kate and the so-called "march of the Middletons", which is said to be squeezing out the Windsors and turning William and his wife into a pair of posh suburbanites, but that's not entirely fair.
In fact, it's a bit chicken and egg. Perhaps it's not so much that Kate and the Middletons are turning the UK royals middle class, as it is the case that the upper-middle-class Middletons are now the Windsors's kind of people. Not the Elton John or Gianni Versace types that Diana befriended, and certainly not the likes of Mick Jagger and Colin Tennant, with whom Princess Margaret caroused on Mustique in the 1970s.
Really, the UK royals are ever so dull these days. If they're going to keep taking the crazy cash, then, really, isn't their duty to be a little more crazy? And instead of retreating to the 'burbs, they should take a look at some of their European counterparts for tips on how to be and not to be a modern royal of note.
Whether the Windsors like it or not, these days, royalty is showbiz. Their modern-day duty is about earning your keep by being entertaining, not about setting a good example and being seen to grow your own veg, as Queen Elizabeth did in her WWII girlhood.
If you won't have an actual job and, as with the likes of Princess Beatrice, enjoy taking a holiday about every month, then you need to give something back. And we don't mean visiting a hospital or cutting a ribbon on a community centre. We mean sensation, we mean glamour, we mean a whiff of danger.
Though Monaco is a mere principality, and therefore small potatoes on a royal scale, the Windsors could learn a thing or two from the reigning Grimaldis. And, it could be said, the two families have plenty in common.
Grace Kelly, mother of the current Prince Albert, was a bona fide movie star, not too different to Diana, who was merely an unofficial drama queen. Both were beautiful, both captivated the ordinary people, and both died tragically in car accidents.
Princess Grace's children have been quite something in the sensation stakes since her death in the 1980s, and the wealth of their principality probably helps. When eveyone's rich, who minds their royals behaving eccentrically?
Caroline, the eldest of the three Grimaldis has always been the least sensational, but everything's relative. Her first marriage, made when she was 21, ended in annulment, while her second, to Stefano Casiraghi, an Italian sportsman, ended when he was killed in a speed-boat accident. She is married to Prince Ernst of Hanover since 1999.
Caroline's three children, Charlotte, Pierre and Andrea Casiraghi are all possessed of movie-star looks, and Andrea now has an heiress bride, Tatiana Santo Domingo, said to be worth $2.2bn. Which is a bit more like it than the Middletons's party-planning business, let's face it.
The youngest Grimaldi, Stephanie, who was in the car with her mother when it crashed, has always been the most colourful. Stephanie has been twice married and divorced, first to her bodyguard, and later to an elephant trainer. She also flirted with careers in swimsuit designing and Europop, while her eldest brother and heir to the principality, Albert, never needed to worry about work.
Instead, what Albert worked on, despite his lacklustre looks, was a reputation as a playboy prince. As a younger man, he was romantically linked with the likes of Naomi Campbell, though there were always suggestions that he was gay. This rumour was "amusing" briefly, Albert once said.
His father Rainier's fear was always that Albert would never provide an heir to the principality, and the births of two children outside marriage, a daughter to an American lover, and, later, a son to a Togolese cabin stewardess, didn't help matters on that front.
Oh, but how Albert kept people talking about the Grimaldis, even up to the day of then 53-year-old prince's 2011 marriage to South African former Olympic swimmer, Charlene Wittstock, who was tipped to jilt him right up to the last minute. Last December, Charlene gave birth to twins, a girl and a boy to take up the reins of the reign. Phew for that.
The Danish royal family, it has been said, has no tendency to scandal or sensation, and, interestingly, it enjoys a huge satisfaction rate among its people. This could be something to do with the sanguine attitude the Danes have to the sex lives of others. Toe-sucking, a la Sarah Ferguson, just wouldn't bother them.
The closest the Danes came to scandal was when their Crown Prince Frederik chose to marry Australian former clerk, Mary Donaldson. Princess Mary, however, has proved the safest of safe hands, with no Aussie saltiness showing through and with even the Danes wondering if she's more deadly dull than delightfully dutiful.
Meanwhile, over in the Netherlands, King Willem-Alexander has proved a safe pair of hands since the abdication of his mother, Queen Beatrix, in 2013. He's hearty and healthy and down with the people, and has put behind him the youthful partying that saw him nicknamed Prince Pils.
His late younger brother, Friso was stripped of his right to succession when he married Mabel Wisse Smit, without the consent of the Dutch parliament. The then prime minister said that this was due to her previous relationship with a known Dutch drug dealer. Friso died in 2013 having been caught by an avalanche while skiing off piste in Austria.
Before you write off the Northern European royals as worthy but dull, however, spare a thought for little Belgium. In 2013, King Albert II, then 79, abdicated citing ill health. He had been on the throne for only a decade, most of which was overshadowed by the claims of artist Delphine Boel that she was the child of an affair between Albert and socialite Sybille de Selys Longchamps.
A year later, the former king was said to be "boycotting" public life, complaining that his allowance of almost €1m was not enough to live on.
His successor, King Philippe, has suffered only one scandal, based on a lack rather than a rush of passion. A 2012 book claimed that his marriage to Queen Mathilde is one of cash-based convenience, an arranged match, and that their four children were conceived by IVF as a consequence.
The blood runs hotter in the south of Europe, where the Spanish put everyone to shame. Last year, King Juan Carlos abdicated in favour of his son, Felipe, having reigned since the death of Franco in 1974.
In many ways, Juan Carlos was old-school, characterised by events that wouldn't be out of place in the history of a king from a bygone age. For example, as a teenager, he accidentally shot dead his younger brother, when they were playing with a gun. And, at the other end of his life, he broke his hip while in Botswana, elephant-hunting, as it was revealed later.
King Juan Carlos also enjoyed his fair share of sexual scandals, with whispers always at a dull roar about his amorous activities. He is allegedly father to a son and daughter, both born before his marriage to Princess Sofia of Greece and Denmark.
During his marriage, which endures, there was talk of numerous affairs on the island of Mallorca, where the family holidayed, and even a flirtation with Diana, Princess of Wales.
He was not in Botswana with Princess Sofia when he broke his hip, and a 2012 book called The Loneliness of the Princess, claimed that Juan Carlos had clocked up 1,500 affairs during their marriage. In recent years, the royal marriage has been said to be increasingly strained and estranged.
Money, however, rather than romance, might be the Achilles' heel of Juan Carlos's offspring. In 2012, his favourite son-in-law, Inaki Urdangarin, husband of Princess Cristina, was up on charges of embezzling funds from a charity. Juan Carlos was shown to have personally vouched for him, which didn't play well with the Spanish public, and since then, Cristina herself seems inexorably bound up in ongoing corruption charges against her former Olympic-handball-champion husband.
What didn't help either, was a series of leaked emails sent by Urdangarin, in which he mocked Letizia, wife of Cristina's brother, Felipe, and now queen of Spain.
Letizia, a divorced former newscaster, might well prove the saviour of the Spanish royals. She's beautiful, stylish and sophisticated, with a middle-class background, a reputation for driven ambition and, among other things, rumours of teenage drug abuse and a Mexican abortion in her past. Her nose job, by the way, was for a respiratory condition.
It's a balancing act being blue-blooded. You want your people to be talking about you, but you can't control what they'll say. They want you to be eccentric, but not profligate. And definitely not taking the piss. Diana, perhaps, is not the example Kate Middleton should look to if she plans to keep the royal show on the road, but Letizia of Spain might be. Keep them guessing, Kate, just might be the key.
And get William out of his geansai, for God's sake.
Sunday Indo Living