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Saturday 20 September 2014

Fixing the family's image from within

Queen Letizia is a media professional, so what better woman to give royal Spain a makeover, writes Julia Molony

Julia Molony

Published 22/06/2014 | 02:30

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Spain's new King Felipe VI and his wife Queen Letizia appear on the balcony of the Royal Palace in Madrid
Spain's new King Felipe VI and his wife Queen Letizia appear on the balcony of the Royal Palace in Madrid

IT TAKES a certain combination of hairspray, frocks, modesty and ambition to restore the ailing reputation of a family of publicly beleaguered royals. So it proved to be with Kate Middleton, who, with the help of an expert blow-dry, a diplomatic wardrobe and the guidance of a buccaneering mother, has performed an unprecedented public relations coup and singlehandedly turned the public image of the House of Windsor around. Amazing what a commoner with a bit of grit and the right connections can do.

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As the fate of Spain's royal family currently hangs in the balance, comparisons are being drawn between Kate and Spain's new 'commoner queen' Letizia, wife of Prince Felipe of Asturias, who last week ascended to the throne after the dramatic abdication of his father, King Juan Carlos.

For several years, the Spanish royal family have struggled against a damaged reputation that has left them estranged from their public. In 2012, as his country buckled under an unemployment rate of more than 25 per cent and punitive austerity measures, the king was photographed enjoying a lavish elephant-hunting jaunt in Botswana. It was a perfect storm of bad judgement and bad taste.

Two years later, the king announced his abdication from the throne. The family over which he presided was in a public state of chaos. Carlos himself, the so-called 'playboy' monarch, whose profligate lifestyle cost the Spanish taxpayer €9m a year, was dogged by rumours of repeated infidelity over the course of his marriage. It emerged that he had been accompanied on the infamous hunting trip by a German aristocrat – who, as cliche demanded, was revealed to be a beautiful blonde more than two decades his junior.

The king's personal habits were not the only scandal the family were embroiled in. His youngest daughter Cristina had been dragged into a corruption case involving her husband, Inaki Urdangarin, who brought disgrace on the royal family following his alleged involvement in an embezzlement scam. The image of the royal family as greedy and unscrupulous was firmly established in public opinion.

With the new regime comes an opportunity for a whole new image. Prince Felipe of Asturias was said to have angered his father when, 10 years ago, he chose a divorced TV broadcaster from a middle-class, republican family as his bride. The king preferred to maintain tradition and an image of propriety – he had married a Greek princess, while (rumour had it) indulging his romantic peccadilloes on the side. But as Juan's hypocrisy became harder to hide, Felipe's progressive choice has been vindicated. On Friday, Letizia Ortiz became the Queen of Spain. And who better than a glamourous and sharp-elbowed media professional to take on the role of ambassador of the new rule?

Like Kate Middleton, Princess Letizia represents a new, more progressive era for the royals. She is impeccably photogenic and has perfect poise. More than just media-friendly, she is a media professional, and will understand how to control and manage her family's image. Most importantly, like Kate Middleton, she brings two vital qualities to her new role – great hair and a spine of steel.

Sunday Independent

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