How 2019 became the breakout year for royals around the world
2019 was a year of wall-to-wall royal coverage, extending further afield than the well-established Brits. From scandals to social media obsessions, Caitlin McBride reflects on a unique 12 months building more interest in crown politics than ever before
Everyone is on a first-name basis with the British royals.
Kate, Meghan, William and Harry have been leading the next generation of the monarchy with alluring aplomb for years now. Charles and Camilla, a steady pair of hands, are the more low-key versions reflective of their age and well-versed in the trappings of damaging media coverage of their personal lives.
But interest in royals has extended well beyond the UK, in particular over the last 12 months. Since Meghan Markle transitioned from television actress to Duchess of Sussex, fascination has been growing into the inner workings of life behind palace gates: what royals wear, their relationships, their scandals, and finding out what makes them tick.
At first, the Sussexes actively courted the publicity and when the tide began to turn, they pulled back and adopted a more practical and private strategy for long-term survival. But appetites had already been satiated: the Duchess of Cambridge has embraced a more public role, embracing more patronages, and allowing a little more access to her children Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis.
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Despite their birthright, William and Harry both play supporting roles in the public’s point of view: the gaze is firmly fixed on the women of the family.
And so, royal watchers are looking further afield to get their fix: Spain’s Queen Letizia has a famously busy schedule, with appearances on a near-daily basis allowing the continuance of the royal-watch news cycle. She travels the world with her husband King Felipe, acting as ambassadors for Spain, and her flawless style has made her a must-follow across traditional and new media.
Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar fawn at her fashionable feet, touting her influence as something to rival Kate Middleton, long considered the best dressed royal in the world. Fan accounts documenting her style are increasing regularly, and blogs diligently analyse her every appearance.
Earlier this year, Letizia joined the duchess in Windsor, alongside other senior royals from around Europe for an Order of the Garter service. At the same event, The Netherlands’ Queen Máxima wore a blush pink cape dress by Claes Iversen, a Dutch designer and Fabienne Delvigne fascinator, just days after her first state visit to Dublin alongside King Willem-Alexander.
Women who have married into the royal family have all faced the same conundrum: they are all exceptionally accomplished independent of their marriage and sacrifice their lives as they know it for love - and the crown.
Máxima’s accomplishments are as impressive as they are plentiful: she holds an economics degree from Universidad Católica Argentina in Buenos Aires, and had been working as vice president of institutional sales for HSBC’s Latin American branch in New York when she met her husband King Willem-Alexander at a party in Seville in 1999.
In 2009, she was appointed the UN Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development (UNSGSA), she became the honorary chair of the Money Wise Platform in 2010, she’s a member of the Committee for Enterprise and Finance, in 2011, she became honorary patron of the G20's Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion and she’s a Global Agenda Trustee for the World Economic Forum’s Global Challenge Initiative on the Future of the Global Financial System.
The real-life fairytale narrative infiltrating palaces around the world is enough to keep the public continually captivated.
Similarly, Denmark’s Crown Princess Mary was an advertising executive who met her husband in 2000 at the Sydney Olympics in her native Australia. Within two years, she was living in Denmark and nearly fluent in the language.
During his 50th birthday celebrations in 2018, she thanked her husband of 16 years for his commitment to romance.
"It takes courage to dare, but without daring we lose what could have been. I am so happy that you swept me off my feet and that we dared to fall for each other, not for a moment, but for life," she said at his 50th birthday celebrations last year.
In Sweden, King Gustaf (who visited Ireland with his wife Queen Silivia in May) has slimmed down the royal family, a tactic which Prince Charles is said to be keen to replicate when he eventually ascends the throne. Crown Princess Victoria takes her duties seriously as next in line to the Swedish throne, even saying in the past that she missed milestones for her children because her responsibilities as princess takes precedent.
Her husband Prince Daniel is a former personal trainer and plays the dutiful husband to perfection and is often content to play a supporting role to his wife. He is as skilled an ambassador as she is, her rock during royal tours abroad, including trips to Tokyo, Iceland and Denmark representing her country. Her sister-in-law Princess Sofia, who has been married to Prince Carl Philip for four years, is a former model and reality tv contestant who stays in the headlines for simply being gorgeous.
The Swedish royals in particular have mastered the fine art of being transparent about public life without complaining. In September, Sofia reflected on being maligned as an unfit royal bride due to her past career, which included posing topless in a men’s magazine.
"It was a huge hate storm against me as a person when we got together. It becomes a scar in the soul," she said. "It has been difficult to handle in that you feel alone. But I had a great supporter by my side, and a very confident family that made me feel very much loved."
Meanwhile, in Norway, Princess Märtha Louise, fourth in line to the throne, moved to California, announced her relationship with a shaman and was forced to withdraw her title publicly as she was accused of using her name for commercial gain.
“The discussions are something I have taken seriously, and in collaboration with my family we have found that it is best that we make some changes,” she said.
All the while, the British royals, often thought to be the centrepiece of global fascination, have been battling a barrage of bad press, namely involving Queen Elizabeth’s son Prince Andrew, his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein and forced early retirement.
Months after his daughter Princess Eugenie married long-time love Jack Brooksbank and weeks after Princess Beatrice announced her engagement to boyfriend of one year Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi , it’s back at the drawing board for the royal court.
The Queen and co still reign supreme in terms of reach, but there’s a lot to be said for Europe’s extensive - and impressive - list of royals.