Meet Princess Sofia and Prince Carl Philip - Sweden's answer to Meghan and Harry
If there's one good thing that's come from Meghan and Harry's aversion to the press, it's the new wealth of royals to whom we can adjust our gaze.
While ‘lesser’ British royals like Lady Gabriella Windsor and Kitty Spencer are enjoying the newfound fame and attention that is a direct knock-on effect from Markle-mania, there are even more interesting personalities further afield in Europe.
Chief among them is Sweden’s Prince Carl Philip and his wife Princess Sofia, the equivalent to Meghan and Harry.
Carl Philip is fourth in line to the Swedish throne as his older sister Crown Princess Victoria will ascend the throne when her parents King Gustaf and Queen Silvia end their reign. As such, he’s been afforded different freedoms than his sister when it comes to royal duties (his younger sister Princess Madeleine even more so).
Until 2015, he was mostly known only within his country, but his wedding to Sofia Hellqvist, that year catapulted them to international prominence thanks to their blindingly attractive looks, heartwarming love story with just a sprinkle of controversy.
Sofia and Carl had been dating for six years before they married at The Royal Chapel in Stockholm Palace, having first met in 2009 at a nightclub in Bastad, Sweden and both described it as love at first sight.
"The first thing I noticed about Carl Philip was that he seemed very humble," Sofia told Swedish channel TV 4 in a joint interview after announcing their engagement in 2014. "When I got to know him, I saw that he was incredibly natural, very intelligent and very humble." She went on to call him her “best friend”.
Carl Philip returned the praise, saying: Above all, she's beautiful and has beautiful eyes," she said. "But she's also a fantastic person. She's down to earth and has a wonderful personality. There are so many good things to say about her."
"I don't think I knew the magic of love before I met Sofia," added the prince, 36. "But ever since I met her, I've seen how love can change a person."
Their modern day love story was reported around the world and suddenly there was global fascination into Sweden’s Sweethearts. Suddenly, Sofia, a former glamour model who posed topless with a boa constrictor and was named Miss Slitz [magazine] and a contestant on reality tv series Paradise Hotel was going public with her long-term romance and committing to a lifetime bound by royal duty in the name of love.
She found the criticism and interest in her life nine years ago to be suffocating as many, as critics tend to, felt she was not a suitable match as a future princess.
"It was very tough. People had comments on everything possible, on what I do and how I look," she told TV4.
"I was met with an enormous hate storm from people who had opinions about me as a person, about my relationship. I was surprised and it definitely affected me. I didn’t understand that people had such need to express how badly they felt about me. It was very tough."
Now, she no longer reads anything about herself in a bid to protect her mental health. And while some were quick to point out elements of her career they found unsavoury, her work with children well before her wedding went largely ignored.
In 2005, she lived in New York where she studied accounting and business development and work as a waitress to support herself. She then studied at Stockholm University where she studied global ethics, child and youth science, children's communication and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
After that, she established the Sofia Hellqvist Project Playground, which supports underprivileged children in South Africa.
Over the last four years, she and Carl Philip have welcomed two children - Princes Gabriel and Alexander - and she and her sister-in-law are focused on wholesome activities like hiking all 25 provinces of Sweden and spending time with her family. But her flawless fashion choices in the Instagram age have made her a social media icon among royal watchers.