The Restless Royals of Europe

Barry Came May 22 2000

The Restless Royals of Europe

Barry Came May 22 2000
Inevitably, they called it the “Love Boat,” no matter how improbable the label for an aging Norwegian naval ship. But it was not the vessel itself that prompted the sobriquet. Rather, it was the passenger list, a glittering ensemble of titled European aristocrats, all young, most single. Crown Prince Felipe of Spain was onboard along with his sister, Cristina. Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden was there, as were Crown Princes Haakon of Norway, Frederik of Denmark, Pavlos of Greece and Willem-Alexander of The Netherlands. For six days in June, 1997, the young princes and princesses, 15 in all, partied as they cruised the Norwegian fjords—part of the celebrations marking the 60th birthdays of Norway s Queen Sonja and King Harald V “The purpose,” Queen Sonja coyly remarked at the time, “was to allow the young members of Europe’s royal families to get to know each other.”

There may well have been a glimmer of budding royal romance in Sonja's eye as she delivered the comment. But three years have elapsed since the Love Boat wandered those moonlit fjords. And few of Europe’s royal families, at least among the 10 who still have thrones to call their own, are any closer to solving the riddle that plagues them all. “The problem is the lack of suitable consorts,” says Harold Brooks-Baker, publisher of Burke's Peerage, the authoritative guide to the British aristocracy. “Most of Europe’s monarchs are getting on in years. The question of succession is looming ever larger. And they all want to avoid marital disasters of the kind that threatened to undermine the British royal house.”

None of continental Europe’s royal families have yet endured scandals of the scale suffered by Britain’s House of Windsor, except perhaps for the House of Grimaldi, the troubled ruling family of the tiny Mediterranean principality of Monaco. But most have wrestled with the delicate task of finding mates for the next generation of Europe’s kings and queens. There is no dearth of candidates. By most counts, there are at least 25 princesses of marriageable age currently haunting European ballrooms, polo grounds and yacht clubs. Trouble is, none seems able to strike a spark among any of the Continent’s eminently eligible collection of royal bachelors. “The princess market is rather limited,” as Prince Felipe once flippantly—and famously—remarked.

The case of Felipe—full name Felipe de Bourbon, Prince of the Asturias, heir to the throne now occupied by Spain’s King Juan Carlos— is typical. At 32, he is arguably the biggest catch of all in Europe’s shrinking royal pond. Not only is he tall, lean and darkly handsome, but he is also destined to succeed to the most politically powerful monarchy on the Continent. His education includes a toughening stint at Ontario’s Lakefield College and a master’s in international relations at Washington’s prestigious Georgetown University. He can pilot a jet fighter and handle a blue-water racing yacht, well enough to serve as a member of the Spanish sailing team at the 1992 Olympics.

Most royal families have wrestled with the task of finding mates for the next generation of kings and queens

Felipe’s girlfriends, however, have always posed something of a headache for his parents. When he was 23, his mother, Queen Sophia, intervened to break up a long-standing relationship with Isabel Sartorious, a wealthy Spanish aristocrat whose twice-married mother had allegedly once smuggled drugs for the well-heeled jet-set crowd. While studying at Georgetown, Felipe formed a liaison with Gigi Howard, an American model. In Washington, the couple regularly dined with Felipe’s cousin, Pavlos of Greece, also a Georgetown student, and Pavlos’ future wife, American heiress Marie Chantal Miller (the Greek royal family lives in exile). But the relationship ended as the result of a murky scandal. Since then, Felipe has become far more reticent about his love life. There was a brief dalliance with Princess Tatiana of Liechtenstein, sister of Hereditary Prince Alois and daughter of the ruler, Prince Hans-Adam II. Both of Felipe’s sisters are married, significantly, to non-royals. Cristina wed Olympic handball player Iñaki Urdangarin, Elena Spanish aristocrat Jaime de Marichalar. Both are young mothers. But Felipe has remained at home, living quietly with his father and mother at Madrid’s Zarzuela Palace.

The story is similar elsewhere within the tight confines of European royalty. Crown Prince Willem-Alexander of The Netherlands, 33, may be as large a prize as Felipe—and even richer. His mother, Queen Beatrix, is Europe’s wealthiest reigning monarch, with a fortune recently estimated by Forbes magazine to be worth more than $7.5 billion. But like Felipe, Prince Willem has demonstrated a taste in female acquaintances that has not always pleased Beatrix. Yolande Adriaansens, a commoner he met at university, was dumped when she moved to New York City and rumors circulated that she supplemented her income working a telephone sex line. A relationship with stunning blond model Frederique van de Waal came undone as a result of an underwear advertising campaign Beatrix found unsuitable. Gin heiress Barbara Boomsma displeased the queen with her extrovert ways. Emily Bremers, daughter of an orthodontist, won favor at the court for a time but eventually she, too, was sidelined.

Few of the young royals have escaped the pressures of being heirs to a centuries-old tradition

Politics intervened to threaten Willem’s latest liaison, with 29-year-old Maxima Zorreguieta, a wealthy Argentine who lives and works in New York. When the young woman began to show up last year on Willem’s arm, Holland’s normally circumspect media launched a campaign to find out more about the woman. It was not long before they discovered that Zorreguieta’s father had served as agriculture minister in the military government of Gen. Jorge Videla during Argentina’s “dirty war”—when thousands of government opponents were executed by the regime. “That could have sealed Maxima’s fate,” recalls Dutch television journalist Jean Mentens, who helped uncover the young woman’s background. “It would be politically difficult in this country to have a future queen, the possible mother of a future king, with her father’s credentials. But my guess is that the House of Orange will find a way around the problem, maybe by having Maxima publicly dissociate herself from her father’s links with the Argentine military. Who knows, Willem might even end up marrying the girl.”

Further north, the high-spirited Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark, 31, has also experienced frequent troubles. Known for a time in the country as the “Turbo Prince,” he has been repeatedly stopped for speeding and once crashed his car in France. He provoked a storm of criticism one New Year’s Eve several years ago when a car driven by then-girlfriend Marie-Louise Aamund was pulled over by police for speeding. Both the prince and his companion took a Breathalyzer test and were found to be in excess of the alcohol limit. Even worse, Aamund, who is divorced, had no driving license.

Unlike many of Europe’s other royal houses, the Danish ruling family is liberal on matters of marriageable partners. Frederik’s younger brother Joachim, 30, wed Alexandra Manley in 1995. A Hong Kong-born Briton with part-Chinese ethnic roots, Manley, now Princess Alexandra, is the first person of Asian extraction to marry into one of Europe’s royal families. Last month, Denmark’s chain-smoking Queen Magrethe proudly displayed Joachim and Alexandras eight-month-old Prince Nikolai, during the monarch’s 60th birthday celebrations. In keeping with his adventurer reputation, Frederik was not present for the occasion, an illustrious affair attended by 1,200 of Europe’s tided aristocrats. He marked his mother’s birthday in Greenland, where he was participating in a 3,500km dogsled trek across Denmark’s arctic island along with five other members of an elite Danish naval unit.

Of all Europe’s royal bachelors, the one regarded as least likely to marry was Crown Prince Philippe of Belgium, often referred to as “the solitary prince.” But last year, Philippe, then 39, surprised most Belgians with the news that, in private at least, his life has not been all that lonely. For the previous three years, he had been quietly courting Mathilde d’Udekem d’Acoz, a 26-year-old speech therapist. Last December, the couple married in a lush ceremony attended by seven monarchs, eight crown princes and a host of other European nobility.

Few of Europe’s young royals have managed to escape the pressures of serving as heirs to a centuries-old monarchal tradition in a modern age of intense publicity. Recently, Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden, currently a student a Yale University, was officially described as suffering from an “eating disorder,” in all likelihood anorexia. Princess Martha Louise of Norway, elder sister of Crown Prince Haakon, was accused of having an adulterous affair with British horseman Philip Morris. In 1995, her father, King Harald, spared her the embarrassment of giving evidence in a divorce case in a British courtroom by invoking diplomatic immunity. Prince Albert, heir to Monaco’s throne, remains unmarried, the result perhaps of the tangled marital relationships of both of his sisters, Caroline and Stephanie.

At 43, Princess Caroline is on her third marriage. Her first ended in divorce, her second when husband Stefano Casiraghi was killed in a boating accident. Current spouse, Prince Ernst of Hanover, has been tagged “the fighting prince” as a result of his penchant for physically assaulting pestering paparazzi. Younger sister Princess Stephanie, 35, has had an even more turbulent love life. After highly publicized affairs with the sons of actors Jean Paul Belmondo and Alain Delon, Stephanie finally married her former bodyguard, Daniel Ducruet, in 1995. But that marriage came to a spectacular end just over a year later when Ducruet was caught by a photographer in a poolside snuggle with Muriel Houteman, once proud holder of the title of Miss Topless Belgium. Europe’s new royal generation may well be a cossetted lot, enjoying all the privileges that immense wealth and high rank confer. But those benefits carry a price, sometimes steep. And many young princes and princesses do not always find it easy to pay.