As a faithful reader of Hola magazine for more than thirty years I have been following the ups and downs of the Spanish Royal family, and these last years they have certainly faced more “downs” than “ups”, but even so I was not prepared for the scene in Mallorca Cathedral on Easter Sunday.
A bizarre episode
As the Royal family – King Felipe, his wife Queen Letizia, their two daughters and emeritus King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia – were coming out of Mallorca Cathedral after Easter mass, and posing for some photos for the media, Queen Sofia lovingly – as any grandmother would – put her arms around her granddaughters shoulders and pulled them close for a photo of the three. What would have been an absolutely normal happening in a family outing suddenly turned into a bizarre episode, with Queen Letizia nervously moving from one side to the other in front of the photographers, seemingly to stop them from taking photos, and her eldest daughter Princess Leonor, heiress to the throne, rudely – very rudely, actually – disentangling herself from her grandmother’s arm; Queen Sofia persisted in the gesture and Princess Leonor ostensibly pushed her away for a second time and freed herself to join her mother. In the video – taken by some bystander – we can see the astonished look of King Juan Carlos, and how King Felipe tries to remonstrate with his wife – but it was too late. The video soon became viral in the social media and the carefully rehearsed smiles on the faces of all the characters involved when posing at the Cathedral’s door a few minutes later deceived no one.
Monarchy vs Republic
I cannot say I am for a monarchic system. Portugal is a republic and for all its flaws I believe we should elect our heads of state, not inherit them. Even so, I admit some monarchs do a terrific job in representing their people while serving as a uniting figure, someone to look up to. The number one example for me is of course that of Queen Elizabeth II, who has served her country impeccably for her whole life, for better and for worse. She has always been flawless, above scandal and with a regal poise, something that unfortunately cannot be said about some of the members of her family. If there is a monarchy, with all the privilege it entails for the members of royal families, I believe they need to be “a little better than the rest”, in order to deserve them. They have to really serve their country and their people, sharing good moments and bad ones, embracing causes and being truly engaged. Somehow they should be a little less “human” than the rest of us, closer to perfection, so that their privileges may be justified in the eyes of their subjects. If they act as if they were “common mortals” they will lose their “aura” of head figures, and then we simply will not need them anymore. We want to see them glamorous and well dressed but also implicated, empathic, authentic.
They should unite their people rather than divide them, and unity is something Spain badly needs these days with Catalonia’s bid for independence.
A tense queen
Only it’s not happening. While King Felipe tries hard to erase the too vivid memories of his father’s scandals in the last years of his reign and most of the Spanish think he’s doing a good job, the same cannot be said of his wife, perfectionist Queen Letizia. If her non aristocratic origins (her grandfather was a taxi driver) and the fact that she was divorced made it hard for Spanish nobility to accept her, the people in general, who at first liked the fact that a commoner had achieved the fairy tale – marry a prince, and a handsome one at that – have been turning away from her. In addition to her obsession with perfection which has led to some plastic surgeries that have changed her face, and the hard physical exercise discipline she certainly keeps to maintain her muscular body, she has cultivated a distant, almost arrogant look that inevitably makes us think she is performing a role that bores her to death. She is always impeccably attired – to the extent that some media refer to her as an it girl – but she has never passionately embraced a cause even if she sponsors quite a few. She is as cold as marble, with a studied smile in her impassive face, always making us feel she is very tense, as if portraying a role she’s not comfortable in. She gives the impression that she wants to keep the privileges while doing the minimum demanded if her in order to keep them. And nothing more.
When you compare her with other commoner Queens such as Maxima of the Netherlands who clearly enjoys her role; the quietly empathic and dignified Mathilde of Belgium and Princess Mary of Denmark of the engaging smile, only to mention a few, you’ll see what I mean.
There have also been rumours that she was driving her husband away from his family. He had to put some distance between himself and his beloved sister Cristina because of the Noos scandal her husband is implicated in; but it is said he rarely visits his mother or sees his other sister Elena. She keeps her daughters- the princesses of Spain- almost hidden from public scrutiny, but also, it seems, from their paternal side of the family, and never was this more clear than on Easter Sunday when she would not allow them to be photographed with their grandmother Queen Sofia, to whom it seems she should be very grateful for all her help when she arrived at the palace, a journalist with absolutely no notion of protocol or what it meant to be part of a royal family.
A dignified lady
In the end I was very sad when I saw the images. Again Queen Sofia bravely tried to smile in the face of disaster – and hasn’t the poor lady done this all her life regarding her husband’s indiscretions? – But by now no one will be fooled. An image is worth more than one thousand words, they say, and these images are too strong to be ignored. They show an unfortunate attitude – and it would be so from any woman regarding her mother in law and grandmother to her daughters, let alone from a reigning queen. Even with so many fake smiles following that day, there is no fooling the people, who have not received her well in her last outings, shouting their support for Queen Sofia, as has been happening in the social media, where it has been written over and over: “Queen Sofia will always be my Queen”.
No wonder. Maybe Queen Letizia is not being well advised, or rather she is not following the advice of courtiers around her who would like to keep monarchy in Spain. For if she continues down this road, I’m afraid there will be no throne left for her daughter, who in the preparation for her future role should certainly be taught that what she did on Easter Sunday is no way to treat your grandmother – much less in public and even much less if you are a princess and your grandmother a Queen.