TANTRUMS & TIARAS:

the rift in­side the Span­ish royal fam­ily

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

The Zarzuela Palace, an or­nate, palm-fringed pile in the hills out­side Madrid, is billed as the world’s largest royal res­i­dence, but, as things stand, it may not be large enough. Liv­ing within it are two queens at war, and the power strug­gle between them may de­ter­mine the fu­ture of Spain’s em­bat­tled monar­chy.

In a wing of the main build­ing sits the much loved 79-year-old Queen Sofía, wife of for­mer King Juan Car­los, who ab­di­cated four years ago. Re­lated by blood or mar­riage to vir­tu­ally ev­ery noble house in Europe, Sofía is de­voutly reli­gious and a staunch de­fender of tra­di­tional royal ways.

Down be­low, in a spa­cious, ter­ra­cotta-roofed villa, known as the Prince’s Pav­il­ion, lives her com­moner daugh­ter-in-law, Queen Le­tizia, 45, a vi­va­cious for­mer TV re­porter, whose hus­band, King Felipe VI, took over the throne when his father stepped down.

Le­tizia has been a di­vi­sive fig­ure al­most since she ar­rived on the royal scene 14 years ago. While many Spa­niards wel­comed her as a breath of fresh air, and ad­mired her smart, en­er­getic style, sto­ries be­gan to cir­cu­late – sup­pos­edly spread by dis­en­chanted courtiers – of her bossi­ness, ob­sti­nacy and vol­canic tem­per.

Still, there was lit­tle to sug­gest that Sofía was among Le­tizia’s de­trac­tors – un­til the feud between the pair burst spec­tac­u­larly into pub­lic view.

Af­ter an Easter Sun­day church ser­vice this year on the Mediter­ranean is­land of Ma­jorca, Sofía put her arms around her grand­daugh­ters, Princess Leonor, 12, and Princess Sofia, 11, to pose for a seem­ingly in­no­cent pho­to­graph. Le­tizia, the girls’ mother, who had been hov­er­ing close by, abruptly stepped in, block­ing the shot, and push­ing Sofía’s arm off her el­dest daugh­ter’s shoul­der. An anx­ious­look­ing King Felipe, 50, then stepped in to calm things down, while Juan Car­los looked on in as­ton­ish­ment.

A video of the episode went vi­ral, trig­ger­ing a na­tion­wide me­dia frenzy and de­mands from politi­cians and com­men­ta­tors to know what was go­ing on in­side the royal fam­ily. The an­swers have not been re­as­sur­ing.

“There are se­ri­ous ten­sions between Le­tizia and her hus­band’s fam­ily, which go back a long way and are get­ting worse,” says Paola San­doval, pres­i­dent of the For­eign Press As­so­ci­a­tion. “Although they all live to­gether in the palace, re­la­tions are very bad and Sofía does not see much of her grand­chil­dren. We can’t know ev­ery­thing, but every­one has been shocked by Le­tizia’s be­hav­iour.”

Prom­i­nent royal com­men­ta­tor

Jaime Pe­nafiel, a long-time critic of Le­tizia, goes fur­ther. “This woman doesn’t know how to con­trol her­self,” he says. “The best thing Felipe can do is di­vorce her.”

If any­thing, the cri­sis has been made worse by the royal fam­ily’s clumsy at­tempts to pre­tend there isn’t one. The two queens have been ca­joled into awk­ward shared photo-calls, and an­nounce­ments made about joint ac­tiv­i­ties they will un­der­take. At a dinner last month, Le­tizia wore a di­a­mond tiara loaned to her by

Sofía, a ges­ture por­trayed as a peace of­fer­ing. Few are fooled, and the pic­ture that is emerg­ing is of an

800-year-old dy­nasty in dan­ger of tear­ing it­self apart.

It wasn’t meant to be this way. When Juan Car­los was per­suaded to step down in June 2014, his el­dest son promised a new be­gin­ning for a monar­chy that ap­peared to have lost its way.

Of­fi­cially, Juan Car­los ab­di­cated on the grounds of ill-health but, in re­al­ity, his pres­ence on the throne had be­come an em­bar­rass­ment. A gen­er­a­tion of his sub­jects had grown up with sto­ries of the King’s high liv­ing, se­rial wom­an­is­ing and se­cret for­tunes stashed in over­seas bank ac­counts, but while the sun shone and the Span­ish econ­omy boomed, no one made too much fuss.

The eco­nomic crash of 2008 changed all that, re-en­er­gis­ing the coun­try’s anti-monar­chist move­ment, and erod­ing the tra­di­tional def­er­ence shown to the roy­als by the me­dia and politi­cians. Huge protest ral­lies around the coun­try heard an­gry calls for an end to the “old or­der”, with the monar­chy be­ing clearly iden­ti­fied as part of the prob­lem. As the royal fam­ily floun­dered around for a fix, it set­tled on the glam­orous fig­ure of Le­tizia Or­tiz.

Beau­ti­ful, clever and from rel­a­tively hum­ble roots, Le­tizia seemed to be the kind of “new face” the an­cient House of Bour­bon needed. Her father, José, was a jour­nal­ist, her mother, Paloma, a nurse, and af­ter go­ing to school in the de­pressed north­ern steel town of Oviedo, she landed a place at Com­plutense Univer­sity of Madrid, fol­lowed by a job at a TV sta­tion. When a brief 1998 mar­riage to a school­teacher ended in di­vorce, Le­tizia turned her for­mi­da­ble en­er­gies to her ca­reer, be­com­ing a star news pre­sen­ter and house­hold name. In 2002, while cov­er­ing an oil tanker dis­as­ter in north­ern Spain, she met Felipe, who had flown in to of­fer sup­port, and a dis­creet romance be­gan.

A for­mer Olympic sailor, whose pre­vi­ous girl­friends in­cluded a lin­gerie model and an Amer­i­can law stu­dent, the Crown Prince was seen as a slightly dull, du­ti­ful type, unlike his raff­ish father, who, ac­cord­ing to one well-sourced bi­og­ra­phy, had tried to se­duce Diana, Princess of Wales, dur­ing a Mediter­ranean cruise. Felipe seemed to have lit­tle in com­mon with Le­tizia, ei­ther, but the romance blos­somed and in 2004 they were mar­ried in Madrid’s main cathe­dral, with Le­tizia re­splen­dent in a flow­ing

white gown and be­jew­elled head­piece.

From the start, the new Crown Princess had her de­trac­tors. No Span­ish heir in his­tory had mar­ried a com­moner, let alone a di­vorced one, and the pow­er­ful Catholic es­tab­lish­ment didn’t con­ceal its dis­taste. One of her cousins, David Ro­ca­solano, wrote an un­flat­ter­ing book about her, and a few for­mer work col­leagues twisted the knife, por­tray­ing her as haughty and dif­fi­cult. “Le­tizia is a very smart woman,” wrote one. “She wants to be the best, the smartest, the most stylish. This is why no one can stand her.”

One per­son who ral­lied to Le­tizia’s side was Sofía. It wasn’t en­tirely easy for the Queen, given her own reli­gious lean­ings, but ac­cord­ing to Pi­lar Ur­bano, a prom­i­nent royal au­thor: “She un­der­stood the ben­e­fits Le­tizia could bring to the royal fam­ily, and, of course, she wanted the best for her son. Ide­ally, she would have pre­ferred him to marry some­one else, but she ac­cepted the sit­u­a­tion, and re­ally put her­self out to help.”

Le­tizia ap­pears to have ap­pre­ci­ated these early over­tures. In a TV in­ter­view, shortly af­ter her mar­riage, she took care to lav­ish praise on ‘La Doña’, as Sofía is known, “who has shown me so much love, and sets us all such a price­less ex­am­ple.”

The new Crown Princess, though, made it clear that she had no in­ten­tion of be­ing sim­ply a pretty face at court, and her hard-headed anal­y­sis of the royal fam­ily’s predica­ment was hard to re­fute. Af­ter en­joy­ing a long pe­riod of pop­u­lar­ity, she ar­gued, Juan Car­los and his court had come to be­lieve their own pub­lic­ity, and had lost touch with the pub­lic. They needed, she said, “to get closer to the streets”.

Le­tizia, whose first daugh­ter was born a year af­ter her mar­riage, made a point of be­ing pho­tographed in out­fits from chain­stores and buy­ing her own gro­ceries at su­per­mar­kets. Draw­ing on her jour­nal­is­tic smarts, she en­sured that in ex­change for co-op­er­a­tion with glossy mag­a­zines, the rel­a­tive sim­plic­ity of her life­style in­side the “cosy”, 14-room pav­il­ion wing of the palace was stressed.

Nearby, in her some­what grander quar­ters, Sofía stuck to cou­ture and pearls, and, say ob­servers, be­gan to won­der what was go­ing on be­neath her win­dows.

“Com­ing from out­side and un­der­stand­ing the pub­lic mood, and be­ing at that time very pop­u­lar, gave Le­tizia a lot of in­flu­ence,” says Pi­lar. “Maybe she didn’t use it as well as she could have but, to be fair, she saw that things were headed for a crunch.”

The crunch came in 2012, when a pri­vate “sa­fari” un­der­taken by Juan Car­los ended in an un­seemly farce, with the king fall­ing over a tree stump, break­ing his hip, and hav­ing to be flown home from Botswana in a pri­vate jet; it and the trip funded by a Saudi Ara­bian busi­ness­man. It quickly emerged that the king had been ac­com­pa­nied on his jun­gle jol­lies by an ex­otic Monte Carlo-based, Ger­man aris­to­crat, Princess Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgen­stein, who, for some time, had been ru­moured to be his mis­tress, and that the ad­ven­ture had cost $100,000 a head, twice the an­nual wage of the av­er­age Spa­niard.

The re­sult­ing up­roar pro­duced

“She wants to be the best, the smartest, the most stylish. That is why no one can stand her.”

both an un­prece­dented pub­lic apol­ogy from the Zarzuela Palace, and de­mands in the Span­ish par­lia­ment and me­dia for the king to step down. Two years later, he re­luc­tantly obliged.

But, as Felipe and his wife have been dis­cov­er­ing ever since, the “old or­der” hasn’t en­tirely gone away. Many courtiers re­tain a loy­alty and af­fec­tion to­wards the old king and queen, and have been out­raged by what Juan Car­los him­self sees as an at­tempt to “air­brush” him out of the new-look monar­chy largely de­vised by Le­tizia.

“He is be­ing de­lib­er­ately shunted aside and hu­mil­i­ated,” says Jaime Pe­nafiel. “Last year was the 40th an­niver­sary of Spain’s re­turn to democ­racy (af­ter the death of mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor Gen­eral Fran­cisco Franco), and he was not even in­vited to the cel­e­bra­tions. These were his­toric events he played an im­por­tant part in, and they didn’t want him to be there.”

What­ever the com­pli­ca­tions of her 56-year mar­riage, Sofía, too, re­mains fiercely loyal to her hus­band. But her feud with Le­tizia goes be­yond protocol. An­other is­sue, say sources, is Sofía’s be­lief that she is be­ing kept away from her grand­daugh­ters.

Ear­lier this year, the re­spected Span­ish news­pa­per El Pais gave a poignant ac­count of Sofía’s sense of hurt. While once the old queen would reg­u­larly spend af­ter­noons with Leonor and Sofía, it claimed, she is now told that her vis­its are “not con­ve­nient for the girls’ sched­ules”. By con­trast, Le­tizia’s mother is often at the pav­il­ion, and rou­tinely looks af­ter the young princesses when the royal cou­ple are away. Ac­cord­ing to the news­pa­per, Felipe has tried to in­ter­vene on Sofía’s be­half, but is re­luc­tant to go against his wife’s wishes.

“In the palace,” says El Pais, “the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of re­la­tions between the two fam­i­lies is ev­i­dent. There are now two re­al­i­ties – the smil­ing faces the pub­lic sees in pho­to­graphs, and the do­mes­tic sit­u­a­tion.”

At Easter, those two re­al­i­ties painfully col­lided. “It all came out,” says Pi­lar. “The poor queen feels she doesn’t have enough access to her grand­chil­dren and wants a photo, and Le­tizia goes nuts.”

The fall­ing out between the two queens could scarcely have come at a worse time. Felipe’s at­tempts to re­store re­spectabil­ity have been tor­pe­doed by a series of em­bar­rass­ing scan­dals, in­clud­ing the jail­ing of his brother-in-law, the 50-year-old Duke of Palma, on tax evasion and mon­ey­laun­der­ing charges. At the same time, the king has been strug­gling to present him­self as a fig­ure of na­tional unity af­ter Cat­alo­nia, Spain’s rich­est province, voted for in­de­pen­dence.

As pun­dits are glee­fully point­ing out, this isn’t so easy when your own fam­ily is at war. In a bid to lighten the mood, a Span­ish cloth­ing firm has be­gun pro­duc­ing a line of “Team Sofía” or “Team Le­tizia” T-shirts, al­low­ing wear­ers to show which of the queens they sup­port.

Sales fig­ures show that 90 per cent of buy­ers are back­ing Sofía. Which may lighten the mood in only one part of the palace.

CLOCK­WISE FROM ABOVE: The main wing of the Zarzuela Palace; Le­tizia and Felipe’s 2012 wed­ding; Le­tizia in her role as a TV news­reader. OP­PO­SITE: Felipe’s 2014 corona­tion.

ABOVE: Eyeing the com­pe­ti­tion – Le­tizia and Sofía in 2012, when Juan Car­los was still on the throne. BE­LOW: At the ill-fated Easter mass, when ten­sions bolied over.

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