how Crown Princess Mary changed Prince Frederik’s life, and shaped Denmark’s future
The evolution of Crown Prince Frederik, the playboy royal who longed to be free, to 50-year-old heir apparent and father winning Danish hearts and minds, has a lot to do with the impressive woman by his side. Juliet Rieden investigates the secret to Denmark’s power couple.
On his wedding day, a newly confident, emotional and, yes, incredibly dashing, 35-year-old Crown Prince Frederik gave a speech that surprised the world. Rarely had a royal so intimately declared his love in such a public forum and rarely with such unabashed candour about his own failures. “I had only been in Australia two days before our fates were sealed, even though neither of us was aware of it. But your radiance shone clearly for me from our very first meeting. Since then I have been blinded and totally dependent on it,” said Frederik to his new bride, Tasmanian-born Mary Donaldson, with her father looking on and his own parents Queen Margrethe II and Prince
Henrik hanging on every word.
The heir to the Danish throne went on to admit his world was “often lonely” until Mary walked into it. He said he had been craving independence and looking for freedom but with Mary now by his side he couldn’t wait to embrace “responsibility, trust and sharing”. Mary gave him “security, joy and happiness” and now all his doubts had “melted away”. Together they would be an unstoppable force and for Frederik, “A new world is born again with the light of a new day.”
You could almost hear the Danes heave a unified sigh of relief.
Frederik had bravely lifted the lid on the emptiness of his life to date and the pressures of expectation that had weighed heavily on his shoulders, but – looking like the cat that had got the cream – with Mary he had not only found an incredible love, he had seen the light and was ready to take his place in the Danish court.
Earlier, Mary had been given a sense of the burden of duty that was coming her way but looked too caught up in the fairytale to take it all in. In his
sermon during a wedding service watched by the whole Danish nation – and much of Australia – the Bishop of Copenhagen, Erik Normann Svendsen, hammered home the expectations on this shiny new couple. He said he was “pleased you have found each other”, but then added: “A royal couple does not belong solely to each other, but to all of us. We feel it and you know it. Great assignments and many obligations await you, that will continue the Danish monarchy and thereby the Danish social structure. It is of crucial importance that this is maintained and renewed at a time marked by internationalisation and globalisation.” Wow, welcome to Copenhagen, Mary!
But from what we now know of Mary, I suspect the cleric’s preaching wouldn’t have fazed her anyway. Despite Frederik’s protestations of love at first sight, their romance developed in a slow and measured way over four years. The road from advertising executive to Crown Princess wasn’t overnight but considered by both sides. Mary was definitely ready to step up, and together she and Frederik were set to take on Denmark.
Privilege and palaces
Frederik, of course, came from a world of privilege and palaces, and in his 20s his prince’s playground of fast cars, adventure sports and beautiful women raised eyebrows not just around state and royal corridors but with the Danish people.
This tiny prosperous nation on the southernmost tip of Scandinavia boasts a monarchy that is more than 1000 years old – one of the oldest in the world – and much is expected of the royal family. The Royal House is not just a hangover from an ancient world of crowns and sceptres, it is very much part of the nation’s identity, working hand in hand with government as a symbol of stability and respect. Every year the Queen’s New Year’s Eve speeches give maternal advice to her people, leading the way on issues from refugees to fiscal policy. Could Frederik really step into his mother’s shoes?
In a revealing new biography of Crown Prince Frederik, Under the Beam, released to coincide with the royal’s recent 50th birthday, author Jens Andersen spent hours talking to the Prince and those close to him. Here the story of boy to acting-out adult to revered royal is charted, and Frederik is brutally honest about his mistakes and misgivings.
He even allows Andersen to recount the infamous New Year’s Eve in 1991 when Frederik’s then-girlfriend, model Malou Aamund, was arrested and taken to the police station on a drink-driving charge. She had been behind the wheel of the Crown Prince’s car and he insisted on accompanying her to the station, where the royal was immediately recognised, igniting a media storm.
“The months after that sure wasn’t the most cool period. I wasn’t at all proud and felt that each time I drove through the country in my car, that everyone I passed could point me out,” Frederik confesses to Andersen.
The Crown Prince was definitely smarting and a little thin-skinned, but
he wasn’t far from the mark. At this time the media regularly debated the issue of Frederik’s suitability as heir, suggesting his younger brother, the more serious Prince Joachim, might do a better job.
Fast forward to 2018. Crown Prince Frederik, father of four – and following Prince Henrik’s death in February, the new patriarch of the nation – is proudly celebrating his 50th birthday, leading his people on a 50km five-city run, and the transformation is palpable. “He has changed a lot,” says Danish academic and royal commentator Lars Hovbakke SØrensen. “Before he met Mary, he was very much in doubt about his role as a crown prince. But she has taught him a lot, and therefore today he is much more ready to take over the throne, when Queen Margrethe II dies, than before.”
The Mary factor and fatherhood
Helle Bill Madsen, a journalist at Denmark’s popular weekly magazine, Her&Nu and seasoned royal watcher, agrees, saying Danes immediately warmed to Mary. It seemingly mattered not a jot that Mary was a foreigner, she had pulled Frederik out of his rebellious funk, secured a future for the monarchy as the mother of four beautiful children and, through her own work in the realms of bullying, women’s rights and mental health, had proved a role model for Danes and for Frederik.
“There is no doubt that Mary has had a very positive influence on Frederik,” says Madsen. “He has grown by her side and has gained more confidence in himself and in his role as a king-to-be. She has provided him with an heir to the throne and three other beautiful children – a grand finale with the twins! And Crown Prince Frederik has a great support and inspiration in Mary. With Mary by his side he has become more extroverted, his public speeches have improved and he is looking more confident in himself.”
One area that is key in Andersen’s biography is how ill-prepared Frederik felt to take on the mantle of heir apparent. While he loved and respected his parents, he didn’t feel they gave him enough guidance and explanation of the road ahead. It’s something
Frederik tells Andersen he has already addressed with his own children.
“When our children today ask: ‘Why do we have to do that?’, I say: ‘Now listen, in this way we are different, because, after all, we are who we are. We have a title.’ I don’t feel comfortable about saying that. In my own childhood our parents weren’t particularly good at it. They were sort of restrained, hesitant and couldn’t
really figure out how to tell us. It was a big minus. It made me insecure and, at times, shy and awkward, and later on I got beat up for that by the press, because I acted odd.”
Prince Henrik was a traditional and rather strict patriarch, and even before he met Mary, Crown Prince Frederik felt that he wanted to be different in his approach to fatherhood, while still standing by the impeccable manners his father instilled in him, which he confesses he’s a stickler for.
“My children should have a more present upbringing than the one I had had myself,” he tells Andersen, and also talks about being inspired by his brother Prince Joachim’s warm connection with his own son Nikolai, now 18, which in many ways to Frederik felt new for a royal father-son relationship.
Frederik loves spending time with his four children – eldest Prince Christian, 12, Princess Isabella, 11, and seven-year-old twins Prince Vincent and Princess Josephine – and in her speech at her husband’s 50th birthday gala dinner, Mary confessed the siblings all describe their father
“as sweet, fun, wonderful, wise, brave, helpful, cool and handsome.
“They know nothing better than being together with you. It is not a matter of what you do together, but that you are together,” she said. “You allow yourself to be carried away by our children. You easily find your inner child and your children love it when that side of you takes over.”
Mary also talked of how proud she is of Frederik’s journey. “It takes courage – and time – to find oneself,” she said. “You have done so and you continue to do so. You have trod your own path since you were a very young child, despite the fact that your course in life had been charted in many ways, and at times you encountered opposition and particular expectations along the way.
“You have always pushed the boundaries and… your passion has been your compass. You have lived by your father’s approach to life: that in the unconventional and in the surprising there is often a hidden treasure.”
Mary, too, feels she has found that treasure with her Prince. “It was during my first visit to Denmark where we had celebrated our first
New Year’s together,” she recalled during her speech. “I was sitting on the couch in your living room when you said that you should get ready for dinner… At that time, I really didn’t know so much about that part of your world. So, I didn’t give it much thought.
“You left the room, as the man I knew, and came back in full gala uniform. And if I had known Danish at the time, I would probably have thought to myself, ‘aij, hvor har jeg scoret over evne’ (wow – I’ve really scored above my league).
“It was suddenly a very different image of you that was new to me. Deeply impressive and daunting at the same time. But your eyes and your smile were the same. Gala or not.”
Mary said the secret to their success as a couple is understanding their differences as well as their similarities, and allowing each other to grow as individuals. “We have become so close by giving each other space.
And you, in particular, have supported me in finding a foothold and my way in the world that was yours and is now ours,” she said.
Whatever they are doing, it is working. In the most recent popularity survey in 2017, support for the
Danish monarchy increased from 65 per cent to 70 per cent and Crown Princess Mary was voted the country’s most popular royal.
As for what’s next for Mary and Frederik, it is still considered highly unlikely that Queen Margrethe II will be handing over her kingdom to the Crown Prince Couple any time soon, but when she does there’s no question she and Denmark feel the country will be in very safe hands.
“Frederik, I have looked forward to celebrating you on your 50th birthday,” the Queen, Frederik’s mother announced in her speech at the gala. “You are, as they say, in the middle of your life. You have achieved much and you have experienced much, and during these days you have experienced how all of Denmark supports you and takes pleasure in your work. You bring energy and enthusiasm to all that you do and it makes an impact wherever you go.” AWW
Crown Princess MARY
Growing up, Frederik felt his parents (above, in 1973, and left, in 1980) didn’t prepare him and his brother Joachim (below) adequately for royal duties. But meeting Mary (below left, at their 2003 engagement) helped him step up.
Mary (above) is revelling in her role of raising the next generation of Danish royals at Amalienborg Palace (right), and has the full support of her mother-in-law, Queen Margrethe II (above).