Belgium’s Golden Couple – King and Queen’s 50th Wedding Anniversary
Today, July 2nd, marks the fiftieth wedding anniversary of King Albert II and Queen Paola of the Belgians.
The couple met at the inauguration of Pope John XXIII in the Vatican, in 1958. Albert, then Prince of Liège, was representing the Belgian Royal Family; while Paola, a Princess Ruffo di Calabria, was a member of the Italian nobility.
When at last he returned to Belgium, Prince Albert had made up his mind to marry one of the most beautiful Princesses in Europe. Two months after their meeting, the Prince introduced his future wife to his family, and four months later to the press. Only eight months after their meeting, the couple got married. They wanted a marriage at the Vatican at first, a setting promoted by both families, but the Belgian government did not approve of that. They did not want to keep a fairy tale wedding from the people of Belgium, who finally had an opportunity for organizing celebrations for their Royals Family. The Pope, after some diplomatic pressure, refused them a marriage at the Vatican, saying he would understand if the couple would want to get married amidst their people.
So instead, the couple got married in Brussels, where thousands of Belgians had come to see their new Princess, who was a vision of beauty in a lace veil – an heirloom from Paola’s Belgian grandmother which originates from the 19th century – and with flowers in her hair. She wore a white satin dress, designed by the Neapolitan designer Concettina Buonanna. The satin for the dress was weaved especially for the new Belgian Princess. Her dress was splendid in it’s simplicity, with a train of 5 m (15 ft) and a diamond brooch in the middle of the bow on her dress as only jewel – except for her wedding ring of course. The flowers in her bouquet and hair were delicate orange blossoms. (see pic) The marriage of the Prince of Liege and Donna Paola was one of the first mediatized events in Belgium, since the introduction of TV in the country. Those who could follow the religious ceremony on screen, could see how an emotional Paola was crying while making her vows. The couple married at the St. Micheal and St. Gudule Cathedral in Brussels, after the civil ceremony in the Blue Hall at the Palace of Laeken. After the religious ceremony, the bride and groom and their guests made a tour of Brussels in twenty Cadillacs.
The day before the wedding, the Belgian royals held a garden party at the Laken Palace for 4,000 people. In the evening, there was a diner for only a select number of guests. The day of the wedding, Princess Paola herself cut the wedding cake and saw to it that every guest received a piece of it. The party itself ended around 5 pm though, and the newlyweds left on their honeymoon immediately afterwards.
However, soon after the marriage, the first cracks in the shiny surface appeared. Although the love between Albert and Paola was more than real for several years, they both suffered from the paparazzi, who had chased the glamorous Princess during the engagement, and who didn’t leave them alone during their honeymoon in Majorca. Princess Paola was often seen leaving stores through the back door, because the press would follow her everywhere. Paola was the Belgian style icon of the 1960s, but she herself would never admit to that. “I’m not a star” she would say in an interview, “I’m a woman like all other”. But between her and Queen Fabiola, she was definitely the more glamorous of the two.
Soon after the marriage, the couple was blessed with three children: Philippe (1960), Astrid (1962) and Laurent (1963). But the loneliness of the young princess weighed her down, and, to the utter annoyance of her sister-in-law Queen Fabiola, Princess Paola didn’t hide the fact that she sometimes considered her life as princess difficult and heavy. She was homesick and her leaving her beloved Italy was very difficult on her. Although the Princess enjoyed the glamorous part of her new life, she felt like the price she payed was sometimes too much. Especially her loneliness and the strict Belgian protocol were difficult to deal with. She became estranged her from her husband, who had his escape route with his motor bikes and his work. She didn’t find an ally in her sister-in-law either, who seemed to disapprove of almost everything the young Princess did. Later she would say that it was difficult to adapt to her new life. There was nobody to guide her, nobody to help her. “At that time, I really would have wanted Queen Astrid to be there”, she once said.
In the mid 1960’s, Prince Albert started leading most of the Belgian economic missions, and he traveled abroad a lot. Princess Paola at first accompanied her husband, so they both soon alienated their children. But after a while, Paola stopped accompanying her husband, reportedly because she was always so bored, and as a result they grew apart more and more. Their children suffered from the alienation between the parents, but Albert and Paola continued on their own course. While Paola spent a lot of time in Italy, Albert performed his duties, and both started having extra-marital relationships. While the couple did appear relatively happy in public – they posed as a happy family for their tenth wedding anniversary, at a time when Albert has already fathered a child with his mistress, Barones Sybille de Selys-Longchamps (which he never publicly admitted) – their love had withered and the divorce papers were ready to be signed.
But King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola strongly opposed a divorce, and so the couple remained together for many years, each living their own lives. By the time the King and Queen finally consented to a divorce, Albert and Paola had found each other again. How this miracle happened, nobody knows for sure. Was it Princess Astrid who brought her parents together again? Was it the Charismatic Movement? Or a couple’s therapy weekend? Fact is, that Albert and Paola really loved each other again by the time their daughter got married.
In 1993, tragedy struck the Belgian Royal family. King Baudouin died unexpectedly at his holiday home in Motril, and suddenly the Prince and Princess of Liege unwillingly became King and Queen of the Belgians. Both were reluctant to take on the job, even though Albert immediately said he knew it was his duty to succeed his brother. Queen Paola had gotten used to life in the shadows, and really enjoyed her new role as grandmother. Neither really wanted to change their course of life, but both accepted their new duties, and with time they have grown to love their new role in their country. The Belgians were cautious at first to admit their new King and Queen, with their turbulent past, into their hearts, but 16 years after his accession to the throne, the King and Queen have never been more popular. During their reign, they saw their forever-bachelor sons getting married, which also contributed to their family happiness.
Over the years, the Belgians could see that their King and Queen really were fond of each other, and the numerous tender pictures of the couple only contribute to that knowlegde. In 2006, the palace cooperated to create a coverage about Queen Paola, in which the people got to know an unexpected and intimate side of their unknown but deeply loved Queen. She was followed by the cameras on official duties and while talking to her friends, and during that coverage, Queen Paola gave the most candid insight in her relationship with her husband. “We had our difficulties”, she said, but “ora diciamo ch’eravamo fatto l’uno per l’altro” – now we say that we were made for each other.It is true that King Albert and Queen Paola have travelled a long way since they first met. Today, July 2, 2009, they celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, and everyone who sees them together knows that they are a much loved and loving couple. They have succeeded in overcoming their difficulties and they love each other all the more for it.
The King and Queen will celebrate today with intimate friends and family at the Palace of Laeken. Since the royal family has so many special anniversaries this year – Prince Philippe and Princess Mathilde celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary and Princess Astrid and Prince Lorenz their silver anniversary – they have decided to organize one event to celebrate everything together. The King and Queen have chosen to celebrate their 50 years of marriage along with all other couples who married on the same day as they did, exactly 50 years ago. They will also invite couples who married on the same day as their children. This event will take place on August 30, 2009, at the Laken Palace.
For anniversary wishes for the King and Queen, see here.
For pictures and articles, see this thread.
For information about the wedding, see this thread.
For film captions about the King and Queen, see here.
Tagged Albert II of Belgium, Biography, Queen Paola, Wedding Anniversary.