Some reading while we wait from London's Times:
The Sunday Times October 30, 2005
Pregnant princess casts spell on Spain
Matthew Campbell and Graham Keeley, Barcelona
THEY call it the “Letizia effect” and it has brought smiles to the faces of the Spanish royal family. Letizia Ortiz, the pregnant wife of Crown Prince Felipe, is credited with single-handedly reviving the appeal of royal Spain.
Opinion polls show that the Spanish royal family has reached a summit of popularity and experts put it down to Letizia bringing, in the words of one observer, a “welcome breath of fresh air” into the palace in Madrid.
“Letizia is reaching saint-like status,” said a European diplomat in Madrid. “It is quite a change from the early days.”
Her detractors before the marriage were conservatives objecting to her status as a divorced television journalist who had had several boyfriends.
After meeting the prince at a dinner party in 2002, she saw him again on a beach while filming a report about an oil spillage from a tanker. After a few more romantic encounters she became the target of such intense public scrutiny that even the bed she had slept in on honeymoon with her first husband was paraded on television.
The negative comments have now ceased and last week, by contrast, Spain was obsessed with the sex of Letizia’s child and what name would be chosen. Newspapers were filled with pictures of the princess and internet websites were singing her praises and debating whether Felipe should attend the birth.
Such “Letizia mania” was akin to the craze among Norwegians for their eight months-pregnant Crown Princess Mette-Marit. Norway had been divided in 2000 when Crown Prince Haakon, the country’s next ruler, announced his engagement to Mette-Marit, a single mother who had had a child with a convicted drug user. Today, however, she can do no wrong.
Letizia, meanwhile, has nudged Spain along the road to the more modern royal family that it apparently wanted. A year ago polls found that more than half of Spaniards considered the royal family “out of date”. Before the wedding of Letizia and Felipe in May last year, most said they had little or no interest in the nuptials.
That has all changed and two-thirds of Spaniards see Letizia, the daughter of a nurse, as the most important factor boosting the popularity of the Spanish Bourbons.
The royal family was exiled under General Francisco Franco. But King Juan Carlos, who was installed on the throne after the death of the military dictator in 1975, is credited with having played a crucial role in the consolidation of Spanish democracy. The focus these days is on Letizia.
“Letizia has somewhat overshadowed the king recently,” said one diplomat.
“She is increasingly the figurehead for the new era.”
An overwhelming majority of Spaniards think it “positive” that Letizia has worked in the real world and enjoyed a professional career. A similarly impressive majority (94%) considered her “an authentic model for our age”, while 82% of those questioned thought she would make a good queen.
She certainly looks the part. Since their wedding, Letizia has accompanied Felipe on visits to America, Mexico, a number of South American countries, Jordan and the Czech Republic.
After an erratic start in which there were complaints that she had occasionally stood on Felipe’s right side — a breach of protocol — she has mastered royal etiquette and dutifully learnt to ski and to sail, favourite Spanish royal hobbies.
The baby is due this week and almost the entire country held its breath recently when Letizia was rushed to hospital after experiencing what she believed were contractions. It was a false alarm and she was sent home after an examination.
Focus on what will be Juan Carlos’s seventh grandchild is so intense that there is even a political aspect under discussion. Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the Socialist prime minister, had promised a constitutional reform to “modernise” the rules of the succession. These state that male heirs have precedence but Zapatero, an ardent campaigner for sexual equality, wants “parity” and argues that male and female royal heirs should have the same rights.
The reform process is exceedingly complex, even though there appear to be scarcely any objections. Consequently, Zapatero is in no hurry and there is talk of addressing the issue in 2008.
Which leaves the problem of whether, should Letizia have a girl, the reform should apply retroactively to her first-born. That question can keep Spaniards chatting for hours.