Queen Susan of the Albanians
Queen Susan of the Albanians, who has died in Tirana aged 63, was the level-headed Australian wife of King Leka I, claimant to the Albanian throne.
It is unusual, though not unknown, for middle-class girls to marry into the fading respectability of dispossessed monarchs. But when in 1975 the petite Susan Cullen-Ward married Leka, son of King Zog I, she became consort to a 6ft 9in tall, six-gun-toting giant who has never shaken off the aura of his country's bandit culture.
Leka was born at Tirana just before the Second World War and left with his family two days later when Mussolini invaded Albania. After his father's death in 1961, he was crowned in Paris, from which he was expelled because of the ill-effects he was having on French relations with Albania's Communist regime; he was once arrested on suspicion of arms smuggling in Thailand. In the course of his restless travels, he met Susan Cullen-Ward at a dinner party in Sydney.
They discovered that they both had claims of royal lineage; she was descended from King Edward I and he was a ninth cousin once removed of Queen Elizabeth II. When later she was on holiday in London, a courtier suggested that she visit the King in Madrid.
Leka's mother, Queen Geraldine, realised that the couple's friendship was turning into love, and proceeded to groom the Australian girl as her royal successor. This involved teaching her to speak Albanian and steeping her in the history and customs of the country.
Leka and Susan were married in a civil ceremony at Biarritz, then held a reception at a five-star Toledo roadhouse, which was attended by members of other exiled royal families, loyal Albanians and Spanish friends. An Anglican clergyman flew from Australia to give the couple a blessing. Queen Elizabeth II sent a telegram of congratulations. Queen Susan looked suitably regal in a 200-year-old gold embroidered Royal Albanian shawl and the guests cried "Long live the King".
A grazier's daughter, Susan Cullen-Ward was born at Waverly, a suburb of Sydney, on January 28 1941 (Australia Day). She was brought up on a New South Wales sheep station, where she remembered practising to curtsey to Her Majesty The Queen before a royal visit, but also being taken with the achievements of Colonel Harry Llewellyn and his showjumper Foxhunter, which won a gold medal at the 1952 Olympics.
Young Sue went to the Presbyterian Ladies' College at Orange, then Sydney Technical College, before teaching art at a private studio and contracting a brief marriage.
After returning with her husband to Spain, she told the press at the reception, "I don't feel like a queen. I feel a happy bride. Nothing has changed except I have the responsibility of helping His Majesty back on to the throne of his country."
The couple returned to Madrid, where they were befriended by King Juan Carlos and continued to enjoy the attentions of Albanians while awaiting what they knew must be the fall of Communism. But when it was discovered that Leka not only retained some Thai bodyguards but had what was described as an arms cache in their home, the Spanish government asked him to leave.
That Leka had some reason for his fears was proved when he arrived at Gabon to find his plane surrounded by local troops, who were said to have been hired to capture him by the Albanian government; he saw them off by appearing at the plane's door with a bazooka in his hand. The couple went on to Rhodesia. But after Mugabe took power they settled in a large compound at Johannesburg, where they were given diplomatic status by the apartheid regime.
There were always questions about how Leka lived. Such good friends as the Shah of Persia, President Richard Nixon (a distant cousin) and the CIA are thought to have helped.
The royal couple enjoyed a close personal relationship. They both had a keen liking for smoking. He affectionately called her "Roo", and showed some signs of allowing her to check some of his more outlandish instincts. For more than a decade she tried to lead as ordinary a life as her roles of housewife, mother and queen permitted.
Out shopping, she often called herself Mrs Smith or Mrs Jones because shop assistants were so bamboozled by her title that they would ask "Queen? That's a funny name, Mrs Susan." When her son, also called Leka, was born, her hospital room was declared part of Albania for an hour. The boy used another name at school, though she once heard him tell a friend: "You can't say that to me, because I'm a prince." Entering the room, she said: "Well, I am queen, so I outrank you. Bend over."
But as Communism looked increasingly shaky in Eastern Europe, she felt lonely with Leka so frequently away; and she was always delighted to receive visits from old Australian friends, replete with gossip. Her relationship with the dominion's government proved a problem when she wanted a passport.
The Australian authorities declined to recognise her as a queen, and eventually, after a friend had a word with the Foreign Minister Andrew Peacock, the document described her as "Susan Cullen-Ward, known as Queen Susan". There was also trouble when her son, aged four, had wanted to visit a dying grandfather whom he had never met. He was asked to sign an undertaking not to address any dissident groups.
By the time it was clear that Leka's dream of returning to his country was to be fulfilled, she showed signs of preferring the simple life, saying she had no desire to live in a castle and was sometimes tempted to laugh when grown men, in their confusion, had curtseyed to her.
But she duly went to Albania where a referendum was held on his offer to become king in 1997; it was lost. But he was invited to return by 74 members of parliament in 2002; and it is thought that the royalist party could join a government after next year's general election, thanks to proportional representation.
After her death on Saturday, Queen Sue lay in state at the royal palace outside Tirana. Hundreds paid their last respects before she was buried yesterday in a grave next to her mother-in-law and bridge