As you know, your wish is my command
A quarter century the stand-ins for queen Beatrix and almost forty years together. Princess Margriet and Pieter van Vollenhoven will tell about their work, their sons and their marriage.
' The drinking of tea laid an enormous foundation.'
Princess Margriet and Pieter van Vollenhoven celebrated their own party this year. Already for 25 years they are the two official substitutes of queen Beatrix, and above all is the couple almost forty years together. In house the Loo, slightly behind the palace in Apeldoorn, the two are lookign back on the harvest of last year.
Pieter van Vollenhoven (66) - ' I am a fighter ' - became high teacher (professor?) risk management to the university twente and President of the research Council for security. Princess Margriet (62) - ' I am a laatbloeier (late blossomer?)' - received, after eight years as a President of the highest governing body of the international red cross, a new international function. And their two youngest sons, prince Pieter-Christiaan and prince Floris, got married - ' we have been sold off ', said Van Vollenhoven.
Just like their older brothers and the cousins in The Hague the princes chose for commoners. With that in mind, we have to think back of the entry of the first citizen to the court, in 1967. That seemed to be a small revolution. Van Vollenhoven: I haven't made it easy for myself. I also have not realised that it would become this complicated.
Where their sons met and explored their love for their later partners, the friendship between Pieter and Margriet was only tolerated, at best. Two years long, on the sunday afternoons, between four and six, they drank a cup tea on an approved address. Pieter: Just imagine, the chaperonne sat downstairs! We spoke for two hours. If we that hadn't been able to drink tea together, I am not sure if we would have made it in our marriage. I hadn't been educated at home in intensive talking. I learned to communicate because of it. The people around us wanted to gain time and thought: it end (the relationship) automatically.
Margriet: According to the English proverb: Absence makes the heart grow fonder. If you forbid something, you are actually stimulating it.
Pieter: Govermental permission for a possible marriage was very uncertain. Having the historical precedents in mind, it did not speak for itself that the gouverment would aprove.
Margriet: It was already certain that my youngest sister would choose a another path (of life) because of her visual handicap and no parliamentary authorisation would be asked for her marriage. Then were there still three. Irene married without authorisation law. I thought: I don't want to put my parents through that again (JM: another marriage of one of their daughter without permission from parliament). You agreed on that, didn't you?
Pieter: Absolutely. There was in that time someone who told me: if you really love that woman, then you put everything on one card, no matter what the outcome will be.
Margriet: 'I hope that card would be the 'harten-aas' (JM: highest card in the game, I do not know what the translation is)?' Pieter: Yes! You must take dangers in life. I could have come unmarried from this battle. My parents actually thought: this will pass away.
Margriet: I have thought always instinctively that my mother knew that this was for real. My father was away much during those days, and he hadn't spoken about the matter.
Pieter: I didn't only make it myself difficult by loving you, but also because, later on, I didn't want to be involved in functions which are not suitable for your position. A member of the royal house with a job, that was not to be realised in practice then as easily as it seems to be now. Also later on, during my fight for an independent study of the truth (JM: in for example the counsil of public safety), that was sensitive because when you do not agree with ministers you have to be carefull, and bear the ministerial responsibility in mind.
Also, I started an old hobby again, playing the piano. They really had to get used to that. It made it complicated for others to take me seriously in my function as chairman of 'victim-help'.
Could you determine your own social career as a princess?
Margriet: The women of my generation did not plan their lives this way. We were not particular carreer focussed. That was something which came a bit later on. Girlfriends said at a moment: what will you do when your children leave the house? But I had so much more to do then I ever held possible, even before I realised it!
I have, in fact, just 'rolled' into my international function. I was always active in the red cross, nationally and internationally. Somebody asked in 1995, if I wanted to put myself in as a candidate for the Standing Commission. An election, on personal title, by 180 states and national associations. That meant a risk, because the Standing Commission wasn't very well known. It was not clear what their work really was. After my election we have locked ourself up, with the new governing board: what do we want tochange, what are our priorities and how will we organise that? Thanks to my husband I have learned: you must be clear in what you want, you have to communicate transparently and clearly.
I am a co-incidental 'laatbloeier' (late-blossomer). TI really worked very hard in those eight years! My secretaries were located in Genève, but I could do much from here. So I had to learn how to type, e-mail, etc. I never even touched a computer before! These days I represent the Dutch red cross in the federation governing board, the coordinating organisation of the red cross - and red half Moon-associasions.
' What did you reach with the Red Cross?'
Margriet: The new emblem, red crystal, is finally agreed upon. We worked very hard for that these eight years. Imagine there would be a war on Cyprus, then the medical troops of one party and of the other party will have the red cross AND the red half moon. If both organisations would have the red crystal, aid will become neutral again! A new emblem is more and more necessary, because there are conflicts with an ethnic or religious background more frequently.
Do you, see matters on which the Red Cross should focus more?'
Margriet: Very high on our international federation agenda is the fight against AIDS. Furthermore we want to be better prepared for calamities. Emergency aid has do with being prepared for predictable calamities.
Mr Van Vollenhoven, you occupy yourself with calamities and accidents in an organized country. In the beginning of this year, under your presidency, the research Council for security has been installed.
Pieter: The Council has been installed indeed - after 22 years of struggling for it- in thepresence of the queen and the prime-minister. The independent research has been anchored legally now. We are no longer dependent on incidental research commissions.
The interviews continues with some technical things on his work in the commission.
If your husband comes home after a row with a minister, will you stand on the breaks or will you urge him to proceed and keep a straight back?
Margriet: Ha, ha! We talked about it at times, it was always clear to me with what my husband busied himself.
Pieter: I did not have the inclination to talk continously about every disagreement at home. But those conflicts were of course complicated for my wife. The question is: what would I expect from my wife if I do tell her everything?
Margriet: I must say that my husbands opponant always made a distinction between my husbands work and our private life.
Queen Beatrix have thanked you both during Queensday in Scheveningen for your aid, the previous quarter century. Margriet: We have especially supported her from the moment that my brother-in-law, prince Claus became ill. That happened more often then we could predict on beforehand. Our work is ambiguous. In the first place there are the things that we do on behalf of the queen, or for which we are asked. Moreover there are the things that we do on account of our own interest.
Pieter: ' you were involved in the health care from the beginning.' Margriet: That wasn't really a concious choise. I did things that I had to take over from my sister Irene. She already had accepted some functions, before she lost the membership of the royal house. I got those functions suddenly on my plate.
Do you talk sometimes to prince Constantijn and princess Laurentien concerning your position, which is similar?
Margriet: ' yes, we are available for advice.' Pieter: But we don't want to be intruisive. You know, I like the word independance. Margriet: ' but we do exchange experiences. Pieter: ' absolutely, there no secrets' .
Margriet: ' and the youth mutually exchanges much of experiences as well.'
Have you have been able to inform your sons well, concerning the consequences of being a member of the royal family?
Margriet: What has been very important for us is that they were really convinced that they married the right person. But we also told them that married life is not only a romantic pink cloud. We hadd to remind them of that quite some times.
If they came home with girlfriends we said: be aware of what you are starting with. Be aware of what you are doing to that other person. Even when you will lose your membership of the Royal House, you will always be a member of the family, which will cause media interest.
Pieter: You must be really in love with each other. Not that that that feeling remains eternal, but there must be a very firm foundation, nevertheless.
Margriet: You must be each other's best friend. I have that feeling with our children though.
Margriet: We now have a more intensive relationship with the children, but less frequently. It goes more in the depth, you have another kind of conversations with each other. Now they are building a career of their own, they are like our sparring partners.