Dutch royals search for role as gossip-obsessed media circles new prey

Queen Beatrix steps down today as son becomes King Willem-Alexander

Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands arrives at the Royal Palace in Amsterdam yesterday. Today will mark the abdication of Queen Beatrix and the investiture of her eldest son Willem-Alexander. Photograph: Reuters/Dylan Martinez

Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands arrives at the Royal Palace in Amsterdam yesterday. Today will mark the abdication of Queen Beatrix and the investiture of her eldest son Willem-Alexander. Photograph: Reuters/Dylan Martinez

 

It was no accident of timing when, just a fortnight before today’s investiture of Crown Prince Willem-Alexander as king of the Netherlands, the gossip magazine Nieuwe Revu published unauthorised photographs of his eldest daughter, the new heir to the throne, nine-year-old Princess Amalia.

The state information service has already begun legal action over the pictures, which it said were “an unacceptable invasion of privacy”. But the message inherent in their publication was clear: the media code established in 2005 to allow Amalia and her sisters, Alexia and Ariane, to live as normal a life as possible is frayed and nearing an end.

Despite ritual disapproval, the magazine featuring the photographs – including one of Amalia playing hockey and a cover shot with the heading “Amalia’s Secrets” – sold like hot cakes. That prompted Nieuwe Revu to go the whole hog and declare that it would no longer abide by the privacy agreement which it suddenly found “does not fit in with a modern democracy”.

Two similar magazines, Privé and Story , immediately jumped on the bandwagon, with the editor of the latter, Matthieu Slee, saying: “Willem-Alexander earns a personal income of €825,000 a year in taxpayers’ money apart from his private wealth, and can give up his job any time. Would you not give up some of your privacy for that money?”


Stinging riposte
That brought a stinging riposte from journalist Antoin Peeters, who has covered the royals for many years. “ Nieuwe Revu is trying to challenge the media code off the back of a nine-year-old girl. I think that is pretty shocking. If you want to do this, take a ‘banned’ photo of an adult, like Princess Maxima in a swimming costume, and then justify it – if you can.”

And therein, of course, lies the rub. Fond as the Dutch are of the departing Queen Beatrix, who abdicates today after 33 years on the throne, at 75 she has only limited gossip potential.

On the other hand, Willem-Alexander’s Argentinian investment banker wife, Maxima, who becomes queen today, generates endless “glamour” interest, and their three daughters – known by their parents as “the Triple As” – still have their teenage years ahead of them, packed with “red-top” potential. In that context, some detected (perhaps wrongly) just a hint of menace when the editor-in-chief of Nieuwe Revu , Erik Noomen, grudgingly acknowledged that the pictures of Amalia might not have been the ground on which to make a point of principle.

Instead, he added, they should perhaps have used “the series of photographs of Prince Maurits (10th in line to the throne) at Jimmy Woo’s nightclub having fun with an unknown woman . . . or Maxima stuffing her face with meatballs at no-star restaurant Ikea”.

It was crude, but the point was made: you may not like us now, but if the gloves come off your lives really will be hell.


Purely ceremonial
Civility apart, it’s a timely debate. It’s just over a year since parliament itself marked the imminent change of generations and quietly stripped the monarchy of its last remaining political power, the entitlement to become actively involved in the formation of coalition governments, which Queen Beatrix invariably did. So, from today, as king and queen, Willem-Alexander and Maxima’s official functions will be purely ceremonial.

At the same time, a report earlier this year by a Belgian academic, Herman Matthijs, suggested the Dutch royals might have overtaken their British counterparts as the most expensive in Europe, costing more than €39 million a year.

Allowing a day of monarchist euphoria in Dam Square today, it won’t be long in this climate of austerity before the inevitable question arises again: is this family simply an outrageously expensive anachronism . . . or is it a centuries-old tradition worth maintaining for ceremonial occasions? This morning, the answer is predictable: a NOS poll says 78 per cent of Dutch people want to keep the monarchy, their highest approval rating since 2008.

Queen Beatrix said farewell to her people in a TV address last night and then presided over a glittering dinner in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam for fellow royals, heads of state, diplomats and friends attending today’s ceremony.

Few will begrudge her a comfortable retirement after a year in which her second son, Prince Friso, was left on life-support after being caught in an avalanche, and Maxima’s parents were barred from today’s ceremony, as they were from her wedding in 2002 because of her father’s role in the Argentinian military junta of the 1970s.

Her mind today though is likely to be on what lies ahead for King Willem-Alexander and his family. The new king promised recently that he will not be a “protocol fetishist” and will not ask to be called “Your Majesty”. That’s a start. But it will not be enough to make him relevant.