Dutch prince who gave up right to the throne to marry the woman he loved

Johan Friso of Orange-Nassau – Born: September 25th, 1968; died: August 12th, 2013

Johan Friso, son of Queen Beatrix, and Mabel Wisse Smit on the balcony of the Noordeinde Palace at their wedding in The Hague, April 24th, 2004. Photograph: Reuters

Johan Friso, son of Queen Beatrix, and Mabel Wisse Smit on the balcony of the Noordeinde Palace at their wedding in The Hague, April 24th, 2004. Photograph: Reuters


Prince Friso of Orange-Nassau, who has died aged 44, gave up his position in line to the Dutch throne after becoming entangled in a scandal involving his bride-to-be. His death occurred 18 months after a skiing accident that left him gravely injured.

Prince Friso was struck by an avalanche while skiing off-trail in Lech, Austria, in February 2012, and was buried until rescuers pulled him from the snow, unconscious, 20 minutes later. He was resuscitated and flown to a hospital, but remained in a coma for months.

As a young man Friso, the second of the former Queen Beatrix’s three sons, had been dubbed “Prince Brilliant”. He studied at Berkeley, the Technical University of Delft and Rotterdam’s Erasmus University, graduating with degrees in engineering and economics. He later earned an MBA at France’s prestigious Insead school of business.

But the central event of his life as a royal came when he gave up his claim to the throne in order to marry Dutch woman Mabel Wisse Smit, in a wedding not sanctioned by the government. The pair became engaged in 2003. Ms Wisse Smit worked for George Soros’s Open Society Institute and was seen by the queen as an ideal daughter-in-law.

Secret history
But during her vetting to join the royal house, she and the prince decided not to disclose the full extent of a friendship she had had while she was a college student. The friend in question was drug baron Klaas Bruinsma, who later became one of the country’s most infamous criminals and was eventually murdered in a gangland killing.

Ms Wisse Smit denied ever having had any romantic involvement with Bruinsma, but as details about their relationship emerged in the press, then prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende said it was clear the pair had held back information, and he would not propose the law needed for parliament to approve Ms Wisse Smit’s entry to the royal house. The couple acknowledged being “naive and incomplete” in what they told Mr Balkenende. They decided to marry without seeking parliamentary approval.

The decision meant Prince Friso would be cut from the royal house and line of succession, though he and his wife were still considered members of the royal family, bearing the honorific titles of Prince and Princess of Orange-Nassau.

After the affair – dubbed “Mablegate” in the Dutch press since it was the “cover-up” rather than the initial relationship that did most of the damage – the prince seemed relieved at the certainty that he would never be called upon to assume the throne. “I am planning to remain available for my mother or brother if it’s needed, for supporting roles,” he said.

After his studies, Prince Friso worked in consulting and later became a vice-president at Goldman Sachs in London. At the time of his accident he was working as chief financial officer of uranium enrichment company Urenco.

Although he did not have an image as a risk-taker, the skiing accident – off piste despite avalanche warnings – did not stand totally alone. He was also once stopped while driving at 120mph. One of his most sympathetic moments in the public eye came shortly after the death of his father, Prince Claus: it fell to him to escort his mother at the funeral ceremony. He supported her in a long, stately walk to her seat as she leaned on his arm, deep in grief.

Gay icon
In a lighter vein, the prince was considered very handsome as a young man, but was not known to have had any girlfriends. The Dutch gay community became convinced he was homosexual. He turned a blind eye in amusement as Friso-themed parties became a nightlife fixture. But after mainstream publications began speculating as to whether he might come out of the closet, he had the Royal Information Service put out a one-line statement in 2001: “Johan Friso is not homosexual, but heterosexual.”

He is survived by his wife, Princess Mabel, and two daughters, Luana and Zaria.