Book casts shadow on Spanish queen's birthday


QUEEN SOFIA of Spain marked her 70th birthday at the weekend. She had expected to enjoy the occasion with a private party for family and close friends. Instead, a dark cloud hung over the celebrations following the publication of a controversial book in which the queen is alleged to have made indiscreet comments on politicians and social events in Spain and abroad.

King Juan Carlos has often described his wife as "a professional royal", and in the 33 years since they came to the throne, Queen Sofia has never put a foot wrong or broken the royal code of silence.

She is one of the first to comfort the injured after terrorist attacks or accidents, often weeping with the bereaved, and she has frequently flown around the world to visit refugee camps after natural disasters. But she has never expressed her own opinion on anything which could be controversial.

Thus the book La Reina de Muy Cerca(The Queen Up Close) published last week by right-wing journalist Pilar Urbano has surprised and angered many people due to Queen Sofia's unexpectedly blunt views on many issues - some of which have received parliamentary approval.

The queen said she was against abortion, ­which is legal in Spain - and at a time when there is a growing demand for legalisation of euthanasia, she said she opposed this too.

In excerpts from the book she was equally outspoken on the subject of homosexuality and same-sex marriages. "I can understand and accept that there are some people with different sexual tendencies. But is it something to be proud of? Should they parade on [gay pride] floats? If all of us who aren't gay took to the streets to demonstrate, then the traffic would come to a standstill," she said, ignoring the fact that she rarely drives through traffic without a police escort clearing the way.

As for same-sex marriages, Queen Sofia is quoted as saying: "If they want to live together, dress up like brides and grooms and even get married, then they should have that right, but they should not call it matrimony - because it isn't."

Looking abroad, she was just as outspoken about President George Bush and his decision to invade Iraq and Afghanistan after September 11th. She said: "They have created a hell with no way out. I can understand they promised justice, but to put your entire country allies in a war of revenge and destruction? That I cannot understand."

The royal household has been quick to distance the queen from these controversial opinions, accusing Urbano, a member of the Catholic Opus Dei movement, of taking comments out of context, misquoting her or failing to respect "off the record" remarks made during a number of interviews. Urbano and her publishers say they e-mailed a copy of the text to the palace, which only made minor corrections on a few factual errors before approving it for publication.