Up until a few years ago, few in Spain had heard of Alfonso Díez Carabantes. But by Wednesday, his name was splashed all over the international media. The commoner, who until last week worked as a public employee, was catapulted to star status when he married one of the richest and most famous women in the Iberian Peninsula.
What was meant to be a quiet Seville wedding turned out to be a very public event when Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart, 85, better known as the Duchess of Alba, finally tied the knot with her consort of the last three years. It was a blissful day for Díez, 60, and the eccentric duchess.
The wedding bells that at last rang for the couple came with a price. The duchess had to settle family scores with her sons - especially the youngest, Cayetano - who were suspicious from the start that Díez's attraction to their mother was nothing more than a gold-digger's interest. This past summer, the duchess put paid to a brewing family feud when she summoned all of them to her lawyer's office in Madrid. There, she gave them each their living inheritance, partitioning the Casa de Alba fortune, and asking Díez, the son of a military officer, to sign a prenuptial agreement to renounce claims to any noble titles, if she dies before him, that have been passed down through the centuries in the affluent family.
Since he first met her some 30 years ago, Díez had always been infatuated with the duchess, according to those who know him well. They say that he ranked her among the top three women he had always admired the most (Elizabeth Taylor and Ava Gardner are the other two).
"She has always done what she has wanted to do," he would often explain when asked why he idolized Cayetana. When he first met the duchess, she was married to her second husband, Jesús Aguirre, who was a close friend of Díez's brother Pedro, known as "Pedrusco." During one visit to the Liria Palace - her famous Madrid haven filled with paintings by old masters including Goya, Rubens and Velázquez, as well as documents written by Christopher Columbus and other heirlooms - Díez met a radiantly dressed Cayetana who appeared friendly but distant.
From that day on, Díez became fascinated with the woman 25 years his senior. Half of her was flesh and bone, and the other half was a mythical celebrity, who still regularly appears on the front pages of gossip magazines.
They would go their separate ways, neither of them ever thinking that their paths would one day cross again, and much less believing that they would eventually marry.
As the woman with the most aristocratic titles on the face of the earth, Cayetana would spend the next few decades bouncing from one of her palatial homes to another, with summer stops in Ibiza. She would also tend to her five sons and daughter - suffering along with them as their personal and professional lives took rocky turns.
A frequent fixture at Seville and other Andalusian fairs and parties, Cayetana was never shy about performing in the middle of the street an impromptu Sevillian dance - fan in hand, of course. She still often attends bullfights to see her favorite Curro Romero or her much beloved Fran Rivera, the devilishly debonair former husband to her daughter Eugenia.
On the other hand, as a dedicated civil servant, Díez had a very normal, routine life. He never arrived at the Social Security agency (INSS) any later than 7.30am to begin his day and, right up to last Friday when he retired, was earning 1,500 a month as chief manager for training and social action in the human resources department. In other words, while Cayetana was meeting royalty or attending cocktail parties and bullfights, Díez was going over the lists of INSS employees who required in-house training to learn new computer skills.
Breakfast in the INSS cafeteria nourished Díez with a much-needed interlude from his daily chores. There, he would read Abc or La Razón, and often expound his conservative views, like a good Popular Party (PP) supporter. Co-workers remember him as a very friendly, attentive man who would often greet women with a kiss. His vice was the cinema, and it was there that his life would change.
One afternoon at one of the movie houses near Madrid's Plaza de España he ran into one of his three muses. The Duchess of Alba had gone to see a movie and, for old time's sake, he asked her out on a date. She accepted. Soon, word hit the gossip press about this "strange friendship," and the Alba household was turned upside down. The sons, especially Cayetano, were upset about their mother's new romance with a civil servant ? especially since Cayetana was in poor health and often in a wheelchair.
Cayetana grew equally agitated with her children: "As if they know better than I do," she would say. The romance eventually nurtured her. She no longer needed a wheelchair and was soon seen jet-setting with her new boyfriend. The battle, along with speculation as to whether the duchess would marry for a third time, played out in the press for years. She took the family fight one peg higher by asking her distant cousin, King Juan Carlos, for his blessing to marry.
In the end, the 85-year-old Cayetana, the woman with more titles than the Queen of England and "who has done what she has set out to do," married her beloved 60-year-old commoner.