Why Queen Sofía is not for retiring

Unlike her husband, the 76-year-old has maintained a public role since her son became king

Queen Sofía (left) with her sister Irene in the Toledo hills.
Queen Sofía (left) with her sister Irene in the Toledo hills.GTRES

Just under a year ago, Queen Sofía was present at the birth of an Iberian lynx at the Doñana National Park. Last week, now retired, the mother of King Felipe attended a largely private event in the hills of Toledo to release the cub into the wild. There have been many changes at La Zarzuela royal residence since Felipe ascended the Spanish throne last year, and many of them have affected his mother. But unlike her husband, the 76-year-old has maintained a role in public life, albeit a more discreet one.

Sources suggest her relationship with Felipe has been strained by his decision to isolate his sister Cristina

While Queen Letizia has now taken over the areas of culture, education, international cooperation and health from Sofía, the latter has held on to a number of projects close to her heart, including a youth center that bears her name set up under the auspices of the Foundation for Help against Drug Addiction (FAD); another to help people suffering from Alzheimer’s; a privately run Madrid music conservatory; and several other environmental and wildlife protection projects. Similarly, while Queen Letizia is now the public face of the monarchy, Sofía sometimes attends the same events in a semi-private role, or appears a few days later.

Sofía seems to have adapted to her new role without problems, and continues to play a role in public life, supporting her son. Juan Carlos has hardly been seen since he stood down in favor of Felipe in June of last year. But sources close to the royal household suggest her relationship with Felipe has been strained by the latter’s decision to isolate his sister, Cristina.

Queen Sofía in Toledo.
Queen Sofía in Toledo.Claudio Álvarez

Felipe ended any public contact with Cristina after the scandal involving alleged financial wrongdoing by her husband Iñaki Urdangarin hit the headlines in 2011. Sofía has apparently tried to reconcile her two children, but with little success. Earlier this month, she attended the first communion of Cristina’s daugher, Irene, posing in a family photograph with Urdangarin. King Felipe was reported to be unhappy when the photograph was published in Spanish gossip magazine ¡Hola!.

Urdangarin has benefited from the publicity his mother-in-law’s visits to his home in Geneva have generated, and sources close to the royal household say that Sofía will not allow the ongoing investigation into her son-in-law’s finances to affect her relationship with her grandchildren.

Felipe’s other sister, Elena, who also attended the communion, was careful not to appear in any photographs with Urdangarin. She appears to have taken on the role of family mediator at this time of crisis, and has also kept, or been kept, out of the limelight.

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