The Danes have been watching their royal family plunge into a modern-day Shakespearean drama for a year now. In September 2022, Margrethe II, Europe’s longest-reigning monarch, stripped half of her grandchildren of their royal titles. According to the palace, the queen made this decision so that the four children of her youngest son, Joachim of Denmark, could “shape their own lives, without being limited by the special considerations and obligations that a formal affiliation to the Royal House of Denmark entails.” But experts interpreted it as part of a plan for renewal and austerity in the Nordic monarchy, an institution that dates back millennia to Viking times. A plot worthy of Hamlet ensued: Prince Joachim was offended, and spoke of his children’s mistreatment; his ex-wife, Alexandra of Frederiksborg, admitted to feeling “sadness and shock”; and the queen grieved and asked for forgiveness “as a mother,” but she did not waver.
Nikolai of Monpezat, 24, Prince Joachim’s eldest son and Queen Margrethe’s eldest grandson, is one of those affected by this minor royal tragedy. He is no longer Prince of Denmark and has lost his royal status, although he is still seventh in the line of succession to the Danish throne (his uncle Frederick is the heir, and his cousin Christian follows in the dynastic order). Now it’s his turn to “shape his own life,” though he doesn’t yet know how.
He tried to follow the family tradition of serving in the military, but he left Hærens Sergentskole, the Sergeants’ School of the Varde Army, after two months. According to his mother, he made this decision because “he did not feel comfortable and did not feel he was in the right place.” The desertion caused something of a stir in Denmark, where Queen Margrethe commands the troops. “At the moment I am studying for my master’s degree in business economics at Copenhagen Business School. I have one year left and have yet to see what the future [will] bring; as of now, I do not know what that will be,” he explains in a conversation with EL PAÍS. Amid his family’s controversy, he signed up for an exchange program in Sydney, Australia, over 14,000 kilometers (8,700 miles) from his home country. “I think it is important to have a balanced private life and I value that highly. Naturally, being outside of Denmark brings more anonymity because I do not get recognized as often,” he says.
Nicknamed Nikolai the Beautiful, he has combined his studies with a modeling career. In 2018, while in his final year of high school at Herlufsholm (an elite school that has been operating since 1565 in a 12th-century Benedictine monastery) he made his modeling debut for Burberry at London’s Fashion Week.
“The opportunity came to me when I was 18 and finishing my secondary school. My agency, Scoop Models in Copenhagen, contacted me and quickly one thing led to another. Before I knew it I found myself on the runways of various European cities,” he recalls. His aristocratic appearance — 6′1″ tall, green eyes, brown hair— is attractive to luxury brands. He has walked the catwalk and done ad campaigns for Dior, and he has also graced the covers of the international editions of magazines like Vogue and Numéro. “I consulted with my family before making the final decision to start working as a model. My parents have both always supported me and I suppose they are proud of me and what I do. I have brought them to different shows around the world to let them into my world,” he says.
He’s just a year away from finishing his master’s degree, but he has no plans to leave the runway after graduating. “Fashion has interested me throughout my adolescence. Especially after I first started working in the fashion industry the interest has only grown bigger,” he says. “I would love to continue working with fashion as long as I can.”
At first glance, a modeling career doesn’t seem quite right for a member of the royal family, but it’s actually perfect for someone who has spent a lifetime dealing with photographers and enduring the scorching heat of the spotlight. “Being a public figure comes with a certain responsibility. It is a role that one must grow into, but by being born a public figure it has always been a part of my life. I would not call it hard times, but I have learnt the value of privacy and of also having a private life,” he says. Perhaps the most critical moment in his young life was his parents’ separation in 2004, the first divorce in the Danish royal household in 150 years. He was only five years old at the time. “Looking back, I have had the best childhood anyone could ask for—an uncomplicated presence. People have always treated me well,” he admits, acknowledging his privileged childhood at Schackenborg Palace in southern Jutland.
Since his grandmother stripped him of his privileges, Nikolai of Denmark has introduced himself as Count of Monpezat. “For me [the title] has always been a family name and association rather than only a title; it is the closest [thing] I can have to a regular surname,” he explains. According to the Danish media, when the queen stripped him of his rank, the first thing he asked was, “And now what will they write in my passport?”
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