The 21st-century monarchs of Europe have made a point of establishing a new set of rules regarding royal protocol, particularly when it comes to drawing a line between their public duties and private life. No longer do they appear to follow the model established by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, a sovereign who is keenly aware of how she spends her free time – even her birthday celebrations are conditioned by her role as queen and take place in June, rather than April when she was born, because the weather is better.
Her example contrasts sharply with that of the modern monarchs of the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain, countries where the crown is now in the hands of the next generation, which collectively has pioneered a new style of royal life.
King Felipe VI has just turned 52, but La Zarzuela, the seat of the royal household, will not reveal how he celebrated his day. That is his business and belongs to his private agenda, one that is handled with discretion to allow the king to enjoy time away from the glare of the media.
In the five-and-a-half years he has been king, Felipe has been careful not to blur this line between his professional and private life. He does not reveal where he spends his vacations – though the Spanish government always knows where he is – nor is it public knowledge which summer camp his daughters attend in the United States. He is even more protective when it comes to details of family occasions and celebrations in La Zarzuela.
However, as a concession to the public interest, the king of Spain did allow Spanish TV cameras into his home two years ago when he turned 50, allowing them to film scenes of his daily life, such as a lunch with his daughters, a morning getting them ready for school and shots of him recording his Christmas speech, during which Princess Leonor was seen giving the monarch a neck massage.
Unlike his parents, King Felipe takes his daughters to watch movies in public cinemas
A former member of staff at La Zarzuela assures EL PAÍS that if King Felipe and Queen Letizia’s private agenda was revealed, the public would be surprised by just how normal it is. When he is away from the spotlight, the king likes to be able to walk through the streets and was snapped by doing just this on January 3, when he and his daughter Leonor joined the rest of the Christmas crowds in Benavente square in the center of Madrid. Dressed casually and accompanied by an all but invisible security guard, the pair had just left a nearby cinema that shows international movies with subtitles rather than dubbed soundtracks.
Going to the movies is something King Felipe and his daughters like to do together. And unlike their predecessors, King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sophia, they go to a public cinema as opposed to watching a private screening in La Zarzuela. They look at the program and, after choosing which film to watch, arrive after the lights are dimmed, and leave when the credits roll. This is to avoid disturbing the other spectators, rather than to avoid being seen. A member of their security staff comes too, but is very discrete.
It was Queen Letizia who encouraged this foray into the normal world – she herself has gone to large-scale music festivals with friends since becoming queen. She has also gone with King Felipe to other performances, but they have been smaller in size.
The couple often enjoys free time apart. Queen Letizia regularly meets up with friends and has even gone on trips with them, while King Felipe attends exclusively all-male dinners, where the check is evenly split.
The king’s circle of friends, however, has been restricted since he took the throne. Businessman Javier López-Madrid, for example, is no longer included due to his brushes with the law. Álvaro Fuster, Felipe’s childhood friend, and his wife Beatriz Mira, are the couple most often seen with the king and queen. Another of the king’s close friends is Pedro López-Quesada, who is married to his cousin Cristina Borbón-Dos Sicilias.
King Felipe has also stayed friends with people he met while studying in the US, and sometimes visits them while on vacation. And he also regularly has lunch with friends from his military days; it is said that he feels particularly at ease with those he met during this time as they are naturally discreet, a quality he values highly.
English version by Heather Galloway.