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Spain's Next Queen: Can Letizia Finally Win Hearts?

Princess Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano on June 6, 2014
Princess Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano on June 6, 2014
Ute Müller

MADRID — Princess Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano has been preparing for this moment for 10 years. Soon the 41-year-old will be climbing the steps to the Spanish throne — a first for a Spanish commoner — to take her place beside her husband Felipe VI.

That everything would happen so quickly after the unexpected abdication of King Juan Carlos is probably not something the former journalist and mother of two daughters had anticipated.

Her clumsy beginning in the royal family began 10 years ago, when the couple tied the knot on a rainy May 22, 2004, in Madrid.

"At the time, Letizia was still a completely spontaneous and simple woman, a successful journalist, who appeared before the camera in jeans and boots and used her hands a lot when she spoke," recalls Carmen Enrïquez, a former colleague of the princess’s, a columnist and the author of three books about the Spanish royal family.

She worked with Letizia, who reported on the Iraq war, the oil spill off the coast of Galicia, and the 9/11 attacks — first for CNN and later for the Spanish state channel TVE.

"If something makes Letizia stand out, it's the devotion and absolute discipline she brings to everything she does," Enrïquez says.

Out of love for Felipe, the young woman gave up her free, independent life and submitted to strict court protocol. From then on, she had daily lessons in English, etiquette and the history of Europe's noble families. "She had no idea of all these things and had to learn her new job from scratch," says Enrïquez, who is still in contact with her former colleague.

The princess bride

The life of a princess also had its shadow sides. Letizia learned that her naturalness and spontaneity were not desirable qualities for a future queen. She was also "constantly criticized because she had a habit of touching her hair," Enrïquez remembers. She was looked upon with particular suspicion by Spain's Royalists, not only because she came from relatively humble circumstances — her grandfather was a cab driver, her father a journalist and her mother a nurse — but because her parents had been divorced for years.

To a number of Spaniards, she was mainly suspect because she had been briefly married before, to a former teacher of hers named Alonso Guerrero, and had also had a relationship with fellow journalist David Tejera. Could someone with a "past" be an appropriate wife for the Crown Prince?

But she threw herself into the relationship with Felipe, and even changed her clothing style, wearing stilettos in an attempt to seem less petite next to her six-foot-three-inch-tall husband. Heels and extremely form-fitting dresses became her trademark. She was criticized for lack of patriotism for wearing an Armani suit on the occasion of her engagement, so she subsequently chose Spanish designer Felipe Varela to be her personal couturier. Since then she has been considered one of the most elegant women in Spain, and her picture on the cover of glossy magazines increases sales by 30%.

[rebelmouse-image 27088038 alt="""" original_size="1023x681" expand=1]

Your Highness ... — Photo: Congreso de la Republica del Peru

Letizia even had her lightly hooked nose surgically corrected. All of these changes marked her. In fact, her new reality began making her appear stiff, distant and cool. Many Spaniards believed the princess suffered from depression and anorexia. She was also under pressure because children did not arrive as quickly as many had hoped. And because her younger, 31-year-old sister Erika was found dead, pumped full of barbiturates, in her Madrid apartment in February 2007 in what is believed to have been suicide.

Another big shock came last year when her cousin David Rocasolano wrote in his book Adios Princesa that Letizia had an abortion in 1996 and that Prince Felipe knew about it.

"There’s no proof of that, I don’t believe it," Enrïquez says. "I think her cousin was trying to boost sales of his book."

Royal troubles

Is it mere coincidence that the princely pair had a marriage crisis last year? Letizia showed up late for the traditional family holiday on the royal yacht in Mallorca, went to concerts on her own, and took short trips with her girlfriends. "Letizia doesn't see anything wrong with the whole Mallorca thing, and she's also prone to sea sickness," Enrïquez says.

Yet it wasn't until last year that Letizia started to seem more at home in her role. She turned up in slacks for some official occasions when protocol would have dictated wearing a skirt. She and her husband also patched up their difficulties, and there were times when it seemed as if they were steering the royal family through its biggest crisis.

Among other things, the corruption scandal surrounding Iñaki Urdangarín — the king’s son-in-law who allegedly diverted millions in public funds — was increasingly undermining the royal family's image. Letizia and her husband fought hard to save the monarchy's reputation. When her 8-year-old daughter Leonor asked her who she worked for, she reportedly replied, "I work for Spain, child, for Spain."

But Letizia has never been as popular as Princess Diana was in her day. Diana may have made mistakes, but she was forgiven, which is not the case with Letizia, perhaps because of her perfectionism. In a new survey on the website Vanitatis that asked whether Letizia would make a good queen, only 32% of respondents said yes.

Queen Sofia and her motherly bearing have apparently set the bar very high. Letizia still has to find her way into Spanish hearts.

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Why Crimea Is Proving So Hard For Russia To Defend

Ukraine has stepped up attacks on the occupied Crimean peninsula, claiming Monday that a missile Friday killed the head of Russia's Black Sea fleet at the headquarters in Sevastopol. And Russia is doing all within its power to deny how vulnerable it has become.

Photograph of the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters in smoke after a Ukrainian missile strike.​

September 22, 2023, Sevastopol, Crimea, Russia: Smoke rises over the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters after a Ukrainian missile strike.

Kyrylo Danylchenko

Russian authorities are making a concerted effort to downplay and even deny the recent missile strikes in Russia-occupied Crimea.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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Media coverage in Russia of these events has been intentionally subdued, with top military spokesperson Igor Konashenkov offering no response to an attack on Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, or the alleged downing last week of Russian Su-24 aircraft by Ukrainian Air Defense.

The response from this and other strikes on the Crimean peninsula and surrounding waters of the Black Sea has alternated between complete silence and propagating falsehoods. One notable example of the latter was the claim that the Russian headquarters building of the Black Sea fleet that was hit Friday was empty and that the multiple explosions were mere routine training exercises.

Ukraine claimed on Monday that the attack killed Admiral Viktor Sokolov, the commander of Russia's Black Sea Fleet. "After the strike on the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, 34 officers died, including the commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Another 105 occupiers were wounded. The headquarters building cannot be restored," the Ukrainian special forces said via Telegram on Monday.

Responding to reports of multiple missiles strikes this month on Crimea, Russian authorities say that all the missiles were intercepted by a submarine and a structure called "VDK Minsk", which itself was severely damaged following a Ukrainian airstrike on Sept. 13. The Russians likewise dismissed reports of a fire at the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet, attributing it to a mundane explosion caused by swamp gas.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has refrained from commenting on the military situation in Crimea and elsewhere, continuing to repeat that everything is “proceeding as planned.”

Why is Crimea such a touchy topic? And why is it proving to be so hard to defend?

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