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Spain

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%.

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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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