“Letizia was an abrasive princess but as Spain’s queen she is doing better”

WHEN journalist Mábel Galaz started writing her book about Spain’s Queen Letizia, the idea was to have it in the shops to coincide with the former newsreader’s 50th birthday, on September 15. What she could never have predicted, however, was that the release would coincide with the death of Queen Elizabeth II,  an event that has prompted debate about the future of not just the British monarchy, but others in Europe too, including Spain’s. 

“The relationship that Spaniards have with their royals is completely different from the one you have in the UK,” explains Galaz , who opted to meet for British-style afternoon tea with The Olive Press in a green and leafy neighbourhood of Madrid. “After the Franco dictatorship, Spain wasn’t pro-monarchy but it was pro-Juan Carlos,” she explains, in reference to the self-styled emeritus king, who played such a key role in Spain’s transition to democracy. “But since then, everything we know about Juan Carlos has destroyed that legacy. People have lost a legend.”

Juan Carlos abdicated in 2014 after damaging revelations about his private life emerged, including a long-running affair with a German businesswoman and an expensive hunting trip at a time of austerity in Spain. 

In her book, Letizia Real, Galaz recounts all of these scandals and more, focusing on how they affected Letizia and the wider effect that the last 18 years have had on the institution of the Spanish royal family.

The book covers the at-first secret relationship between the then-Prince of Asturias and the divorced television journalist, who came from a humble background. It details their courtship and marriage, the couple’s ascension to king and queen, and her ongoing attempts to win the hearts of Spaniards.

The text also goes into detail about the personal crises of Letizia, including the palace machinery swinging into action to contain revelations that she had terminated a pregnancy before meeting Felipe, the suicide of her younger sister, and a famous pushing-and-shoving incident at a church service between her and her mother-in-law, Queen Sofía, over a disagreement about a planned photo opportunity involving her daughters Leonor and Sofía.

The infamous 2018 incident after a church service in Mallorca, when the queens came to blows over a photo opportunity.

“Letizia was a very complicated princess,” explains Galaz. “She came from a completely different world, she could say what she thought. She arrived in the Zarzuela palace, was told to keep quiet, and she didn’t have anything to do. The Spanish Constitution doesn’t give the Princess of Asturias a role.”

What followed, Galaz explains, was a decade of rebellion, between her marriage in 2004 and the coronation of Felipe in 2014, whether that manifested itself in her love of attending music festivals and concerts, or meeting with stiff and staid palace staff in just a bikini while on holiday. 

Ma?bel Galaz
The author of ‘Letizia Real’, Spanish journalist Mábel Galaz.

What’s more, she soon became aware of the scandals swirling around Juan Carlos and her brother-in-law, Iñaki Urdangarin. That saw her distance herself from the pair, adding to perceptions among the public that she was cold and remote. 

“She didn’t stick to her role, she looked angry, but we didn’t know why,” Galaz explains. “When everything came to light, it was positive for her, because you could understand why she didn’t want photos with Urdangarin, or why she didn’t get on with her father-in-law.” 

But in recent years things have changed, and according to Galaz, Letizia’s reputation in the internal polls handled by the royal household is improving. In particular, she shone in her role as host at the recent NATO summit in Madrid, where she was in her element as she flitted between VIPs such as US President Joe Biden and the assembled first wives.

“I think she was an abrasive princess but as a queen she is doing much better,” Galaz opines. “That knowledge she has as a journalist is helping her. The voice of hers that is different from others around her, it will be good if they listen to that in the Zarzuela.” 

Her major mission for now, however, is to prepare her daughter Leonor, the heir to the Spanish throne, for the life that awaits her. “And above all, to win people over in Spain, to generate more empathy,” says Galaz. “She says that Felipe was born knowing how to please, but that she wasn’t. She says that she is working on it but is aware that she won’t be liked by everyone.” 

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