The Belgian royal family has been shaken by many a scandal. At the same time, the monarchy in Germany’s neighboring country lacked glamor for a long time. Queen Mathilde brought a breath of fresh air to the palace.
When Mathilde d’Udekem d’Acoz first appeared on the scene in Belgium in September 1999, the then 26-year-old was largely unknown.
Today it is impossible to imagine the Belgian palace without it. Together with King Philippe, she forms a well-rehearsed team at the head of the Belgian state. On Friday (January 20) the monarch from the old Flemish nobility celebrates her 50th birthday. Have the Belgians’ hopes for some glamor alongside the rather colorless Philippe been fulfilled?
At the wedding between Philippe and Mathilde in December 1999, there was talk of the “Mathilde effect”, of a resemblance to the British Princess Diana and of renewed splendor for the Belgian royal family. Until the engagement, the relationship between the then 39-year-old Crown Prince Philippe and his Mathilde had been kept secret for three years. Then on December 4, 1999, the royal wedding: Mathilde – a star was born, it was said.
Mathilde was born on January 20, 1973 in the Brussels municipality of Uccle. She grew up in the French-speaking part of Belgium, studied speech therapy and psychology. From 1995 to 1999 she worked as a speech therapist in Brussels. In 2001 the first daughter of Mathilde and Philippe was born – the 21-year-old Crown Princess Elisabeth. Gabriel (19), Emmanuel (17) and Éleonore (14) followed. King Philippe and Queen Mathilde have been the monarchs of the country between the North Sea and the Ardennes since 2013.
Mathilde ensures glamor in the palace
With his matter-of-fact and level-headed manner, King Philippe has earned the trust of the population over the years – for example by arranging the complex formation of a government in Belgium. However, it is Mathilde, along with Crown Princess Elisabeth, who brings some glamor to the palace – without having committed a single major misstep so far. The time when the Belgian royal family stood for scandals is over. And there were plenty of scandals.
For example, Philippe’s father, the former King Albert II, brought an illegitimate daughter to the palace. Only after years of paternity disputes did a Brussels court decide in 2020 in favor of the artist Delphine Boël – and made her a princess. Albert’s wife Paola was considered a “party princess” in the ’60s. Philippe’s brother Laurent (59), on the other hand, made headlines as “Prince Full Throttle” with excessive speed, sometimes in a bathrobe. Under Philippe and Mathilde, on the other hand, the royal family is highly professional.
Mathilde herself has taken on a number of patronages and keeps in touch with the people. She rides bikes with citizens, is a UN ambassador for compliance with the development goals, supports the development aid of the children’s charity Unicef and is committed to mental health. At the same time, she presents herself as a family person who wants to enable her children to lead a normal life.
Combination of tradition and modernity
“I would say that she is the first queen to exercise this role as an independent profession,” Vincent Dujardin, professor of contemporary history at the Catholic University of Louvain, recently told Paris Match magazine. Mathilde embodies the palace’s philosophy of combining tradition and modernity quite well. At the same time, Dujardin raves about how excellently Mathilde complements her husband. “Mathilde is clearly an asset for the king.” In 23 years she has not caused a single controversy.
And how does this hitherto infallible one spend her birthday? According to a palace spokesman, no official celebrations are planned. And if there is a celebration, then in a private setting.
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