Confessing in public is rare. Much less if she is a queen, even though she is contemporary and has been exposed to public scrutiny throughout her life. Paola Ruffo di Calabria, born Italian princess, queen consort of the Belgians between 1993 and 2013 due to her marriage to King Albert II, and queen of Belgium since the abdication of her husband, she has entrusted herself to the media of her adopted country. In a documentary broadcast this Friday by RTBF – the Belgian radio television of the French community – she expresses her lack of maturity when it comes to getting married, at 22 years old. She regrets not realizing in time the importance of showing affection to her three children, Felipe (current sovereign along with his wife, Queen Matilde), Astrid and Lorenzo. He admits his infidelity “in a period of my life when everything was going wrong.” And she appreciates her reconciliation with her husband, who in 2020 acknowledged having had a daughter out of wedlock, the today Princess Delphine of Saxe-Coburg. A difficult exercise in sincerity for anyone and an unprecedented chapter in the history of the Belgian royal house.
The documentary, lasting an hour and a half and which has been loaned to EL PAÍS for viewing by the director, Nicolas Delvaulx, is entitled Paola, côté garden. He plays with the theatrical vocabulary in French: the côte cour (the court side) refers to stage right, viewed from the stalls; the cote garden (the garden side) is the extreme left. In the case of Queen Paola, who has almost professional botanical knowledge, the gardens are her favorite living space. They also reflect the return to the countryside, where she grew up in Italy, and which she has recovered in the cozy houses where he gathers his children and 12 grandchildren. The work of her Fundación Reina Paola, to support young people with problems, and as honorary president of the Child Focus center, for sexually exploited children, is also glossed over, but the program focuses on the intimacy that she shares.
Alberto and Paola (now 87 and 84 years old) met in 1958 in Rome, on the occasion of the coronation of Pope John XXIII. He was 24 years old and in the program he explains that he was very fast in courting him. One day he rented a car from her, with her behind the wheel — “so she wouldn’t hit me” — and told her that he was in love with her and wanted to get married. The Italian princess was 21 years old: “And I made it clear that I preferred to take it easy and have more time,” he says now. However, eight months later, on July 2, 1959, they were married in the Cathedral of Saint Michael and Saint Gudula in Brussels. They had barely been able to meet, “and her image ceased to belong to a young and beautiful woman like a film artist, who had come from another country to illuminate the Belgian court, which seemed somewhat sad,” says the narrator.
In addition to being young and handsome, as princes of Liège they staged the first royal wedding in Belgium since World War II, and were acclaimed everywhere. Along with the world fair in 1958, Belgium was at its best, and the queen hopes she did well then. “I was in love, yes. Although I think that ours was an incomplete adolescence. I would have liked to be able to travel and see the world a little earlier; like my grandchildren do, ”she indicates, before the cameras. “It cannot be compared to what is happening now, of course,” adds her husband, also present in the footage.
By 1963, when Paola was 26 years old, she was already the mother of three children, and she found herself aimlessly. In 1960, King Baudouin, Albert’s older brother, he had married the Spanish aristocrat Fabiola de Mora y Aragón, and the princes of Liège took a step back. The initial adoration turned to fierce criticism in the press, and the glamor became a throwing weapon. She was singled out for wearing “a skirt that is too short, a bikini with an indecent neckline, or going to nightclubs too much.” Without being able to respond, the situation became untenable. “Because I was looking for my own life when I was already a public figure; I made enormous efforts that nobody knows about, ”she states.
Paola from Belgium admits that between 1970 and 1980 she was an unhappy woman in her marriage and did not know where to go. At that time, she was photographed on the beach arm in arm with a journalist from the French magazine Paris Match. “It was a somewhat selfish love. In another life I would not do it again, but there is no regret. It was a sad stage in my life, and we were on the verge of separation, ”she acknowledges. The situation began to change when her lawyers told Prince Albert that Paola would lose her three children with the divorce. “It seemed unfair to me,” says the titular former king on the show. “I was an authoritarian father, like mine, and I didn’t know how to change in time. But we ended up making a common front against our lawyers”, he assures. There was another turning point: “He told me that he had always loved me, and that moved me,” recalls his wife. They managed to reconcile and became kings Baldwin’s death in 1993.
The documentary does not name Delphine Boël, Alberto’s extramarital daughter. However, her three children with Paola appear on the screen. Each in their own way, recognize that they did not have an easy childhood in the hands of nannies and tutors. “It is not a secret, although I have always loved my parents very much and I admire my mother,” says Princess Astrid. “We have all suffered a lot, and today you are happy. Reconciliation and forgiveness is the most difficult and also the greatest”, says Felipe, the current king. “I have learned from them to have a passion for what you do”, adds Lorenzo. His mother, who looks at them attentively, makes a final reflection: “When you accept what you have to do, you are free.”
We wish to give thanks to the author of this short article for this outstanding material
Queen Paola of Belgium confesses on television her infidelity to Albert II and that she was on the verge of divorce