Meet Letizia Ortiz: Spain's new 'middle-class Queen'
Spanish Princess Letizia and Spanish Crown Prince Felipe walk trough the Throne room as they attend a welcome ceremony before a gala dinner for Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto, at the Royal Palace, near Madrid, Monday, June 9, 2014. (AP / Daniel Ochoa de Olza)
Katherine DeClerq, Special to CTVNews.ca
Published Tuesday, June 10, 2014 7:06AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, June 19, 2014 1:51PM EDT
Get ready to be upstaged, Kate Middleton: Your royal counterpart from the south is about to become a lot more popular.
King Felipe de Borbon took the throne Thursday – but many eyes are already turning toward his 41-year-old wife, Letizia Ortiz, who has become the first commoner to grace the Spanish throne.
There's long been great interest in Queen Letizia, as a former-divorcee-journalist-turned-princess but her new title will shine a brighter spotlight on her life.
While Spanish media has been tracking the royal couple throughout their courtship and 10-year marriage, Felipe and Letizia have been fully catapulted into the public eye now that Juan Carlos has handed over the throne to his son.
The 79-year-old king announced his decision to abdicate earlier this month, stating that “the time has come for a younger generation to take over.”
Perhaps in part due to Ortiz’s feisty attitude and glamorous style, Felipe has seen his popularity skyrocket above that of his father and his sisters.
'Let me finish'
Similar to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Kate Middleton, the young couple’s down-to-earth and relatable attitudes have altered the way many people see royalty in Spain – a country currently struggling with economic challenges and royal scandals.
Ortiz first turned heads during the couple’s official engagement announcement in 2003, publicly scolding then-Prince Felipe with a “let me finish” as he tried to interrupt her during a media interview.
If that wasn’t enough to separate Letizia from previous royalty, she also has a mortgage on her own apartment in Madrid, took the subway and sat in the stands during sport games. And she and her husband often walked their two daughters, Leonor, 8, and Sofia, 7, to and from school.
Additionally, the queen’s style and independent attitude is often compared to that of Kate Middleton in the media: they both have long brown hair, a slender figure and a youthful, vibrant face.
On some occasions, they were both seen sporting similar outfits (both are a fan of the business suit on official business). On Ortiz’s wedding day in May 2004, she wore a stylish, long-sleeved, V-neck, high-collar gown. On her head lay a tiara with a long, flowing veil. Sound familiar? Add a little lace and you have Kate Middleton’s wedding outfit.
Ortiz’s simple yet elegant style has been featured on the cover of numerous Spanish magazines, and entire blogs have been dedicated to her wardrobe. Even though she has been engrossed in the royal lifestyle for a little over a decade now -- she has attended 1,206 official events, held 355 audiences, and taken 73 official trips to visiting countries -- her fashion sense remains rooted in her common background. Some of her chic apparel has come from low-cost Spanish retailers such as Zara or Mango. (Royal-watchers in the Commonwealth have also eagerly tracked the clothing choices of the Duchess of Cambridge, applauding her for recycling some styles at official events.)
"(Ortiz) pulls off that trick of being glamorous but recognizable. She doesn't embarrass herself and looks dignified," Mary Vincent, a professor of modern European history at Britain's University of Sheffield, told The Associated Press recently. "She wears clothes other women imagine themselves wearing."
Ortiz was born in Oviedo, the capital city in northern Spain, to parents Jesus Alvarez, a journalist, and Maria Rodriguez, a nurse. Her grandfather was a taxi-driver.
Ortiz’s ambition soon upstaged her modest upbringing, and she moved to Madrid to study communications and complete her Master’s in broadcast journalism. After a brief stint working in Mexico, Ortiz returned to Spain as a television personality for TVE, Bloomberg Television, and CNN+. She was one of the international reporters working from the ground in New York during the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
She also won the Madrid Press Association’s prestigious Larra Award for the best Spanish journalist under the age of 30. It was at the scene of the Prestige oil spill in Northern Spain where she met then-Prince Felipe. They dated discreetly until their engagement was announced.
The engagement was not scandal-free. She had been previously married, another first for the staunchly conservative and Catholic monarchy. The church decided to allow the divorcee to remarry after considering the brevity of the marriage -- she had only been married for a year -- and the fact that they weren’t married in a church.
More rumours started to spread after that. A cousin of hers wrote a book about a secret abortion that allegedly occurred in 2002, and gossip would eventually tell a tale of teenage drug use and plastic surgery, although this has been attributed to a respiratory condition.
Despite all of this, Ortiz has been able to stand her ground and manage the responsibilities attributed with the royal title. In addition to being the first commoner to sit on the throne, Ortiz is also the first Spanish-born Queen since 1904.
King Carlos’ abdication marks the third of its kind in Europe. Last year, Queen Beatriz of the Netherlands stepped down after a 33-year reign and shortly after King Albert II of Belgium left the throne to his son Phillippe.