Netherlands’ popular princess

Plucking lice from schoolchildren’s hair may not seem an obvious way to win the heart of a nation, but it worked for the Argentine-born ex-investment banker who will be the next queen of the Netherlands.

Netherlands’ Princess Maxima

Netherlands’ Princess Maxima

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Plucking lice from schoolchildren’s hair may not seem an obvious way to win the heart of a nation, but it worked for the Argentine-born ex-investment banker who will be the next queen of the Netherlands.

As Kate Middleton settles into her new life, she need only look to Princess Maxima, wife of the heir to the Dutch throne, for an example of how to make the tricky transition from commoner to royal.

Dutch Crown Prince Willem-Alexander’s engagement 10 years ago to a woman whose father was a minister in an Argentine dictatorship sounded like a gift to the Dutch republican movement seeking to end the nearly 200-year-old monarchy.

Instead, Princess Maxima — nee Maxima Zorreguieta — helped bring the distant House of Orange closer to the people.

She topped a recent poll as the most popular Dutch royal, beating current Queen Beatrix and her husband.

The popularity of Maxima, 39, and other princesses elsewhere in Europe has soared thanks to a carefully cultivated blend of the common touch — one was a journalist, another a real estate agent, yet another a single mother — and the glamor and grace demanded of royalty.

They are constantly on the covers of gossip magazines, yet try to live relatively normal and private family lives. In Maxima’s case, that could mean inspecting a guard of honour one day, and the next day taking her turn as “lice mother” at her three daughters’ school, inspecting children’s hair.

Maxima and her Australian-born Danish counterpart Crown Princess Mary got a head-start in the popularity stakes by mastering the tricky language of their new homeland.

“She won us over by speaking Dutch to start with,” said Marc van der Linden, chief editor at the Netherlands’ Royalty magazine.

Maxima started learning the language before her relationship with Willem-Alexander was public knowledge.

By the time she first spoke publicly following the announcement of their engagement she dazzled the nation with her nearly flawless Dutch.

Kate Middleton, who is now the duchess of Cambridge and will likely one day be called a princess, does not have a language barrier to overcome.

But she did win fans in Wales when she sang the Welsh national anthem after dedicating a new lifeboat.

Maxima is so popular in the Netherlands that an exhibition is opening this month at the former royal palace Het Loo in the central city of Apeldoorn to mark her first 10 years in the country.

The couple’s relationship blossomed after they met in 1999 at a festival in the Spanish city of Seville while Maxima was a New York banker. The Crown Prince, now 44, introduced himself simply as Alexander and did not exactly make a lasting impression.

By the time they had their first date three weeks later in New York, “I’d forgotten what he looked like,” Maxima once said.

Johan Ter Molen, curator of the Maxima exhibition, says Kate Middleton would do well to pay a visit to get a glimpse of how her life will be turned on its head.

“The biggest change for both of them is that they come from a relatively protected environment into the limelight and will never be able to leave it,” he said. “It is a sort of glass cage you step into and remain for the rest of your life.”

So far, Maxima has appeared to handle the intense scrutiny with ease. Even calling her future husband and the country’s next king “a bit dumb” during her first press conference 10 years ago worked in her favour.

“The fact that she said it in fluent Dutch with a sense of humour won a lot of people over,” said Van der Linden.

But like most every aspect of her life as a princess, even that seemingly throwaway line was stage managed by Royal House advisers, said Van der Linden.

“Originally the crown prince was supposed to say it himself, but for the effect they decided Maxima would do it,” he said.

The comment deftly defused a storm of protest that erupted when Willem-Alexander made remarks defending Maxima’s father, Jorge Zorreguieta, despite his position as a cabinet minister in Argentina’s military dictatorship during the country’s “dirty war” of the late 1970s and early ’80s, when the regime killed or kidnapped thousands of suspected dissidents.

While no one accused Zorreguieta of being party to the abuses, the Dutch government, with Maxima’s reluctant consent, sent an elder statesman to Argentina to inform him he would be unwelcome at the wedding.

Maxima shares her down-to-earth appeal with princesses in Denmark and Sweden, where those Scandinavian royal houses mirror their egalitarian societies.

Sweden’s Princess Victoria married her gym instructor last year and Denmark’s Crown Prince Frederik wed Australian real estate agent Mary Donaldson four years after meeting her in a Sydney bar during the 2000 Olympic Games.

Norway’s future queen, the former Mette-Marit Tjessem Hoiby, was a single mother when she wed Crown Prince Haakon.

The father of her son was once convicted of drug offences, and Princess Mette-Marit gave a tearful apology to the nation for her earlier freewheeling days.

Royal watchers believe it is the spontaneous, unchoreographed moments in Maxima’s life as a princess that have endeared her most to her adopted country of 16 million: Tears coursing down her face at her wedding, her wide-eyed horror as she watched from an open-topped bus when a crazed loner plowed his car into a crowd watching a royal parade, or jumping up and down and cheering as Dutch speedskaters compete at Winter Olympics.

Her popularity has even rubbed off a bit on her husband, who has struggled to win the affection of future subjects.

“Maxima has temperament. She dances, she sings, she gives the royal family a certain joie de vivre,” said Van der Linden. “Willem-Alexander was regarded as dull and stiff. With Maxima next to him he gets more colour.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

There were six additional deaths across Alberta reported over the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 1,926 since the beginning of the pandemic. (File photo)
AstraZeneca vaccine is ready to be used at a homeless shelter in Romford, east London, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Frank Augstein
AstraZeneca-linked blood clot confirmed in Alberta

A case of an AstraZeneca-linked blood clot has been confirmed in Alberta,… Continue reading

The Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools Board of Trustees selected the name St. Lorenzo Ruiz Middle School to be built in the north end of Red Deer. (Photo Courtesy of  Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools)
Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools raises about $8,720 for Terry Fox Foundation

Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools raised about $8,720 for the Terry Fox… Continue reading

A nurse gets a swab ready at a temporary COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, on Friday, May 15, 2020. Health Canada has reversed course on home test kits for COVID-19, saying it will now review applications for such devices. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Alberta declines Ontario’s request to send health-care workers

Alberta is “not in a position” to send health-care workers out of… Continue reading

The Red Deer Rebels allowed four straight goals from the Medicine Hat Tigers Friday night on the road. (Photo by Rob Wallator/ Red Deer Rebels)
Tigers hand Red Deer Rebels 10th straight loss

Tigers 4 Rebels 2 Through 17 games in the shortened WHL season,… Continue reading

Red Deer Public Schools will not pilot the new draft curriculum at its elementary schools. (File photo contributed by Red Deer Public Schools)
UPDATED: Red Deer Public Schools says no to piloting new curriculum

Alberta Teachers’ Association support school boards

Ontario Premier Doug Ford points on a COVID-19 caseload projection model graph during a press conference at Queen's Park, in Toronto, Friday, April 16, 2021. Ontario was set to backtrack on controversial new police powers to enforce stay-at-home orders implemented in the battle against COVID-19.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Ford backtracks on new police COVID-19 powers amid intense backlash

TORONTO — Furious criticism of new anti-pandemic powers that allow police in… Continue reading

The official program for the National Commemorative Ceremony in honour of Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, sits on an empty pew prior to the ceremony at Christ Church Cathedral in Ottawa on Saturday, April 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Prince Philip remembered as ‘a man of great service’ during Canada’s memorial service

Canada’s commemorative ceremony in honour of the late Prince Philip offered a… Continue reading

CF Montreal head coach Wilfried Nancy speaks to his players during the team's practice Tuesday, March 16, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
CF Montreal puts on a show, defeating Toronto FC 4-2 in MLS season opener

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — CF Montreal, carving open Toronto FC’s defence, cruised… Continue reading

Demonstrators using umbrellas as shields approach a point in a perimeter security fence during a protest over the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright during traffic stop, outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department, Friday, April 16, 2021, in Brooklyn Center, Minn. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Journalists allege police harassment at Minnesota protests

Some journalists covering protests over the police fatal shooting of Daunte Wright,… Continue reading

A container ship is docked in the Port of Montreal, Wednesday, February 17, 2021 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Montreal dockworkers begin weekend strikes as talks drag on

MONTREAL — Dockworkers at the Port of Montreal kicked off a series… Continue reading

Brad Dahr, 53, is facing numerous charges. (Photo contributed by Alberta RCMP)
Alberta man charged for alleged sexual offences against children

An Edmonton man has been charged for alleged sexual offences against children… Continue reading

A person walks past a COVID-19 mural designed by artist Emily May Rose on a rainy day during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Monday, April 12, 2021. Employment lawyers say flouting COVID-19 public health orders when off the job or coming into work while knowingly sick could warrant discipline in the workplace. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Risky pandemic behaviour off the clock could mean workplace discipline: lawyers

CALGARY — Employment lawyers say flouting COVID-19 public health orders when off… Continue reading

Vials containing Russia's Sputnik V vaccine for COVID-19 are seen at the San Marino State Hospital, in San Marino, Friday, April 9, 2021.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Antonio Calanni
China, Russia using their COVID-19 vaccines to gain political influence

OTTAWA — China and Russia have been using their locally produced COVID-19… Continue reading

Most Read