Letizia: Spain’s first middle-class queen

A former journalist, Prince Felipe’s wife has been making news since their marriage 10 years ago

Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia with their daughters Leonor and Sofía in Palma in 2013. / ballesteros (efe)

If she had not married the man she did, Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano might have spent Monday morning covering the news story live herself.

But the monarch who has just abdicated happens to be her father-in-law, and has been for the last decade, ever since she married Prince Felipe on May 22, 2004.

Letizia, a former journalist, no longer covers the news. Rather, she is in the news herself: the gossip magazines and television talk shows are forever discussing her choice of clothes, shoes and hairdos, analyzing her thinness and debating her outbursts and nocturnal jaunts.

But the picture of Letizia that has emerged from other media reports is one of increasing self-reliance and greater spontaneity than is customary among royal families.

Letizia has the unprejudiced gaze of a perfect representative of the middle class

Letizia, 41, has kept her own agenda since 2007, and her activities include support for victims of rare diseases and cooperation with the World Health Organization on nutrition issues.

Other personal habits have introduced a touch of the middle class into the Spanish monarchy: it is not difficult to find the princess sitting inside one of the cinemas showing original-version movies in Madrid’s Plaza de los Cubos, going to indie music concerts, or attending the capital’s annual Book Fair in jeans (though she gets a private visit).

The princess thinks, and (here is the real news) sometimes says what she thinks. As her own confidence in her tasks has grown with the years, so has her critical spirit come to the fore.

“It is not the same calling it aid or calling it a bailout; it is not the same calling it a recession or calling it negative growth; it is not the same calling it restructuring or calling it cuts,” she said a year ago at a language seminar in San Millán de la Cogolla (La Rioja). It was the kind of liberty that Queen Sofía, Juan Carlos’ wife, would never have taken.

Letizia has tried to create normal living conditions for her family and herself

But Letizia has the unprejudiced gaze of a perfect representative of the middle class – someone who has traveled on the subway, taken out a mortgage to buy an apartment in a Madrid suburb, and brought emotional baggage to the relationship (in 1998 she had married her former high-school literature teacher; the couple were divorced a year later).

When she married the crown prince, Letizia Ortiz gave up a journalism career that had taken off in 2003, when she became the host of the primetime newscast on state broadcaster TVE. She covered the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Iraq invasion and the sinking of the Prestige oil tanker off the coast of Galicia. Her father was a journalist, as was her grandmother. She studied journalism at Complutense University in Madrid and worked on a PhD in Mexico. She dabbled in print journalism for a while, but broadcast work was her thing.

When she met Felipe at a dinner party at the home of a fellow TVE worker, Letizia’s career was on the rise. In 2000 she had received an award for journalists under the age of 30 from the Madrid Press Association.

So it was not just the crown prince who had to seriously ponder the consequences of marrying a woman who was a stranger to aristocratic circles; Letizia also had to assess what she would lose and what she would gain from taking the step. Everyone says theirs was a marriage of love, and certainly the pictures of the couple always display their tenderness toward each other.

Over the course of a decade, the princess has had to deal with the death of her sister Erika and the Nóos corruption scandal affecting other members of the royal household. But there has also been the birth of her daughters Leonor and Sofía. Letizia has tried to create normal living conditions: she and Felipe take their kids to school and put them to bed at night themselves. Their house, a residence built in 2000 known as the Prince’s Pavilion, is an attempt to bring some warmth into the coldness of the royal residence. It is likely that once they become King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia, they will keep on living there.

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