Saturday, 20 July 2013

The king and queen's last dance

Albert II has said goodbye to his subjects and all that's left now is the last dance.

The King of the Belgians will abdicate tomorrow at 10.30, Brussels time, leaving his country king-less for 90 minutes before his son and heir is sworn in as the new monarch at 12 noon.

Tonight Albert made an emotional TV address to bring his twenty year reign to an end.  And in it he made his wishes for his soon to be former kingdom.  He hoped for cohesion after a tumultuous few years in which he saw his realm without a government for over 500 days.  He asked his fellow Belgians to support their country's role in the European Union which he said he believed was the best way to defend democracy.  And he asked for support for the new king and queen. 

All change - King Albert II asked his fellow Belgians to support his son and heir, Philippe
Before he became king there was speculation that the crown might pass directly from Baudouin to Philippe.  Albert's reign took some by surprise.  But there is little doubt that in some way he has proved all his doubters wrong - his rule has been more of a success than many predicted when he took his oath in front of parliament in August 1993.

Flowers for a king - surrounded by smiles, Albert II on his last public engagement before abdication
From the TV address the king heads into the warm night air of an unseasonly warm Brussels to a concert at the Palais des Beaux-Arts and then into the crowds at the 10th Bal National, the event that takes place the evening before Belgium's national day.  There will be singing and a chance to dance - a last waltz for this king and queen?

And then, the official process of abdication begins.  Tomorrow will be formal with moments of festivity for a new king and queen.  But tonight there are celebrations of a reign that was unexpected, almost missed and ultimately more of a triumph than either the king or his queen consort ever thought it might be.

The king prepares to leave the stage - all that's left is a last dance with his queen

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