Belgium's royals and political debuts

The art of being royal can be tricky sometimes in the 21st century. Part of the mystique is the unchanging nature of the institution but to remain the same when everything else is different is a challenge. We want modern royals to be in touch with how people feel but we also want silent, elegant figureheads who do the whole smile and wave without causing, well, waves. So let's take a moment to appreciate the King and Queen of the Belgians who this week took on a headline grabbing couple of days and sailed through them with flying colours. This is what happened when Philippe and Mathilde met the President of the United States of America.

May 24th 2017 was President Trump's first official day of visits to Europe since his inauguration in January this year. The day began at the Vatican (you may have seen one or two photos of that) then as it was Wednesday, it had to be Belgium. Donald and Melania Trump were set to meet King Philippe and Queen Mathilde ahead of a NATO gathering which would see a new building being handed over to the organisation on May 25th. Cue flags and sparkling chandeliers. The Belgian royal social media channels are usually rather keen on pre event photos and sharing so there was a rather classy shot of the US and Belgian flags ready for the arrival of the guests of honour. And that was that.

When your guest of honour has previously described your capital city as a ''hellhole'' and called your country as a 'beautiful city', you'd be forgiven for being slighty ill at ease on the red carpet but Philippe, King of the Belgians, was his usual relaxed self and was Mathilde ever anything other than totally lovely? The doors opened, the hosts and guests appeared and the cameras clicked. All talk of cities and countries was left outside.

Philippe and Mathilde are the first European royals to host President Trump and given that news of his State Visit to the UK (probably this autumn) was greeted with protests, a demonstration against his time in Belgium wasn't that much of a surprise. As the royal welcome took place, local police estimated that around 9,000 people were taking part in a demonstration against the US President on Wednesday. Modern royalty at the heart of a political debut.

However distant from current affairs a royal might try to keep themselves, sometimes the world has a habit of catching up on you. The day after welcoming President Trump to the Belgian Royal Palace, King Philippe found himself starring in what's already one of the most watched moments of 2017. The Belgian monarch is right on hand to witness how President Trump ended up at the front of a photocall for world leaders during his first big meeting with other global heads. On the sidelines and forever caught on camera for this part of political history.

Mathilde, meanwhile, had several debuts going on at Laeken where she was hosting the partners of world leaders. Melania Trump got a lot of attention in her first foray into this particular part of the political spouse role but there were other contenders for the limelight. Brigitte Macron was also making her debut as a presidential wife, joining others just weeks after her husband, Emmanuel, won the French elections. Gauthier Destenay, husband of Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, was present too making this a photo for the history books.

While the politicians were playing photo call shuffle and exchanging feisty speeches, Mathilde took their partners on a tour of the rather glorious greenhouses at Laeken (giving us our first Trump sunglasses moment of their first royal visit) before sitting everyone down for a nice supper and a long chat into a sunny evening in Belgium.  Presumably, everyone there had the geography right and kept the conversation light. Being a royal in the 21st century is a mix of old and new. Mathilde and Philippe had this one tailored to perfection.


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