Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The devoted princess

It is a major event in Monaco's year and the wife of the sovereign prince is a regular feature there. But no one would have raised an eyebrow had Charlene not been out and about in the cool night air for the traditional boat burning ceremony that takes place the night before the feast of Saint Devota. But just six weeks after giving birth to twins, the princess is devoted to duty.

The look of devotion - Princess Charlene smiles at Prince Albert during celebrations on the eve of St Devota's Day
(photo Palais Princier Facebook)

Saint Devota is the patron of Monaco, She was martyred on Corsica in the fourth century and after her death it is said that Christians took her body across the sea to prevent it being burned but they were hit by a storm and a dove guided their boat to Monaco where they came ashore. Fishermen discovered Saint Devota's body and built a chapel in her honour there.

Looking stylish, calm and confident - Charlene is back on duty

And it was at that chapel that Princess Charlene famously wept on her wedding day. After her religious marriage she had gone to the special spot to leave her bouquet and on her exit from the chapel, she wiped away a tear. No one knows why the new princess cried then but after rumours, which Charlene always denied, that she had tried to flee the principality before the ceremony some took it as a sign of sadness rather than an overjoyed bride overcome with emotion.

Charlene and Albert set fire to a boat as part of celebrations for the feast of St Devota on January 26th 2015

Since then she has been a devoted consort and one of her most high profile appearances every year has been at the cermonies marking the feast of St Devota. But two six week old babies to look after and a major operation to recover from might have been enough for anyone to excuse the princess from the duties this year. Charlene was having none of it and strolled out looking happy and relaxed on this special day for the principality.

Albert and Charlene looked very happy indeed on St Devota's Day 2015

She spent lots of time greeting the many people who had come out to see her and her husband and to take part in the celebrations before helping set fire to a fishing boat in a traditional ceremony that always takes place the day before the saint's feast day. Charlene seemed to be having a great time on this first big night out since becoming a mum. A happy mum taking part in celebrations - Charlene is the devoted princes..

Princess Charlene on St Devota's Day - in photos

It is a big day in this little principality. The feast day of Saint Devota, patron of Monaco, falls on January 27th and the country's royals always take part in events marking the occasion. The evening before there are traditional ceremonies including one that involves setting fire to a boat. And despite only becoming a mum of two six weeks ago, Princess Charlene of Monaco was there to take part in 2015. Here are some of the highlights in photos.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Sir Philip the Controversial

Prince Philip has been at the centre of plenty of controversy in his time what with his unerring ability to say things that get everyone else talking. But the nonagenarion consort woke up this morning at the centre of a row not of his making. The decision of Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, to make him a knight of the Order of Australia, has been met with fairly widespread chortling and not a lot of backslapping. The Duke of Edinburgh has become Sir Philip the Controversial without even trying.

Philip of Edinburgh has just become a knight of Australia

The honour was awarded to the duke to mark Australia Day. The title was reinstated last year by Tony Abbott and so far Philip is among five people to receive either a knighthood or damehood. But the other four are all Australians and that's where part of the controversy has started.

Controversy has been raining down on Prince Philip since it was announced he was to become a knight

Australia Day is all about celebrating Australia. It does exactly what it says on the tin. And that's why some critics have laid into the decision of Tony Abbott to hand over a knighthood to Philip. For some he just isn't a big enough part of their country. The Prime Minister of Australia said it was because the prince had been a 'great servant of Australia' and it was a way to 'properly acknowledge what he's done for us'. It is also in recognition of the way the Duke of Edinburgh Award has helped thousands of young people across Australia.

The Duke of Edinburgh with some winners of the Award that bears his name at a ceremony in London in 2014

Others weren't so sure with plenty of Twitter users asking if it was some kind of April Fool's Joke. Other politicians criticised the decision with the former Western Australia premier, Geoff Gallop, saying it was a sad reflection on the country while the leader of the Labour Party, Bill Shorten, said it had created a 'time warp'. And there were plenty of jokes right across social media at the decision to make Philip a knight.

Philip might well smiled at some of the jokes being made today about the knighthood he's been given by Australia

It's Tony Abbott who is fending off critics here not the prince and this may well be the last we hear of this award. But the decision to make Philip a knight has given critics of the Royal Family a field day. And turned the Duke of Edinburgh, briefly, into Sir Philip the Controversial.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

The man who changed royal weddings

Johan Martin Ferner was something of an enigma on the European royal scene. His surname is familiar as his wife has it as part of her rather unusual royal title. But the man himself kept things pretty low key. However, his death was announced by the Royal Court to which he was aligned and has made headlines across the continent. Johan Martin Ferner was a man who made royal wedding history.

Johan Martin Ferner, 1927 - 2015
(photo royalcourt.no)

He was the groom at a controversial and unusual royal marriage. He arrived at the church in Asker, just outside Oslo, on January 12th 1961, and was joined not long afterwards by his bride, Princess Astrid of Norway, daughter of King Olav. They said their vows before hundreds of guests, including members of several European royal families, and left as husband and wife. But there was one very big difference between Mr Ferner and other recent royal bridegrooms. He had been divorced.

Princess Astrid and Johan Martin Ferner on their wedding day, January 12th 1961
(photo royalcourt.no)

He was also a commoner but that wasn't new ground for the Norwegian royal by then as Astrid's sister, Princess Ragnhild, had married a non royal in 1953. But the fact that Johan Martin Ferner had been divorced really did set tongues wagging. The marriage was much more low key than it might have been had Princess Astrid chosen a different bridegroom. There was no big celebration in Oslo and parts of the Lutheran church in Norway objected to the marriage. But the couple were still greeted by thousands of cheering fellow country people as they made their way to Asker church on their wedding day. And among the guests at the service was Princess Margaret who had famously given up the man she loved as he had been divorced. It was just twenty five years since Princess Astrid's cousin, King Edward VIII, had given up his throne to marry the twice divorced Wallis Simpson. In many ways, the marriage of Astrid and Johan Martin Ferner changed royal weddings as for the first time in years a princess had wed a divorced man with royalty as guests and without losing her position.

King Olav of Norway with his daughter and new son-in-law on their wedding day
(photo royalcourt.no)

Johan Martin Ferner was born on July 22nd 1927 in Norway but his name as birth was Jacobsen. His father was called Ferner Jacobsen and his first name was later adopted as a surname. Johan Martin Ferner won a silver medal for sailing at the Helsinki Olympics and also ran a successful department store with his brother. His first marriage took place in 1953 and ended in divorce three years later.

Princess Astrid and Johan Martin Ferner on the day they announced their engagement in November 1960
(photo royalcourt.no)

Princess Astrid Maud Ingeborg of Norway entered the church in Asker for her wedding as Her Royal Highness and left as Her Highness Princess Astrid, Mrs Ferner. She has been known by that name ever since. Until 1968 she continued to act as First Lady of Norway, a role she had taken on following the death of her mother, Princess Martha. On her brother's marriage to Sonja Haraldsen in 1968, Princess Astrid ceded that role to her new sister-in-law. By then Princess Astrid, Mrs Ferner and Mr Ferner had two daughters and a son. They would have a further two children together.

Princess Astrid with her father, King Olav, and her brother, then Crown Prince Harald, awaiting the arrival of King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola of the Belgians on a State Visit in 1965
(photo royalcourt.no) 

Johan Martin Ferner died in the early hours of January 24th 2015 at the Rikshospitalet in Oslo at the age of 87. He is survived by Princess Astrid and their family. His brother in law, King Harald V, announced his passing with a message of condolence to his sister who he said had lost a 'wonderful husband'. Mr Ferner was a family man who will be missed by his loved ones. But he also had his own place in royal history - as a bridegroom who changed royal weddings.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Royals on social media

The royal families of Europe have been out and about braving the elements as a chilly January continues to unfold. And they've shared plenty of images and thoughts on their official social media channels. We've had big birthdays, big coats and big words this week from the royals - here are some of their social media highlights.

Happy Birthday to you

There were plenty of royal anniversaries being celebrated on social media this week. The biggest birthday wishes were for the Countess of Wessex who turned 50 on January 20th. The British Monarchy Twitter account encouraged everyone to wish Sophie well with the hashtag #HappyBirthdayHRH and shared images of the countess who spent her special day on a series of engagements with her husband. 

Queen Mathilde of the Belgians turned 42 on the same day. The official Belgian Monarchy Twitter account showed her at her day's engagements - a reception for EU officials at the Royal Palace in Brussels.

Princess Ingrid Alexandra of Norway was 11 on January 21st and to mark the occasion the Royal House published a series of archive photos on their official Facebook page.

Nice coat

It's January so we can't expect the royals to turn up to engagements in anything other than huge coats. Scarves and gloves are optional. King Felipe and Queen Letizia went for matching black overcoats when they visited Navarre for the first time since taking the reins and images were shared on the official Twitter account of Casa Real.

The Duchess of Cambridge got tongues wagging when she stepped out in a baby blue coat for a day of engagements in Kensington. Kate is six months pregnant with her second child and her choice of colour led to speculation that boy number two could be on the way. The duchess said she doesn't know whether she's having a prince or princess - there were plenty of chances to see the coat in a series of pictures published on the Kensington Palace Instagram account.

Words, words, words

The Duchess of Cornwall launched a writing competition for young people in the week with the help of TV presenter and DJ, Chris Evans. Images of the event starting the #500words contest were shared on the Clarence House Twitter account.

The King and Queen of Sweden got their own new word in the week when it was announced that they would visit Finland in March and would be taking their own hashtag with them. #SWEFIN2015 got a mention on the official Facebook page of the Swedish Royals too.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

A true telling of history

The new production of Wolf Hall is about to get underway and already there is a debate going on about how realistic, or not, the show looks. And there will no doubt be more in the coming weeks as Mark Rylance and Damian Lewis bring to life the embattled, dark and destructive relationship between Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell.  But is historical reality really a necessity for historical drama? As Wolf Hall gets under way, does a story have to be realistically told to stand a realistic chance of being good?

Mark Rylance is Thomas Cromwell in BBC Two's Wolf Hall which starts on January 21st 2015

We already know that this production has been lit, in part, just by the flame of one candle to make it look to us as it would have looked to those whose lives it chronicles. The clothes won't be as bright as costume designers have tried to use the same kind of dyes available to those dressing kings and queens in the 16th century. But nothing changes the fact that those bring Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell to life do look remarkably different from the stars of the Tudor court. And not just facially.

Spot the difference - a new cast of Tudors is about to take to our screens

Life is better, easier and healthier now. The portraits we have left to us of kings and queens of times past show them as they wanted to be seen - glowing and glorious. The fact is that with much poorer hygiene, medicine and healthcare even the sexiest and prettiest monarch in their prime would have suffered, ever so slightly, from grime. We want sultry and sensual princes on our screen but chances are that these royal protagonists would have had problems with their skin, teeth and hair because they just couldn't look after them to the same standard as we can today. But then why have a Henry VIII with greasy hair when you can have Damian Lewis?

Henry VIII on a good day - Damian Lewis isn't going to look like this

And isn't that the whole point of retelling historical tales? We want our own version, not the gritty reality of a dirtier day. What sings from the pages of history is the human tale, the love and the hate and the longing and the violence and the power and the intrigue and the drama. And that can be told in whatever setting we choose. OK, it's nice to have it played out in gorgeous Tudor houses in gorgeous Tudor clothes with plenty of authentic Tudor drama. But the bottom line is the anger, jealousy, politics and passion that informed the story.

He's got the beard and the anger - can this new version of Henry VIII do justice to his story?

It will be interesting to see what areas of Tudor life are given the most prominence in this production for very often that tells us more about the audience watching than the people whose lives are being told. Tudor tales made in the 1960s and 1970s focussed on the power of Henry and the passion of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard while the Tudors showed us an early 21st century version where the women were the stars. We know Wolf Hall focuses on the relationship between Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell putting the focus on the dynamic between a powerful man and his chief adviser. But how the women in Henry's life and their entourages are shown will be just as interesting.

Wolf Hall already has all the makings of a TV classic. And whether or not it is just like Tudor times doesn't really matter. The story, that great royal epic of an adventure that was the reign of Henry VIII, is so powerful that it could be told a thousand times and still fascinate.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Sophie and the sweet taste of success

She got a cracker of a birthday cake and wasn't shy about tucking in. She's never looked better and, arguably, has never been more appreciated. As the Countess of Wessex turns fifty there is widespread celebration of her work and a growing realisation that suddenly Sophie is a star and then some. The woman who married into the Royal Family at one of the hardest moments in its recent existence and who could quite easily have become an also ran is now a mainstay of the House of Windsor. Turning fifty really is sweet for the Countess of Wessex.

The Countess of Wessex cuts her birthday cake while Prince Edward looks on
(photo British Monarchy Twitter)

The countess spent the day on a series of engagements with her husband in Kennington where she attended engagements in support of Tomorrow's People, an employment charity of which she is patron. Then it was on to an engagement for Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust which saw Sophie, accompanied by husband Edward, head to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to see the work of the Avoidable Blindness programme run by the trust.  There was also a rendition of Happy Birthday from school children for the countess as well as she enjoyed her special day.
A video posted by The British Monarchy (@the_british_monarchy) on

Sophie Helen Rhys-Jones was born on January 20th 1965 in Oxford, the second child of Christopher and Mary Rhys Jones, She was working in PR when she began her relationship with Prince Edward, youngest child of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. The couple announced their engagement in January 1999 and married at St George's Chapel, Windsor on June 19th that year. The prince was made Earl of Wessex on the day of their marriage. The countess suffered an ectopic pregnancy in 2001 before giving birth by emergency caesarean section to a daughter in November 2003. Lady Louise Wessex was joined by a brother, James, in December 2007. The family now lives in Surrey.

The countess embraced her royal role early on but in the last five years she has really come into her own. She is known as a hard worker with a wide range of charities and organisations enjoying her patronage. She is a fashion icon with a sense of style that just seems to get better and better. And she is at the heart of a happy family and enjoys good relations with the Queen.  But overall, the impression of Sophie at fifty is as the constant countess, a woman who married into the Royals when they were still recovering from the shock of the death of Diana. Sophie helped work towards the change in fortunes which now sees the royals more popular than ever before. She has been a large part of that success and her steady, confident and, yes, glamourous presence is a huge plus point for the Windsors. Fifty years old, fifteen years a royal and at the very top of her game. Life is sweet for the countess.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Blue for a girl?

Once upon a time, not really all that long ago, baby blue was the colour for baby girls. And once upon a time, even less of a long time ago, a certain duchess spent the latter part of her pregnancy wearing pale pink and peach and convinced everyone a little princess was on the way only to emerge from her much watched hospital clutching a boy. As Kate of Cambridge enters her final trimester with baby number two, blue has been her colour. So does that mean a little girl will soon be calling Prince George a big brother?

The Duchess of Cambridge, and bump, in baby blue in Kensington on January 19th 2015
(photo Kensington Palace Instagram)

Kate's preference for pink as she prepared to give birth to the future monarch had many convinced that a daughter would be born and change history. After all, had baby number one been a girl she would have retained top spot in the succession ahead of any little brothers. As it was, the pastel peaches, roses and blushes were covering up a baby boy who turned out to be as boisterous as can be. Pink was, at one time, the shade chosen for baby boys so does Kate do old fashioned and hint at the gender with the colours of yesteryear. That is, of course, if the royal couple know the gender of their children before they arrive.

Kate has shown a preference for blue since announcing baby number two

Or it may be that, if she does know, Kate is throwing us all off the scent. Last time round much was made of a kind of comment where the duchess appeared to accept a gift for her 'da-' before stopping herself and starting everyone else talking. By the time she hit months seven, eight and nine in an array of baby pink plenty were convinced a princess would be born,. So is her preference for blue - seen again today as she donned a pastel coat by Seraphine on a series of engagements in Kensington, London - a way of getting us all to think it's a boy again this time round.

Just days ago, the duchess was seen in navy as she opened the Clore Art Room and one of her first engagements returning to work after another bad dose of Hyperemesis Gravidarum, was at the rugby in Wales where she wore baby blue. Again. There was another outing for an ink blue evening dress after that. In fact, for Kate blue really has been the colour for weeks now.

To be fair, the duchess does like her blue outfits - it's one of her most popular choices and was the shade she selected for her engagement outfit and her going away dress the day after that wedding. And to be even fairer, the reason she picked today's coat is most likely that she just liked it. But as royal baby mania part two gets under way, every move she makes will be under scrutiny. Wear a baby blue coat and start everyone guessing on the name of a baby prince. Even if, years ago, it would have been (royal) baby blue for a girl.

The Duchess of Cambridge in Kensington - in pictures

The Duchess of Cambridge has spent the day on a series of engagements in Kensington. Kate began her visits ta Family Friends, a charity which helps disadvantaged families, before heading to Kensington Aldridge Academy and Kensington Leisure Centre. She wore a baby blue coat by Seraphine for the engagements and her bump was noticeably bigger - she is now around six months into her second pregnancy. Here are some of the highlights of her day in Kensington - in pictures.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Royals on social media

It's been a big week in royal social media. Without any warning at all, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge sent the Twitter-sphere crazy by setting up Twitter and Instagram accounts with Prince Harry. Other things happened too but they were somewhat overlooked as hundreds of thousands flocked to the social media presence royal watchers everywhere have been waiting for. Here's the royal week in media.

Making a name for themselves

All Twitter users struggle with finding a name that sums them up but marks them out. And things were no easier for future king William of Cambridge, future queen Kate and future nineteenth in line to the throne, Harry. There are enough royal watching and royal spoofing accounts out there to ensure that @KensingtonPalace itself was tricky so they launched on social media on January 14th as @KensingtonRoyal. And instantly picked up thousands of followers - 127,000 and counting. The first photo of a royal on duty posted on the account featured Harry at a Coach Core event - at St James' Palace.

  A week of a thousand handshakes

It was time for New Year events in Belgium and the Netherlands.  King Philippe and Queen Mathilde held a reception for members of NATO at the Royal Palace in Brussels in the week and shared images on their official Twitter feed.

The Dutch Royal Family held New Year receptions for people from across the Netherlands with photos shared on the official Facebook page. The events took place at the Royal Palace in Amsterdam.

The great outdoors

As the cod fishing season got under way in Norway, Crown Prince Haakon Magnus headed to Senja, an island in the north of the country, to learn all about the industry. And he featured in some striking images, with fish, on the official Facebook page.

Meanwhile, Prince Daniel of Sweden hit the slopes for All About Ski which offers school children a chance to learn about winter sports. And he starred in some Facebook snaps to mark the occasion.

And the winner is...

The Spanish Royals spent a lot of time presenting prizes this week and their official Twitter channel was filled with snaps of the awards ceremonies. Many of the images starred Queen Letizia.

Kate in an Instagram

This is the week that three of the most famous royals in the world went high tech. January 2015 saw Kensington Palace launch a new social media presence that will focus on the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry. There's a Twitter, Instagram and Storify and all three have been very popular.  But so far the Kensington Palace Instagram account has been all about Kate.

The Duchess of Cambridge at Barlby Primary School in London featured heavily on the brand new Kensington Palace Instagram account
(photo via @kensingtonroyal Instagram)

Of the thirteen picture posted so far, six came from her visit to Barlby Primary School in London on January 15th and five from her engagement at the Fostering Network in the city the following day. The remaining photos are from Prince Harry's reception for Coach Core at St James' Palace although one of those is an image of the palace itself.

The account has already picked up 138,000 followers - 12,000 more than the Twitter account (@KensingtonRoyal) launched at the same time. There's a Storify blog as well bringing the three young royals well and truly into the social media age.

And that modern media age is all about the photos. What's the phrase we associate with Kate? Most photographed woman in the world. One image of the duchess can keep media going for days and many of the features on Kate involve picture galleries. One thing that will always get a second look is a new look from the duchess.

A photo posted by Kensington Palace (@kensingtonroyal) on

So it makes sense that just about everything on the Instagram account is all about Kate. These new channels are a new way of bringing the very traditional role of the Royal Family to a new audience. Kate's appeal just widened considerably - in an Instagram.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Kate at the Fostering Network, London - in pictures

It was her second engagement in two days and on Friday the Duchess of Cambridge spent several hours at the Fostering Network in London.  The duchess met carers and children who have been placed with families and spent time hearing about the work of the organisation. The outfit was Hobbs and not from its maternity range but worn with similar black tights and heels as the Madderson London outfit from the day before. Here are the highlights of Kate's day in Islington in pictures.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Kate at the Clore Art Room - in pictures

The Duchess of Cambridge visited Barlby Primary School on January 15th 2015 to officially name the Clore Art Room there. It's part of Kate's work with the Art Room charity which helps children who are experiencing emotional and behavioural difficulties.  The duchess, now approaching six months pregnant, was in a navy dress with bright trim by Madderson London and spent time with many of the children at the school as well as hearing from teachers and helpers. Here are some of the highlights in pictures.