Belgian crown prince's new beard sparks accession talk
Is it just a holiday look or could it be a sign that Belgium's crown prince Philippe is ready to assume the throne?
Prince Philippe, 50, sported the short greying beard for the first time over the weekend, during a visit to a retirement home where nine pensioners perished in a fire last week. He interrupted his summer holiday in France to make the visit and set media tongues wagging, with the image change commanding many newspaper headlines.
"Some believe that it gives him a more mature appearance, more assured, others say it makes him look a bit old," La Dernière Heure reported.
Belgium will have to wait until the prince returns from his holiday "to find out if this hirsuteness is temporary," stressed La Dernière Heure.
There was no comment on the subject of intense royal conjecture by the palace, which considered the subject purely personal.
When his uncle King Baudouin died in 1993, some thought that Philippe would succeed him.
However, it was Philippe's father Albert, brother to Baudouin, who mounted the throne when his son was deemed too immature to assume the crown in a country where the monarch can play a politically significant role in time of governmental crisis.
King Albert II is 75-years-old.
No Belgian king has grown a beard since the resplendent version sported by King Leopold II at the start of the 20th century.