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Belgium's new Queen Mathilde has been a popular figure ever since she stepped onto the public stage, with her natural elegance, relaxed but diligent approach to royal duties, and commitment to good causes.
"Mathilde is thoughtful and conscious of her responsibilities," her father said of her when Mathilde married Crown Prince Philippe in 1999.
"She is a perfectionist and will do her best to fulfil her public duties and live up to what Belgium expects of her."
And so it has largely proved, with Mathilde often attracting more attention than Philippe, who became King of the Belgians on Sunday after his father Albert II formally abdicated the throne.
Mathilde, 40, is the seventh queen since Belgium's independence from The Netherlands in 1830.
But she is the first native born, an undoubted asset at a time when divisions between the Flemish-speaking north and French south pose serious questions about Belgium's political future.
A working mother of four, she has a determined streak to match her sense of duty, rallying the staff at her Fonds Princesse-Mathilde charity when the economic crisis sapped morale and threatened its work.
"It was a question of fulfilling the contract that she had made with Philippe through her marriage, and also with the Belgian people," said Francoise Tulkens, honorary president of the Fonds Princesse-Mathilde.
Mathilde is an aristocrat, born in 1973 to Count Patrick d'Udekem d'Acoz and Countess Anna Maria Kommorowska in Brussels, where she studied before attending the Catholic University of Louvain.
There she obtained, with distinction, a higher degree in psychology to add to her specialisation in speech therapy.
Upon her marriage to Philippe in 1999, Mathilde quickly found her feet, learning her lines and meeting her brief easily amid close media attention on trips abroad with her husband to promote Belgium.
Their eldest child is 12-year-old Princess Elisabeth, who becomes the first female heir to the throne ahead of her brothers after Belgium changed its Salic succession laws in 1991 to end the automatic right of the eldest male to succeed on the throne.
Mathilde and Philippe are raising their family in the Laeken royal palace in Brussels where the children are receiving a multi-lingual education. Elisabeth has already impressed on official engagements with her perfect command of Flemish.
Mathilde has also won plaudits from the likes of Vanity Fair, which in 2008 called her "marvellous, fresh and stylish" in a review of international personalities.
Among designers, she favours home-based Edouard Vermeulen and wore his Natan brand at the weekend ceremonies.
"She is a modern woman; a wife, a mother who works. She has a lot of charm, charisma ... She knows what she is doing," Vermeulen told AFP, adding that she "is always elegant".
© 2013 AFP
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