Dutch crown prince tames paparazzi en route to throne
When Willem-Alexander and Maxima become Europe's youngest king and queen next week, they will already have dealt with arguably the greatest challenges facing a 21st century monarch: taming the media.
Unlike British royals, relentlessly stalked by the paparazzi many still blame for the 1997 death of princess Diana, the Dutch royal couple appear to have established the ground rules for their relationship with the press.
But it has not always been plain sailing. The symbiosis between the Dutch royal family and the media has been tumultuous in the past, even descending into legal disputes or violence, particularly when Willem-Alexander, now 45, was involved.
Things got off to a bad start for the crown prince when as an 11-year-old, apparently frustrated with yet another official photo call, shouted: "All Dutch media go to hell."
In the 1980s a young Willem-Alexander was frequently portrayed as a hard-partying royal and when a photograph of him as a beer-swigging student appeared in the press, it landed him the monicker of "Prince Pils".
An allegation by late Dutch glamour and paparazzi king Joop van Tellingen that a youthful Willem-Alexander took a swing at him at Zurich airport while apparently waiting for a girlfriend, also did not help.
"I think in his youth, Willem-Alexander learnt the hard way that the media is important in terms of his image," said Han van Bree, a Dutch historian who specialises in the royal family.
"From the cradle to the grave the cameras will be focused on Willem-Alexander," added royal commentator Jeroen Snel in an interview with Dutch national broadcaster NOS.
The future king in an interview in 1997 said: "My image is not something that keeps me busy every day."
"But I find it sad that one picture in a paper of me holding a glass (of beer) has more influence on my image than four years of training (to be the future king)," he said.
After marrying Argentine-born Maxima Zorreguieta in 2002, interest in the royal couple intensified, especially after the birth of their daughters, future heir to the throne Catharina-Amalia, princess Alexia and princess Ariane.
-- Press code --
By 2005 after several incidents and a lawsuit, the Dutch government information service (RVD) unilaterally introduced a press code at the royal family's behest.
"The personal lives of the Dutch royal family must be respected... and left alone at such times when they step into the public eye in their private capacity," the code states.
If the media transgresses "suitable steps can be taken" including a temporary or permanent withdrawal of accreditation for royal events "or a lawsuit", it said.
Dutch media have largely respected the code, snapping away at official shoots including of the royal family on holiday, but US news agency Associated Press bore the brunt of the royals' wrath when in 2009 they ran "unauthorised" photographs of the family skiing in Argentina.
The prince won the ensuing lawsuit, with an Amsterdam judge saying the pictures did not contribute to public debate and ordering AP withdraw the shots.
The royal Dutch press code also had another unexpected result: it cultivated a mix of the aloofness of royalty with the informality of a normal modern family, analysts said.
But historian Van Bree warned that the royals should not become too attached to being "normal": "It should not be too simple. If the monarchy loses its luster, it loses its exceptional side."
"If you remove the mystique of the current monarchy there's not much more left," he said.
-- "People make mistakes" --
The royals themselves have nevertheless not always managed to avoid the pitfalls of close media scrutiny.
In 2009 they were forced to sell a sumptuous villa on the Mozambican coast after a media storm erupted about the luxury project in the impoverished African country.
And last year, Willem-Alexander admitted shame after he was pictured playing a traditional Dutch game of toilet-bowl tossing in a small town he was visiting during the annual Queen's Day celebrations.
But the incoming king recently said in an interview: "We are people. People make mistakes."
"If you make mistakes you must learn from them and you have to ensure that they don't happen again."
Van Bree said: "One thing is for sure, if Willem-Alexander wants to be a good king, he should stay away from tossing toilet bowls around."
Jan Hennop and Nicolas Delaunay / AFP / Expatica
Photo credit: www.postproduktie.nl