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28/01/2013Willem Alexander: from 'Prince Pils' to Dutch king
Future Dutch king Willem Alexander, 45, has undergone a remarkable transformation from his image of a boozing Casanova, ill-equipped for the throne, into that of a serious, responsible family man well-loved by his people.
Due to take over the reins from his mother, Queen Beatrix, who announced her abdication Monday, he has been preparing for his accession by taking on more and more duties in a bid to shake off his immature reputation.
In a reverse version of the classic fairytale, Willem Alexander met his Princess Charming in the form of Argentinian Maxima Zorreguieta, and much of his new-found popularity has been linked to their marriage in 2002.
The past of Maxima's father as an official of the Argentine junta in the 1970s cast a brief cloud over their relationship.
Her father was not allowed to attend his daughter's wedding in the Netherlands, and her mother also stayed away out of solidarity.
But since then, Maxima has crept into the hearts of the Dutch, through her efforts to learn to speak the language fluently and her willingness to reach out to ordinary Dutch citizens.
The couple has three young daughters, Princesses Catharina-Amalia, 9, Alexia, 7, and Ariane, 5. The three princesses are adored by the Dutch and they often pose together with their parents for photoshoots.
The oldest of three sons, Willem Alexander had a difficult adolescence, and was sent to complete his high school in Wales.
Upon return to the Netherlands for his military service in the Navy and then to study, Willem Alexander built an image in the Dutch media as a hard-partying and troublesome royal, earning him the nickname of "Prince Pils" after a particular beer.
But after graduating in 1993, he started travelling the country and took steps to shake off his negative image.
In 1998 he got the parliamentary nod to become a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
The future Dutch king also developed an interest in water management, an effort rewarded in 2006 with his appointment as chairman of the UN Secretary-General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation.
But it was his meeting with Maxima in 1999 and their subsequent marriage in February 2002, that changed his image into that of a serious royal and family man, worthy of the Dutch throne.
Willem Alexander was "intelligent, tender and strong and has both feet on the ground," Maxima once said of her husband in an interview.
Seen as more progressive and closer to ordinary people than even his mother, Willem Alexander has further stamped modernity on the Royal House through his visits abroad and an online blog.
Holding various ranks in the Dutch armed forces, he frequently visits Dutch navy vessels, air and army bases, including in Afghanistan and along the Somali coast, where the Dutch navy is part of the European Union's anti-piracy operations.
He has a military and civil pilot's licence, meaning he can fly commercial jets. He has been known to fly official aircraft as well as planes belonging to the Royal Dutch Airlines (KLM).
The royal family's lifestyle however has not been without criticism.
Willem Alexander in November 2009 sold his luxurious holiday house as it was under construction on the Mozambican coast under pressure from hostile public opinion who saw it as a garish asset in the poverty-wracked southeastern African country.
Last year, the future king publicly confessed to being ashamed after taking part in a traditional Dutch "toilet-throwing" contest in a small eastern village during Queen's Day celebrations on April 30.
"Here in the Netherlands there are towns that take part in the throwing of toilet-bowls for a laugh," he said.
"I participated with a smile, but not without shame in thinking about the some 2.6 billion people around the world that do not have this most basic infrastructure to fulfil a daily need with dignity," he said.
© 2013 AFP
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