Willem Alexander: playboy Dutch prince who became a family man

The future king, who was once seen as a boozing Casanova, has transformed himself into a serious, responsible father of three

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 January, 2013, 5:31am


Soon-to-be 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 on 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 reversed 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 in 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 have three daughters: Catharina-Amalia, nine, Alexia, seven, and Ariane, five. The three princesses are adored by the Dutch, and they often pose with their parents in photographs.

But Willem Alexander is also fiercely private, giving reporters and photographers brief, choreographed glimpses of his family in return for being left in peace the rest of the time.

"He and Princess Maxima are fully prepared for their future roles," Beatrix said in her speech. "They will serve our nation with dedication, faithfully preserve the constitution, and bring all their talents to the monarchy."

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 "Prince Pils", a reference to a particular beer.

But after graduating in 1993, he started travelling the country and took steps to shake off his negative image.

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.

Additional reporting by Associated Press