SPAIN

Spain's little Leonor, eight, is Europe's youngest heir

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 June, 2014, 3:56am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 June, 2014, 6:27am
AFP

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Like many eight-year-old girls, she eats in the school canteen and goes to ballet class. Her friends know her as Leonor, but soon they will have to call her "Highness".

Her childhood will not be the same now that her grandfather Juan Carlos is stepping down as king of Spain.

Once her father Felipe is crowned king, she will no longer be "infanta" but princess, and one day queen. She will be the youngest direct heir in Europe.

She will step out for the cameras with her blue eyes, cascading blonde hair and big smile. Royal-watchers say those may be the charms the Spanish royal family needs to save its image.

"Until now, her parents have deliberately protected her so that she is not in the papers all the time. Those days are over," said the prince's biographer, Jose Apezarena.

"They will still try to minimise the impact on her personal life, but soon she is going to be the heir to the throne. It will change her life. I feel a bit sorry for her because the change is going to take away some of her freedom."

Leonor and her sister, Sofia, have enjoyed low-key upbringings sheltered from the public eye. The few glimpses allowed have shown them smiling with their mother and father or their grandmother, Queen Sofia.

"Leonor is a very intelligent child, very active but calm. She faces the cameras with great serenity," Apezarena said.

History is changing the childhood routines of Leonor de Borbon y Ortiz, however.

Just weeks before the king announced his abdication, Leonor made her first official outing, standing beside her father to watch a ceremonial fly-past on May 2.

Royal-watchers say the timing was not random. Juan Carlos, 76, had already decided to step aside and the outing was the start of Leonor's higher-profile role.

When Felipe is crowned, Letizia will become queen and Leonor will take the title Princess of Asturias.

She is expected to follow the same preparation for the crown as her father did, with military training when she is older. At 18, she must swear loyalty to the king and the constitution.