Royals

Everything you need to know about the Dutch royals – and where you can meet them this week

The Weekly interviews the King of the Netherlands ahead of his family's visit to New Zealand this week.

He’s one of Europe’s youngest and most powerful kings, from a family that has ruled his nation for more than 200 years, while she’s a glamorous queen who has drawn comparisons to Princess Diana and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.

But when King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima of the Netherlands visited New Zealand on their honeymoon in 2002, the lovebirds travelled around virtually unrecognised.

Even now, after an official tour in 2006, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Kiwi who would recognise the royal couple.

However, that will change next month, with the spotlight set to shine on the two Dutch monarchs as they return to New Zealand for their first state visit representing the Netherlands — and in a rare interview, His Majesty the King (49) tells the Weekly he and Máxima (45) can’t wait to come back to a place that holds such happy memories.

Chatting informally over cups of strong black coffee and plates of sugary biscuits in the lavishly decorated Cherub Room at The Hague’s medieval Noordeinde Palace, father-of-three Willem-Alexander speaks fondly of their time spent in both the North and South Islands, making special mention of the natural beauty of Abel Tasman National Park.

The good-natured royal is keen to keep some details of his honeymoon private – he smiles as he tells us his best memories aren’t necessarily suitable for publication – but he speaks of his love for our rich indigenous culture and our scenic mountains, which dwarf Holland’s highest point of 323m above sea level.

The King (who is unable to be quoted directly due to political reasons) also spoke of the strong bond that has blossomed between New Zealand and the Netherlands, discussing our shared values and passion for the sea, describing both peace-loving nations as punching above our weight on the world’s stage, and laughing as he lamented that a country with a population a quarter of the size so often beats Holland on the sports field – despite the Dutch being the tallest in the world!

Born in 1967, the King’s said to have been aware of his destiny from an early age.

It was a fate with which he didn’t feel altogether comfortable and his relationship with the public started awkwardly when he was reportedly heard telling the Dutch press to “go to hell” at the age of 11.

Things only got worse when, in his student days, Willem-Alexander was photographed clutching a pint of Pilsner and earned the popular nickname “Prince Pils”, which long proved unshakeable.

Frustrated, he once said, “It’s not something I obsess over every day, but I find it sad that one picture in the paper of me holding a glass has more influence on my image than years of training.”

Indeed, the future king had studied how to keep the Dutch public on side (and became a world-leading expert on water management), but as Leiden University history professor Henk te Velde says, “He was still seen as the jet-set, skirt-chasing prince, so he was always a bit timid in public.”

However, Willem-Alexander underwent an image transformation after he met Buenos Aires-born investment banker Máxima (nee Zorreguieta Cerruti) at a party in Spain in 1999, with the businesswoman lending him an air of relatability and respectability.

Yet it was hardly a case of love at first sight for the Argentine beauty, who, two weeks later when he visited her at work in New York, confessed she’d forgotten what he looked like!

Regardless, a spark was ignited and they made their first public appearance as a couple that year.

But the future queen kept the identity of her beau from her parents for as long as possible, later confessing, “I would tell them something different every time, but at some point there was nothing for it but to say, ‘He’s the Prince of the Netherlands!’”

Máxima’s father caused the first big test for her relationship with Willem-Alexander.

When it was revealed that, during the ‘70s, he’d served as a minister for Argentina’s brutal military dictatorship, the Dutch public questioned whether Máxima was suitable to join the royal family.

However, Willem-Alexander’s mother Queen Beatrix publicly stood by her when the couple became engaged in 2001.

The controversy did mean Máxima’s dad wasn’t invited to their wedding in Amsterdam the next year.

Sixteen months later, Máxima announced she was pregnant, and she and Willem-Alexander became parents to future queen Princess Catharina-Amalia, now 12, in 2003. Princesses Alexia (11) and Ariane, nine, followed.

And in that time, Máxima became one of the Netherlands’ most adored women, with her husband’s popularity soaring alongside hers.

Everyone we spoke to waxed lyrical about her intellect, her down-to-earth nature and her charity work, which earnt her comparisons to the late Princess Diana.

Gera van Sprang, a royal fan from Noordwijk aan Zee, told us how Máxima has even volunteered as a “lice mother” at her daughters’ school, checking the heads of children and teachers for nits on their first day back in class after holidays.

Gera says, “She cares about us normal people, especially kids, the elderly and the disabled, and Willem-Alexander has become closer to us as a result. She changed him for the better.”

And just as Tasmania-born Crown Princess Mary gained the favour of the Danish public for embracing her adopted homeland’s culture and language, Máxima is admired for her fluent Dutch and dedication to the nation.

Her exotic heritage is also seen as bringing extra flair to the royal family.

Of her cultural identity, Máxima herself says, “I am Latin and will continue being Latin. I sing, and will keep dancing and singing.”

Máxima became Queen when Willem-Alexander’s mother Beatrix abdicated in 2013.

While abdication is unthinkable among the British royal family, it’s been a tradition in the Netherlands since 1948, when the King’s great-grandmother Queen Wilhelmina decided it was time to pass the crown on to the next generation, her daughter Queen Juliana, after leading the nation through two world wars.

While Willem-Alexander wouldn’t go so far as to advise our own Queen Elizabeth II, he did tell the Weekly the handover allowed a change of monarch to be a festive occasion, rather than a time of mourning, and got his reign off to a positive start.

The King is the first male monarch of the Netherlands in more than 120 years, but he insists his sex hasn’t provided any challenges – after all, he lives with a strong, independent woman and three little ladies, so he jokes, he’s in touch with his feminine side, thank you very much.

Here’s hoping we see that charming, fun-loving side to Willem-Alexander when he and Máxima visit New Zealand this week.

Words: Sebastian van der Zwan

Where to see the Dutch royals

Mon, Nov 7 – Wellington

After an official welcome at Government House, Willem-Alexander and Máxima will lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, before visiting the Great War Exhibition and the Park Road Post Production film company.

Tue, Nov 8 – Christchurch

The couple will learn about the kiwi breeding programme at Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, then meet with Ngai Tahu farmers at a local marae to hear about their sustainable practices. They’ll finish the day touring the city and learning about earthquake rehabilitation.

Wed, Nov 9 – Auckland

Willem-Alexander and his wife will view paintings that celebrate the shared history between New Zealand and the Netherlands at Auckland Art Gallery, before attending an economic conference on the future of food.

Related stories


Get NZ Woman’s Weekly home delivered!  

Subscribe and save up to 29% on a magazine subscription.