Former royal Tessy Antony de Nassau reveals ‘New Zealand has changed me’

''Nothing will ever be the same. I have found a home away from home!'' says Tessy.
Tessy Antony de Nassau of Luxembourg

She may have started the year as a princess and ended it as a private citizen, but Tessy Antony de Nassau has proved that her title was never what defined her, as she finishes the year on a high right here in New Zealand.

Previously known as Her Royal Highness Princess Tessy of Luxembourg, she lost her title in September following her divorce from Prince Louis of Luxembourg (33), her husband of 11 years and the third son of Luxembourg’s Grand Duke Henri and Grand Duchess Maria Teresa.

They have two children together, Prince Gabriel (13), and Prince Noah (12).

When she first spoke of the divorce in April, she was confident she would tread her own path, whatever became of her HRH status.

“A title doesn’t make you who you are,” she said.

“A woman has her own merits and it’s not who you marry or what name you carry, it is what you have achieved in your own right.”

Tessy and her ex-husband met as teenagers and had two children, Prince Gabriel and Prince Noah.

Ten months on, she is certainly proving herself.

Beyond her life as a royal, Tessy (34) is also an astute businesswoman, an activist and a humanitarian, and she’s determined to continue to make a difference in the world.

“Yes, I was married and in the royal family,” she tells the Weekly from Christchurch, “but I also have an education, and that’s my work. I go around and work with governments and institutions, and I love my work.”

This month her work brought her to New Zealand to see first-hand the effects of the Canterbury earthquakes and the March 15 shootings, as a guest of The Christchurch Foundation.

Tessy says she received an email from its founder, Amy Carter, about a “thinker in residence” programme the foundation runs, sponsored by KPMG.

“The idea is to bring in a global thinker and give them an outside perspective on what they’re doing and optimise their five-year-plan,” explains Tessy.

“I spoke with Amy from the foundation and we talked about who that person could be, and suggested it be me!”

Tessy holds a master’s degree in international studies and diplomacy and an honorary doctorate for her work in global education.

She also spent five years as an officer in the Luxembourgian military (where she met Louis, who was also serving) and is a UNAIDS advocate for young women and adolescent girls.

While a royal, she spent many years working with NGOs and furthering her education.

Having never been to New Zealand, Tessy jumped at the opportunity to come to our shores, and has been incredibly impressed during her week here.

She’s had a packed schedule, meeting with local businesses, community groups and politicians, including the mayor and deputy mayor.

But by far her most moving meeting was when she visited Al Noor mosque.

“It was really emotional, but I felt so grateful for that very insightful visit,” she says.

“They really let me in and took me through the path of the gunman and what has happened since. We spoke about mental health, about what it has been like for the women – those who have lost a husband or a child – and what it has been like for the men.

“One man, the father of the youngest victim, spoke to me and it was heartbreaking. I was really struggling, and went to bed crying that night.

“But what I saw was also really beautiful. That father, despite what horror had happened to his family, just talked about love. Love and humanity and how we are all connected. Just hearing that positivity and generosity of heart, I was overwhelmed.

“I feel so privileged that as an outsider I have been let into the mosque and shown such love and kindness, while they exposed their vulnerabilities to me.”

As a woman who works in education, Tessy says she was delighted to learn about the rich history in Christchurch.

“All of these advances that happened here in New Zealand, I wasn’t even aware of! I didn’t know the Education Act was written here in Christchurch. I think Christchurch should be called the cradle of education! On top of that, to learn about the suffragette movement, the nuclear-free movement… it’s incredible.”

Tessy will now write a report with her recommendations for The Christchurch Foundation. She says her visit has forever changed her and she’s already planning her next trip back.

“I want to bring my children next time – they would love it – and I’d like to explore more of New Zealand.

“I’ve just been so impressed by Christchurch. The way this community has come together, how strong they are, how supportive they are… I think it’s really beautiful. Cantabrians are role models for the world in showing how people can learn to be with each other, support each other and love one another, even after such horrific acts. It’s really admirable. To see so much spirit here is so beautiful that it makes me want to live here! I would love to live here in Christchurch.”

From here, Tessy has a packed schedule, heading back to her home in London for an innovation fair, more work in Paris, a TED talk, then Dublin for an internal Facebook conference, at which she will speak about inclusion and compassion in the workplace.

Finally, she’ll head to Luxembourg for Christmas with her family, where she will simply relax, eat good food – “fondue is a must!” – read books, ski, spend time with her loved

ones and reflect on the year.

And Christchurch will certainly be in her thoughts. “Nothing will ever be the same. I have found a home away from home!”

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