The Dutch Royal family is known for its easygoing, informal lifestyle. The royals cycle places, attend state schools and Queen Maxima is even a registered ‘lice mother’ – she inspects school children’s hair for head lice.
Rather than crowned, Dutch monarchs are inaugurated to their role as head of the royal family and the Dutch nation. Last year, Willem-Alexander automatically became king the moment his mother abdicated. There are no crown jewels to speak of, and in all actuality the Netherlands did not even have a coronation.
Of course there were massive celebrations, but during the inauguration ceremony itself, the crown, orb and sceptre stayed firmly put on a display table. There was none of the hocus pocus that’s involved with for instance the British crowning ceremony. Instead, the inauguration, which took place at a meeting of the upper and lower houses of Parliament, reflects a modern approach to the monarchy. The display crown, dating from 1840, is made out of fake pearls, coloured foil, glass and gold-plated silver.
That is not to say the Dutch royals don’t have klout. They are richer than the British royal family, spend more lavishly and are connected to just about every other monarchy in Europe. King Willem-Alexander is a far distant cousin to Queen Elizabeth II, Margrethe II of Denmark, Albert II of the Belgians, the Grand-Duke of Luxembourg, Harald V of Norway, Juan-Carlos of Spain and Albert II of Monaco. All thanks to his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Jan Willem Friso, Prince of Orange.
That name, incidentally, derives from a medieval principality in the south of France and as you might expect, has evolved to become quite a special colour in the Netherlands, symbolising feelings of national pride, mostly when football’s concerned; the entire country turns orange whenever the national football team is playing.
Willem Alexander is whispered not to want to be known as Willem IV although he is the fourth Willem on the Dutch throne. The reason is somewhat implausible, but the rumour is so persistent there must be some substance to it; apparently the number four, or ‘vier’ in Dutch, rhymes with the Dutch word for beer, ‘bier’. The king does not want to be associated with beer, although he’s known to like a few. His nickname in his high school days was ‘prins pils’ (prince lager)… During his wild days as a student, he also crashed his car into a ditch and once insulted the press, shouting "All press, p*** off" during a photo session.
Interestingly, the king attended Atlantic College in Wales, which is part of an international college system that focuses its teaching programmes on cooperation and communication/leadership skills rather than on nationalism. It was at this school that Alexander pursued many Latin American girls and nobody who knew him then was surprised that he ended up marrying an Argentine.
It should also not be all too surprising that King’s day is celebrated by the historically mercantile Dutch nation with flea markets in every city, town and village. King’s Day is the only day in the year when the Dutch are allowed to sell whatever they like and wherever they like.
A word of advice for tourists, before I sign off; Queen’s Day has -obviously- become King’s Day since the inauguration of Willem Alexander, and the date of the celebrations has been put forward by three days, to coincide with the King’s actual birthday. That means that King’s Day is on April 27th and no longer on April 30th, the day that Queen Beatrix used to celebrate her birthday.
Last year, a number of tourists arrived all dressed up in orange, with party hats and hairdo’s, looking totally puzzled when they hit Amsterdam three days late. A newspaper article with a photo of them on the internet went viral in minutes! So in case you wish to celebrate King’s Day, make sure you arrive on time, or everybody will know you are a tourist!