It seems like in every royal family there is a member who cuts corners from time to time. Often it is the result of an exaggeration by the press but sometimes there really are royals who do not feel the need to follow the rules or do not behave like they are expected to. An excellent example of a scapegoat in the Belgian Royal Family is the brother of King Philippe of Belgium. Meet Prince Laurent.
In the United Kingdom, Prince Harry has often been described as a “party prince” who did not take his role seriously. When the Prince was younger, every single time he acted as a typical teenager and made mistakes, he was made “l’enfant terrible” of the British Royal Family. In Sweden, Princess Madeleine has always been “the party Princess” until she became a “doting mother of two.” Someone who often hits the media with another scandal but may be lesser known to the larger public is Prince Laurent of Belgium. Therefore, let us take a look at a little overview of this interesting royal’s actions over the years.
From the moment his father, King Albert, became the Head of State in 1993, Prince Laurent and his siblings were closely followed by the press. Most Belgians remember the pictures of the Prince speeding in his car while driving off the Palace grounds. The first time Laurent caused “a scandal” (or at least according to the press) was when he started a relationship (which lasted several years) with the Belgian singer and model, Wendy Van Wanten. Wendy’s son Dylan has said that his mother always felt as Laurent was the love of her life. They met at Paris Fashion Week in the nineties. Dylan also stated that his mother very often drove off to Tervuren to see Laurent every single time he had troubles with his parents or siblings. The tabloids have often insinuated that Wendy’s youngest son, Clément is the son of Prince Laurent. Wendy has always kept the identity of her child’s father a secret. According to the tabloids, Clément is named after Prince Laurent’s house Villa Clementina in Tervuren. Whether this is true or not will probably always remain a mystery. However, Prince Laurent has always denied his relationship with Wendy Van Wanten while Wendy denies that the Prince is her son’s father.
In the 2000s, his actions became worse and started to affect the Belgian people. In 2006, it was made public that Prince Laurent had used money from the Belgian Marine to redecorate his house Villa Clementina. His father King Albert II paid the money back to the Marine as soon as the media picked up on it. This was definitely not the last money scandal the Prince got himself involved in, though. Prince Laurent receives an endowment of 87,000 euros a year, and his expenses concerning his work are also being reimbursed. In 2014, the Prince included the school bills of his children, supermarket bills and other personal expenses in the amount he expected to be paid back by the Belgian government. Under large pressure by the Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, the Prince was forced to pay back the amount he had already received. A more complex scandal around Prince Laurent concerns his foundations. The Prince has several foundations, but there are very strong rumours that the financing is not completely legal. Laurent has, time after time, denied this.
That the Saxe-Coburg and Gotha’s are not one big happy family is not a secret. In particular, Prince Laurent has made it clear that the relationship with his father, mother and brother are below zero. On many family occasions, the Prince has been absent or arrived quite late. When his mother celebrated her 80th birthday recently, he missed the entire concert and cake cutting. However, his wife and three children were on time to support Queen Paola. Last King’s Day, the Prince ignored his family completely when he entered the church. His mother even touched his arm to gain his attention, but he kept walking. Not so long ago he also told the press he wanted “to be left alone by the politicians and his family.”
Prince Laurent is, just like his sister Princess Astrid, a working member of the Belgian Royal Family. The Prince does many official engagements a year. Ever since Philippe became King, the official events of Astrid and Laurent have not always been published on the public calendar. Prince Laurent has found a solution to this and created his own Twitter account which he uses as his own public agenda.
Even on official duty, the Prince is not always the image of perfect behaviour. During the Belgian National Day celebrations last year, Prince Laurent was seen texting and talking on his phone. He also clearly found it quite boring as he kept yawning as the military parade passed by. Last June, the Prince was asked to attend a concert of the Queen Elisabeth Competition, a very prestigious competition of which Queen Mathilde is the patron. He was pictured wearing yellow ear plugs and sleeping through the entire concert. Recently, he did not show up as he was supposed to visit an animal shelter, and these are sadly only a couple of examples.
As a member of a royal family, it is important to not get involved in political issues. However, this rule is one the Prince has broken more than once. In 2011, Prince Laurent made a private visit to Congo where he requested a meeting with President Joseph Kabila. The Belgian Parliament did not know about this and was absolutely furious. Congo used to be a Belgian colony, and ever since, the relationship remains tense. Prince Laurent said about this: “I just wanted to improve the relations with Congo. This affair is a coup from the Palace, they [refering to his parents] have been trying to hurt me for over 30 years.”
Later, he also seemed to have had contact with several diplomats from Angola which was also not according to the rules he needs to follow. Even though the Prince received many comments on these actions, he kept doing what he does best, his own thing. In 2014, he tweeted a picture of himself with the President of Sri Lanka, again without the Belgian politicians or court knowing.
It would be easy to conclude that Prince Laurent is the “l’enfant terrible” as he is often described in the press. To be entirely fair, he is not a bad man. He is a great father to his three children and often brings them along when he has official duties. He does not expect them to behave perfectly or just smile and shake hands; he really talks to them about the topics of the visit and makes jokes. He is also great with children in general. Additionally, he seems to be a wonderful husband to his wife, Princess Claire. After rumours about relationship issues, the Prince issued a press release in which he declared his love for Claire. It was a rather odd action, but it did show he wanted to put the record straight. He is also the only member of the family who has publically spoken with his rumoured half-sister Delphine Boël.
Prince Laurent is one of the most funny royals. He has a good sense of humour, and that is what makes him liked by the Belgians. After all those scandals, the Prince was repeatedly summoned by the Prime Minister. In Belgian there is a proverb that literally translates as: “being called upon the carpet” which means the same as to rap someone on the knuckles. Comedian Urbanus presented Laurent with a small carpet with a drawing of the Prince on it so he could bring his own carpet when the time came again. The Prince thought it was hilarious.
This is just a short summary of the scandals and fails the Prince has already caused in his life. I have a feeling this will definitely not be the last time he does something remarkable. He is not the worst person and had quite a difficult childhood. Let us hope the press will cut him some slack in the future.