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Before they were royal: The life of Queen Silvia of Sweden

She would go on to become the longest-serving Queen of Sweden, but no one could have expected what the future reserved for her as Silvia Renate Sommerlath was born on 23 December 1943 in Heidelberg, Germany.

The youngest and only daughter of Walther Sommerlath and Alice Soares de Toledo, Silvia was born in her father’s homeland, but she would soon move to Brazil, her mother’s country. Her parents had been married in Brazil in 1925 and continued to live in South America until 1938 when the family moved to Germany. They lived in Europe for nearly ten years, during which period Silvia was born, before moving back to Brazil in 1947, where they would live for the next decade.

While in Brazil, Walther Sommerlath, Silvia’s father, worked as President of the Brazilian subsidiary of Swedish company Uddeholm, among other positions. Later in life, Silvia stated that from an early point in her life she remembers that Swedes would often visit her house in connection with her father’s work. At this point, she had no idea the role a Swede would have in her life.

The future Queen of Sweden lived in Brazil from the ages of four to fourteen, a very important time in everyone’s life, not the least for Silvia, who remembers fondly things like the school she used to attend, her school friends and even some of her teachers. In Brazil, she also had, and maintains to this day, close contact with her maternal family. During her time in Brazil, she attended a bilingual school founded by German immigrants. She later said in an interview that she and her brothers often speak Portuguese among them when they feel happy.

After returning to West Germany in 1957, Silvia graduated from high school at Düsseldorf in 1963. Two years later, she entered the Munich School of Interpreting, where she would complete her studies in 1969 with a major in Spanish.

A brilliant polyglot, at this time in her life, Silvia could already speak five languages: German, Portuguese, English, Spanish and French.

After graduating from the Munich School of Interpreting, Silvia worked for some time at the Argentinean Consulate in Munich. By 1971, the then Miss Sommerlath was working hostess trainer with the Organising Committee for the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, a perfect job for a polyglot such as Silvia. Later, she became Deputy Head of Protocol of the Organising Committee for the 1976 Innsbruck Olympics in Austria.

Silvia later admitted that she felt she could relate better to the people she knew in the course of her official duties because of the life she had before she became Queen. She said she knew what it meant to earn money working so she could pay electricity and water bills, for example.

It was in Munich while working as a hostess trainer that Silvia met her future husband, then Crown Prince Carl Gustaf of Sweden. The future King of Sweden later described in an interview how he felt that they “just clicked”. From that moment, they would start a relationship, and Silvia would often and discreetly visit the King in Stockholm. However, at the time the monarch of Sweden was Gustaf VI Adolf, and he never allowed for Princes of the Royal House of Sweden to enter a contract of matrimony with a commoner, unless the Prince in question renounced his royal titles and rights of succession to the throne of Sweden.

The future Carl XVI Gustaf, the first in a line of succession that comprised only two people, would wait to propose to Silvia until his accession to the throne, ensuring he wouldn’t need his grandfather’s approval to marry the woman he loved. From late 1974, the soon-to-be Queen of Sweden started living in Stockholm at an apartment owned by the King’s sister, Princess Christina.

HM King Carl XVI Gustaf and HM Queen Silvia’s wedding 19 June 1976, in Stockholm Cathedral. Photo: Engelberth Bengtsson, The Royal Court, Sweden

Their engagement wouldn’t be announced until 12 March 1976, after Silvia completed her work with the 1976 Winter Olympics in Austria. After being together for four years, they were married on 19 June 1976 at Stockholm Cathedral, in a true gathering of European royalty, the day when they officially started their lives together.

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