Temperatures in some parts of Spain are hitting record levels and the heat seems to be spreading. As he set foot on Spanish soil for the first time in almost two years, King Juan Carlos found himself the star of a very warm welcome indeed.
Even the man at the centre of the celebrations seemed somewhat surprised by them. Large crowds and loud cheers greeted him as he made his way to the sailing club in Sanxenxo in Galicia at the start of a five day stay described as private by the Royal Household. However, this is turning into a very public private visit. Almost 200 media are accredited in the coastal town to cover the return of the king. His elder daughter, Infanta Elena, noted there were more cameras than at her wedding.
They captured a story that has surprised some. Juan Carlos left Spain, voluntarily, in August 2020 as scrutiny of his financial affairs and allegations of wrongdoing intensified. He always denied the claims and all inquiries into allegations have concluded with no charges. As soon as he was cleared, Juan Carlos was explicit in his desire to come home for visits to friends and family. However, planned trips never happened. Until now. And almost as soon as the Zarzuela Palace confirmed, on May 18th 2022, that his return was imminent, questions arose as to how he would be received. The answer, in Sanxenxo at least, was as clear as the sun filled skies. With a warmth as unexpected as the temperatures now creeping across the country.
Juan Carlos arrived at the sailing club around lunchtime on May 20th 2022, less than 24 hours after the private plane carrying him from Abu Dhabi touched down in Vigo. As he drove towards the club, he waved to the lines of people standing on vantage points to catch a glimpse. As his car swung towards the entrance, he found large gatherings of wellwishers, some armed with cameras and others with flags, who cheered loudly as he got out of his car. They were sustained cheers for the king has serious mobility problems and his exit took time. The celebrations didn’t stop.
Juan Carlos appeared moved as he took a few, slow paces towards the crowds, shaking hands with some and then putting his hand to his heart as the reception continued. The cheers were so loud that he appeared to struggle to hear the questions shouted by the waiting media. His only comment at this much anticipated moment was that ”it’s not raining today.”
Given the drama that has surrounded Juan Carlos in the past few years, a poet would be forgiven for finding an analogy in that apparently innocuous comment. However, the king was more explicit as he left the club after a day’s sailing a few hours later. The cheers were still there as was his smile as he told reporters he was very happy and had had a good day.
There were smiles, too, from Infanta Elena who has been at her father’s side since his return. And his every move has been followed on TV, online and in papers where the appearance of Juan Carlos is the main story of the weekend, making headlines ahead of the record temperatures.
However, the clear sailing may not last. On May 23rd, the king is set to return to Madrid where he will see his wife, Queen Sofia, and their son, King Felipe. Much has been made of the decision not to include the meeting in Felipe VI’s formal agenda while questions are now arising as to whether any images of father and son together will be shared. Not for the first time in his reign, Felipe finds himself dealing with a dilemma created by Juan Carlos.
For while the reception in Sanxenxo has been warm, others are somewhat cool towards the appearance of the former monarch. Commentators in some weekend papers are asking why the man who left for exile over allegations around his finances hasn’t made any remarks about the issues on his return. Juan Carlos’ popularity nosedived as the scandals around him intensified and his approval ratings are a long way from reaching the heights being scaled by thermometers on the weekend of his homecoming. However, plenty has also been written in newspapers of taking a longer view of a king who helped bring democracy to Spain after decades of a fascist dictatorship.
And there is King Felipe’s dilemma. A noticeable thaw in the perception of Juan Carlos means he isn’t the pariah of the past summer when he fled in secrecy from Spain. However, neither is he completely forgiven. The meeting between the two men is already public knowledge but Felipe has to decide how to allow it unfold in the public eye.
Time will tell how these two kings come together for a royal reunion. There’s little doubt, though, that interest in the return of Juan Carlos remains as high as the temperatures now ruling Spain.