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Is the quiet retirement of Belgium’s Queen Paola about to get more interesting?

CC BY 3.0, Wiki Commons

Queen Paola of Belgium is marking her 84th birthday quietly but she is set to tell her own story for the first time since it was confirmed that her husband, King Albert, fathered a child outside of marriage.

Earlier this year, newspaper Nieuwsblad, broke the exclusive that Brussels Screen Film Fund had secured an interview with Queen Paola. While the contents of the interview aren’t known yet, Paola has a fascinating story to tell.

On the 11th of September 1937, in Forte dei Marmi in Tuscany, Italy, Donna Paola Margherita Maria Antonia Consiglia Ruffo di Calabria was born, seventh and youngest child of Folco, Prince Ruffo di Calabria, a WWI flying ace, and Donna Luisa Gazelli dei Conti di Rossana e di Sebastiano, a descendant of the Marquis de Lafayette. 

She was educated in the religious school Caterina Volpicelli, run by nuns in Rome. After finishing high school in classical studies, she opened a fashion atelier with her friend Marina Lante della Rovere. 

For the inauguration of Pope John XXIII, Donna Paola took part in a reception at the Belgian Embassy, where she meets Albert, Prince of Liège, and she later recalled that “We were both shy, so we only talked a little”. They kept seeing each other, and got engaged at the 18th birthday party of Princess Maria Camilla Pallavicini (one of the many noble families of Italy with whom the Ruffo di Calabria family is related). 

The couple announced their engagement at Laeken Castle in April of 1959 and got married in St Michel and St Goudule Cathedral, Brussels, on the 2nd of July 1959.

The Prince and Princess of Liège had three children: Prince Philippe, Princess Astrid and Prince Laurent. 

Following the birth of Prince Laurent, the couple went through a profound crisis, which supposedly led Prince Albert to have extramarital affairs; in 2020, after many years of legal battles, the daughter he fathered in 1968, five years after Prince Laurent’s birth, was legally recognised and became Princess Delphine. 

Albert and Paola reconciled in the late 1970s, and in 1993 became King and Queen of the Belgians, following the death of Albert’s older brother King Baudouin. 

In 2015, Paola began suffering health issues and was ordered by her doctors to take a period of complete and total rest following concerning cardiac arrhythmia. In December of 2016, she was hospitalised in Brussels following a vertebral fracture, and, just a month after returning home, in February of 2017 she fell again, this time fracturing her hip. But the worst came in September of 2018, when she had a stroke while on holiday in Venice, and had to be repatriated to Belgium to undergo treatment for that. She thankfully recovered quickly and was left with no permanent damage. 

The programme in which she speaks is set to air in the autumn on RTBf. It will be a documentary that will retrace Queen Paola’s life, specifically focussing on her long marriage to King Albert, and everything that came from that. It will also be the first time she has spoken publicly since King Albert recognised Delphine as his daughter. Queen Paola is said to have been willing to participate in the program “for the sake of history”, according to sources. It is understood that King Philippe has been informed of the program being filmed and aired. It will be interesting to see what the documentary will reveal of the life of one of Europe’s queen consorts.