How the Dutch fell in love with their new queen

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Dutch Princess Maxima
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The wife of the Netherlands' new king is a former investment banker

Princess Maxima's entrance into the Dutch royal house was a sensation.

While her family's links to a fallen dictatorship were scrutinised by parliament, the gregarious Latin American charmed the nation.

Now she is queen, with the abdication of her mother-in-law Queen Beatrix on 30 April. So how did this unconventional royal captivate a country so committed to rules and protocol?

The first time I met Maxima she was wearing a wetsuit, waving exuberantly as crowds strained against security cordons to capture a close-up of their most adored royal.

The princess plunged into the canal and swam through Amsterdam: Her willingness to brave the city's freezing waters for charity is symbolic of a character that has captured the Dutch imagination.

"She came and she conquered," says Dutch historian Henk te Velde.

He adds that her readiness to speak to the people in their own language when she married Crown Prince Willem-Alexander also went down well.

"People were struck by the fact that as soon as she came she started to learn Dutch," says Mr te Velde. "We were impressed. It showed she has respect and was willing to make an effort to understand us.

"Now she even makes jokes in Dutch."


Maxima's Latin American roots add to her appeal, according to Han van Bree, a historian who specialises in the Dutch royal family.

"She is exotic, she has passion and sparkle and flamboyance and she doesn't try to be distant like Beatrix," he says. "We love her for that, people can feel the authenticity."

But it would be doing Maxima a disservice to suggest her appeal lies in little more than teaching her Dutch husband how to tango.

Maxima studied economics and before meeting Prince Willem-Alexander at a party in Seville, she was working for Deutsche Bank in New York.

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What do people on the streets of Amsterdam think about their royal family?

Her financial background helped win her the job of UN Secretary-General's special advocate for inclusive finance.

She is involved in domestic debates on the divisive subjects of immigration and integration - something that has, in the past, put her at odds with the country's influential right wing.

Maxima is also a prominent proponent of gay rights. One of her first appearances as queen will be at a two-day international gay rights summit in The Hague.

'A bit stiff'

Willem-Alexander has been aware of his "date with destiny" since he was a child. Mr Van Bree believes this was not something he was looking forward to.

Since he was a boy, Willem-Alexander has had an awkward relationship with the press.

"He didn't tell the media to 'go to hell' as it was reported when he was 11, but it was something close to that," says Mr Van Bree.

During his student days in the quiet city of Leiden, there was an unfortunate photo taken of Willem-Alexander clutching a pint of beer that generated the seemingly unshakable nickname "Prince Pils".

This apparently frustrated the future king greatly.

In an interview in 1997, he said: "My image is not something that keeps me busy every day. But I find it sad that one picture in a paper of me holding a glass has more influence on my image than... years of training."

The prince would go on to learn many lessons on how to keep the Dutch people on his side.

"He was seen as the jet-set prince, 'chasing skirts'. He was always a bit timid in public, a bit stiff," says Mr te Velde, a professor of Dutch History at Leiden University. "But now he looks more relaxed, he is being more himself and he looks ready now and Maxima has definitely helped."

'Modern woman'

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Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands - now princess - praised her daughter-in-law publicly

Maxima's father did not attend her wedding and is not on the inauguration guest list either. Instead of joining the dignitaries descending on Amsterdam, Jorge Zorreguieta will watch his daughter become queen on television.

Mr Zorreguieta was the agriculture minister during Argentina's brutal military dictatorship, serving during the country's infamous Dirty War. Though Maxima was a child at the time, the link initially created some controversy.

There was a campaign to have Mr Zorreguieta arrested and put on trial for crimes against humanity if he entered the Netherlands. This has since been dismissed - but there may again be problems if charges are ever brought against him in Argentina.

The question of Maxima's suitability was even debated in the Dutch parliament.

However, Queen Beatrix came to the rescue with a royal seal of approval.

She appeared alongside the new couple on her 63rd birthday and, during a rare public appearance to announce their engagement, the queen described her daughter-in-law as "an intelligent modern woman".

Maxima has demonstrated considerable dexterity in conforming to public protocol while maintaining private ties between her father and his so-called triple-A granddaughters - the unusual nickname given to the royal couple's daughters Amalia, Alexia and Ariene.

"That is how I hope people will judge our family," Willem-Alexander once said.

Big day

Maxima's choice of outfit for her inauguration was the subject of much speculation, of course.

On the big day she wore a pale rose-coloured dress adorned with a huge bow on her left shoulder.

She is renowned for her flamboyant style, mixing elegant gowns and bold, block colours. From a canary yellow tunic trouser suit during a state visit to Brunei to a cascading champagne gown at the 2011 state opening of parliament.

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Maxima wore royal regalia to the wedding of Prince Guillaume Of Luxembourg in 2012

Maxima is fluent in fashion and knows how to utilise its power of expression. Her extravagant ivory Mikado silk wedding gown was by Italian designer Valentino. More recently Maxima has shopped locally, showcasing stunning creations by a small Amsterdam-based atelier, Jan Taminiau.

For the royal couple's only televised interview prior to the abdication - watched by 4.6 million viewers, roughly a quarter of the population - Maxima's regal blue dress matched her husband's tie.

Mr Van Bree, who has met Maxima, interpreted this as a deliberate effort not to outshine Willem-Alexander.

He says: "She was not like herself - very reserved, very quiet... Normally she is electrifying with so much to say, but it was maybe only 20% Maxima and the rest was Willem-Alexander. It is his big day and I think she is making a conscious effort not to attract so much attention to herself."

She has learnt from past mistakes, he adds.

"It's important she shows that she knows her place - by the king's side and not queen in her own right."

But it will be hard for a woman who revels in refined glamour to rein in her exuberant style.

She may be playing a supporting role, but it is a vital one.

In Henk te Velde's words, she is becoming the Dutch king's "most important adviser" and what she wears matters.