When Lady Diana Spencer married Britain's Prince Charles in 1981, everyone said it was like something out of a fairy tale. But the two commoners who are marrying royal heirs this month stand a much better chance of living happily ever after.
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On Friday, Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark weds Australian Mary Donaldson in Copenhagen's Lutheran cathedral. In Madrid, preparations are under way for the May 22 nuptials of Spain's Crown Prince Felipe and former television news anchorwoman Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano in Almudena Cathedral.
Neither woman, when she says "I do" and becomes Her Royal Highness, is expected to be subjected to the barrage of media coverage that Princess Diana received.
"The tradition in Denmark is not the same as it is in Great Britain," said Rebecca Engmann, managing editor of the English-language Copenhagen Post. "The [Danish] press doesn't hunt the royals. They're not interested in promoting nasty stories."
And Spain, still reeling from the March 11 train bombings that killed nearly 200 people, is definitely ready for some happy news. A royal wedding provides a good excuse to celebrate.
"Letizia Mania" is already sweeping the country. Souvenirs bearing images of the royal groom and his journalist bride are everywhere. You can buy everything from commemorative mugs to special keychains to replicas of the engagement ring Prince Felipe gave his fiancée. Bookstore shelves are filled with titles such as The Royal Engagement, Princess Letizia and You Will Be My Queen. There was even a special limited-edition "Doña Letizia" candy bar.
As a newscaster on Spanish television, Ortiz, 31, was a celebrity in her own right before her engagement to Felipe, 36, was announced. But her marriage to the Prince of the Asturias, as the heir to the Spanish throne is known, shows just how much things have changed in European royal circles.
Not only is Ortiz a commoner, but she is also a divorcée. Her first marriage, to her university tutor, lasted just one year. Not too long ago, divorce was verboten in all royal circles. Now, it's accepted as a fact of life. And in any event, the Spanish Bourbons are much less hidebound than the House of Windsor.
Spain's more relaxed attitude was set by King Juan Carlos when the monarchy was re-established in 1975 following the death of dictator Francisco Franco.
"When Juan Carlos came back and became king, he just began a very low-key style of leadership," said Sara Nalle, a history professor at William Paterson University in New Jersey. "They live a life that is distinctly different from the British royalty."
A Leftist Background
Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, who was born a Greek princess, made sure to establish an unpretentious family life for Prince Felipe and his two older sisters. "They're a real family with real problems and they've dealt with them very sanely," Nalle said.
Ortiz's social background is evidence of just how flexible the Spanish royal family has become, Nalle said. She was born in Oveido, a northern town with leftist leanings. Her father is a newspaper journalist; her mother, a nurse, was a union representative at a Madrid hospital.