Danish, Spanish Princes to Wed Commoners

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.

Watch ABCNEWS' 20/20 Friday at 10 p.m. ET for a look at the royals as you've never seen them.

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’

"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.

"It's a modest social background, but it's also a leftist background," said Nalle. "The heir to the throne is marrying someone who not only was a commoner but someone from social circumstances where 50 years ago they would have been killing each other."

One thing that hasn't changed for the Spanish royals, however, is the security concern. When Felipe's great-grandmother, Princess Ena of Battenberg, married King Alfonso XIII on May 31, 1906, an anarchist hurled a bomb at the royal coach. The newlyweds escaped injury, but many others weren't so lucky.

This time, they're taking no chances. When Felipe and Letizia leave the cathedral, they'll skip the traditional horse-drawn coach in favor of an armored Rolls-Royce.

A Prince Walks Into a Bar …

In Copenhagen, security is also a concern.

Crown Prince Frederik and his Australian bride will be able to wave to their future subjects from a horse-drawn carriage after the ceremony, but well-wishers have been asked not to throw flowers, for fear they may be mistaken for a bomb.

The Danish people had long expected their prince, who turns 36 this month, to marry a foreigner, said the Copenhagen Post's Engmann.

The royal family must strike a delicate balance, she said — "not too far removed but not too accessible." If Frederik were to marry "some girl from the suburbs," many Danes would know her, and the royal mystique would be lost, Engmann said. And since the marriage market isn't exactly teeming with young women of royal blood, a foreigner would be the next best choice.

The prince met Donaldson, 32, in a bar while in Sydney for the 2000 Olympics. Her parents had immigrated to Tasmania from Scotland; her father is a math professor. Before her engagement, the Danish Embassy in Australia reportedly was instructed to conduct a discreet investigation to make sure there were no skeletons in the prospective fiancée's cupboard.

While the Scandinavian royals are much more relaxed than Britain's House of Windsor, the Danish monarchy still has some pretty stringent standards. After all, the same family has been sitting on the throne since the Viking age.

"Denmark has the oldest monarchy in Europe," said Engmann. "It's a rallying point for the whole country."

In Norway, for instance, where the current monarchy was established in 1905, the royals are a little more free-spirited. Before her 2001 marriage to Crown Prince Haakon, Crown Princess Mette-Marit was a single mother with a young son from a previous relationship with a man who had been convicted of a drug offense.

"That sort of thing would never be accepted in the Danish royal family," said Engmann.

The Danes, said Engmann, want a princess who has no embarrassing past and can be molded into a representative for the nation. On that front, Donaldson still has to prove herself — first and foremost, by learning to speak Danish fluently.

A Royal Role Model

In that, said Engmann, she has a fine example in her new sister-in-law, Princess Alexandra. Born in Hong Kong to a half-Chinese, half-British father and an Austrian mother, Alexandra Manley married Prince Joachim, Frederik's younger brother, in 1995.

"She's very popular," said Engmann.

Alexandra, the first member of a European royal house to be of Asian extraction, was quickly welcomed as a representative of her new nation.

"The most important thing she did was to learn Danish very quickly," said Engmann.

A former stockbroker, Alexandra was quick to adapt to her new role.

"Alexandra gave the people something they were craving, a young princess wearing a big hat and gloves and giving the royal wave," said Engmann.

Mary Donaldson and Letizia Ortiz, as they adjust to their new positions, will find themselves graded not on royal pedigree, but on job performance.

"Now," said Engmann, "it's more a matter of proving through your actions that you're worthy of becoming a royal."