MADRID: Spain’s future King Felipe VI, a tall, blue-eyed former Olympic yachtsman, ascends the throne on Thursday, rising in popularity despite scandals that battered the reputation of his father and elder sister.
In the first royal succession since the Spanish monarchy was re-established after the death of General Francisco Franco in 1975, Felipe, 46, is being touted as the symbol of a much-needed new generation.
When he stands on the palace’s front balcony as the new king alongside his queen, the glamorous 41-year-old Letizia, the royals are no doubt hoping that Spaniards massed below will be cheering on a new reign with a fresh slate.
Felipe’s 76-year-old father, King Juan Carlos, who walks with a cane after repeated hip operations, fell foul of public opinion in 2012 when he took a luxury African elephant-hunting in the midst of Spain’s recession.
His elder sister, the 49-year-old Princess Cristina, has been named a tax crime suspect in a judicial investigation into her husband Inaki Urdangarin’s allegedly corrupt business dealings.
But as others in the family suffered a sharp plunge in popula–rity and as polls show most Spa–niards would like a referendum on the very future of the monarchy, Felipe’s approval rating has actually climbed.
Indeed, a poll taken after King Juan Carlos announced his abdication on June 2 showed 76.9 percent of respondents had a good or very good opinion of the prince.
The new king and queen—a modern, attractive couple with two blonde-haired daughters, eight-year-old Leonor and seven-year-old Sofia—are certain to be fodder for the world’s media.
“He has to bring together Spain in all its diversity and get the best political consensus he can,” said Enrique Martin, 71, strolling in the sunshine near the palace.
“He has an enormous respon–sibility but I think he will do as his father did: try to be the king of all the Spanish. I am sure he will manage it. He is very well prepared,” he added.
Felipe was schooled for his future role as monarch in the three branches of the armed forces and studies abroad, and he comes across as a solid, studious personality.