The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Saturday, April 2, 2011

What William and Kate Can Learn from Royals Around the GlobeBy: Laura Trevelyan

Posted: Sunday, March 20th, 2011

Kate Middleton and Prince William

As Prince William and Kate Middleton look forward to life after the wedding, what lessons — good and bad — can they learn from other royal families around the globe? In the latest BBC America Modern Monarchy show, I've been taking a look at worldwide "royal do's and don'ts." Which royal families have retained the support of their people – and which have squandered it? What does it take to be a successful modern monarch?

Crown Princess Máxima of the Netherlands provides an interesting example. The former investment banker who married into the Netherlands royal family is now very popular in her adopted country – a kind of Netherlands Princess Diana, says our correspondent who interviewed her.

When Máxima became engaged to Crown Prince Willem-Alexander, there was a heated debate in the Netherlands because her father had been a member of Argentina's notorious military government. He did not attend the wedding. Máxima recovered from this difficult beginning: she's become active in charitable work, seems warmhearted and approachable in public, and is a United Nations advocate. Asked by the BBC what advice she could give to Kate about marrying into a European Royal family, Máxima replied, "Enjoy it, it's a wonderful job."

It's a very different story for the former Crown Princess of Nepal, Himani Shah. The tale of the Nepalese royal family is an object lesson in how to lose public support. After the infamous Palace massacre in 2001, in which the Crown Prince killed his parents following a row over who he should marry, the Nepalese mourned the loss of their popular King Birendra. Yet the new King quickly fell from grace, riding roughshod over Parliament. He declared a state of emergency in order to defeat the Maoist rebels, and Parliament eventually voted to abolish the monarchy altogether.

By misreading the public mood, Nepal's monarch was deposed. Now Himani has swapped palace life for a new role with a trust helping Nepal's less fortunate. Political instability in Nepal has led some to wish for a restoration of the monarchy – so would Himani go back to royal life? "It's up to the people," she told the BBC.

The King of the tiny Himalayan principality of Bhutan is a similar age to Prince William — although King Wangchuck's father stepped down so his son could succeed to the throne. After his coronation, the young King Wangchuck tried to meet as many of his subjects as possible, to hear their concerns firsthand. It's all part of Bhutan's gross national happiness index, proposed by the former King as the best way of measuring the country's progress, rather than relying solely on economic indicators. As constitutional monarchs, William and Kate won't be able to propose policies like this — but whether you're a royal in Nepal or Nottingham, the importance of the walkabout as a way of keeping in touch with your people is not to be underestimated.

Laura Trevelyan is a BBC correspondent based in New York.

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