Last autumn the publication of a biography of King Carl Gustaf which contained a series of scandalous allegations about his private life caused support for the King to fall. This was seen as something of a nadir of his reign and along with other events, such as the break-up of Princess Madeleine’s and Jonas Bergström’s engagement after a kiss-and-tell interview, Prince Carl Philip’s relationship with a former bikini/nude model and reality show contestant, and the revelations of the true extent of Queen Silvia’s father’s involvement with Nazism, it meant that 2010 despite the bicentenary of the dynasty and the wedding of the Crown Princess was something of an annus horribilis for the Swedish royal family.
During the last two weeks the situation has become even worse through the publication of another book, this time about an infamous serial criminal, in which it is claimed that one of the King’s closest friends since childhood, Anders Lettström, had contacted a gangster in order to try and buy compromising photos of the King.
In a farcial turn of events a reporter from TV4 was shown interviewing one of the gangsters, who in the course of the interview showed him two photos, which were not shown on air. According to the reporter the photos showed King Carl Gustaf, at first identified as “a very famous person”, at a strip club watching two women performing a sexual act (such shows are illegal in Sweden, but these photos were apparently taken abroad).
The price reportedly demanded for the photos – 50 million SEK, i.e. almost € 5 million – was apparently too high for Lettström as well as for the media, which has led to the absurd situation that while this story has been much written about in the past two weeks, no-one except TV4’s journalist has seen the photos. Thus one only has the journalist’s word for it that it is the King who appears in the photos, and, as the head of the royal court’s Information and Press Department, Bertil Ternert, has said, this makes it virtually impossible to comment on the story. TV4 has on the other hand refused to comply with Ternert’s demand that they ought to publish the photos so that one may see what the allegations are actually about.
Meanwhile Anders Lettström has issued a press statement in which he takes full responsibility and all the blame for contacting the criminals, stressing that the King has had nothing to do with this. The King has restricted himself to issuing a press statement in which he said absolutely nothing.
Nevertheless this latest scandal has caused support for King Carl Gustaf to fall dramatically. A week ago an opinion poll published in Expressen and carried out by Demoskop showed that 59 % think the King should abdicate in favour of Crown Princess Victoria within the next decade, while only 29 % supported the idea of his remaining on the throne until his death, which is what he indicated he will do in an interview in connection with his 65th birthday last month. The same opinion poll also showed that a mere 39 % say they have strong confidence in the King, while 73 % feel so for the Crown Princess.
This finding is confirmed by a similar opinion poll conducted by Novus for TV4, which shows that 72 % have great or fairly great confidence in Crown Princess Victoria, while 40 % say the same about the King. In this poll 59 % say they support the monarchy, while 29 % want to abolish it.
A third opinion poll, carried out by Synovate and published in Dagens Nyheter yesterday, show that 44 % want the King to remain on the throne, while 41 % express the opinion that he should abdicate in favour of the Crown Princess. This is a marked difference from when Synovate did the same poll in February 2010 and found that 64 % wished to see the King remaining on the throne and only 17 % thought he should hand over to Crown Princess Victoria. Synovate finds that 66 % want to retain the monarchy, as compared to 70 % in November 2010 and 74 % in February 2010.
While opinion polls may be considered nothing more than a fairly accurate indication of public opinion at any given moment, this does indicate that King Carl Gustaf, whatever the truth of the allegations, faces a serious challenge in winning back the confidence of his people. It might be said that these scandals have come at an unfortunate time for him, as the last years had seen him win a form of popularity which had not always been easily available to him. His beautiful, heartfelt speech following the 2004 tsunami won him many hearts and now would have been the time that he, after nearly forty years on the throne, should have settled into the role of some sort of elder statesman/“father of the nation”.
At the same time it ought to be remembered that the calls for his abdication are probably augmented by the enormous popularity enjoyed by his fantastically charming heiress – which in itself does of course bode well for the future of the monarchy after all. Yet this also reminds us that the monarchy today, perhaps particularly in Sweden, is more than ever before dependent on the personal qualities of the royals themselves.