Today is the eightieth birthday of King Albert II, who reigned as King of the Belgians from the death of his brother, King Baudouin, in 1993 until his abdication in favour of his son, the current King Philippe, on 21 July last year.
Unlike his Dutch counterpart, King Albert retains the kingly title, but he and Queen Paola have so far kept a fairly low profile. While Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands is a fixture at all sorts of events, King Albert and Quene Paola carry out few public engagements, although one exception was the canonisations of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II on 27 April, when they represented their son.
King Albert and Queen Paola also seem to have found it more difficult than Princess Beatrix to adjust to their new role. There was some rather undignified complaining that his allowance was too low, leaving him short of money for fuel for his yacht, and when their youngest son, Prince Laurent, was recently in a coma in hospital, Queen Paola issued a statement which suggested that the situation was more serious than the royal court claimed. Apparently this lead to King Philippe removing the head of his parents' household, who was, however, soon back in a role of special adviser.
King Albert's eightieth birthday will be marked by an exhibition on his life at the BELvue Museum in Brussels, which will open tomorrow, and King Albert and Queen Paola have given a rare interview to broadcaster RTL, which will air in two parts on Monday and Tuesday.