‘Bit of a Don Juan’ who made pet poodle an air marshal: Quirks of man about to be crowned Thai king

by - 8 min read

‘Bit of a Don Juan’ who made pet poodle an air marshal: Quirks of man about to be crowned Thai king

by - 8 min read

by

The National Today newsletter takes a closer look at what’s happening around some of the day’s most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.

TODAY:

  • Maha  Vajiralongkorn, about to officially be crowned Thailand’s king, remains something of a mystery man.
  • Issues tied to climate change could make for a stormy meeting between the prime minister and Alberta’s new premier.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

Crowning Thailand’s King

The people of Thailand knew that they were going to be crowning a new King this weekend, but the Queen comes as a bit of a surprise.

The announcement of the wedding of King Maha Vajiralongkorn and the woman long-suspected, but never officially confirmed, to be his girlfriend, Suthida Tidjai,  came via a proclamation in the royal gazette on Wednesday.

Footage of the ceremony, which has since been broadcast on Thai television, shows her dressed in pink and lying prone at the feet of Vajiralongkorn, who sported a white military uniform. Tradition dictates that the king, a semi-divine figure, must sit elevated above his subjects during official functions.

In this photo released by Bureau of the Royal Household, Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn, right, presents a gift to Queen Suthida Vajiralongkorn Na Ayudhya at Ampornsan Throne Hall in Bangkok on Wednesday. (Bureau of the Royal Household via AP)

Suthida, a 40-year-old former Thai Airways flight attendant, will now be crowned alongside her 66-year-old husband during the three days of coronation rituals set to begin on Saturday.

She has been a fixture in palace circles since 2014, when Vajiralongkorn appointed her deputy commander of his bodyguard unit, later elevating her rank to general and giving her a royal title.

She becomes the fourth wife of the thrice-divorced Vajiralongkorn, who also has seven children from his previous relationships.

Vajiralongkorn became the country’s constitutional monarch in the fall of 2016, following the death of his revered father King Bhumibol Adulyadej at age 88, ending a 70-year reign. The ceremonies this weekend will officially enthrone Vajiralongkorn as Rama X, the tenth king of the ruling Chakri dynasty.

The elaborate festivities, which blend Hindu and Buddhist traditions, include a ritual bath and the new king’s anointment with waters collected from more than 100 sources across the country. Vajiralongkorn will place the 7 kilogram gold-and-diamond crown upon his own head, and he will also be carried through the streets of Bangkok in a formal 6.5 km-long procession before his subjects.

Participants rehearse the water procession for the coronation as they navigate the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok on April 30. (Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP/Getty Images)

The cost of the pageant, which will also be broadcast live on all the country’s television stations, is estimated to be in excess of $30 million US.

Vajiralongkorn, the second of King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit’s four kids and their only son, remains something of a mystery man.

He was educated at private schools in the U.K., before attending military college in Australia. He later served as an officer in the Thai military, training as a fighter pilot, and he continues to fly his own 737 jet on his travels.

But his mother once described him as “a bit of a Don Juan.” His former wives were his royal cousin, followed by a young actress and then one of her ladies-in-waiting, and he has been romantically linked to several other women.

There have been questions about his gambling and business links to underworld figures. And in recent years, he has spent much of his time living in a posh lakeside mansion near Munich, Germany.

A Thai woman buys a portrait of King Maha Vajiralongkorn in Bangkok on Monday. (Sakchai Lalit/Associated Press)

Thailand’s incredibly strict lèse majesté laws — even the mildest criticism of the royal family can result in a 15-year jail sentence — have kept his new subjects in the dark about the quirkier aspects of their new king’s personality. Like the time he elevated his now deceased poodle Foo Foo to the rank of air marshal. Or the lavish shopping expeditions where Vajiralongkorn has been photographed wearing crop tops and showing off a raft of (possibly fake) tattoos.

Still, he is becoming an ever-more-powerful figure in Thailand.

His image is everywhere ahead the coronation — on stamps and the money, his portrait hangs from the side of buildings and decorates every state office, and a short film about his life is screened before every movie at theatres.

A royal “Volunteer Spirit” program reportedly boasts four million members — almost six per cent of the country’s population — who dress in imperial yellow and preface their acts of public service, like directing traffic or cleaning streets, by saluting his picture.

A portrait of King Maha Vajiralongkorn stands near the Thai Royal Palace on Thursday. Hundreds of thousands of people are expected attend the ceremonies on the weekend wearing yellow to show support as Thailand holds its first coronation in nearly seven decades following a mourning period for King Bhumibol Adulyadej. (Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images)

His personal security unit is being quadrupled to a force of 1,600 hand-picked police.

And since last summer, Vajiralongkorn has had full personal ownership and control of as much as $40 billion US in crown assets, including major stakes in Thai banks and construction firms. (In exchange, the new king has promised to make his business dealings transparent and pay taxes for the first time.)

Thai kings have been officially politically neutral since the end of the country’s absolute monarchy in 1932. But Vajiralongkorn has also shown signs that he might be willing to alter that stance.

Last winter, he moved decisively to quash his elder sister’s bid to run as the prime ministerial candidate for a new party linked to Thaksin Shinawatra, the country’s now-exiled former civilian leader.

Ubolratana Rajakanya renounced her royal status in 1972 when she married an American she met while studying at M.I.T., but her brother ruled her candidacy “extremely inappropriate,” saying it defied the nation’s traditions and culture.

Thai Princess Ubolratana visits the International Tourism Trade Fair (ITB) in Berlin on March 7. (Soeren Stache/AFP/Getty Images)

Vajiralongkorn has also been forging ties to the military junta that has ruled Thailand since a 2014 coup. The current prime minister, Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha, was one of the select few guests at his wedding this week.

The official results of the late March election, the first since the military takeover, have been delayed until after the coronation ceremonies. And it is believed that Vajiralongkorn has been playing a role in diffusing tensions between the impatient opposition and the generals.

Most Thais trust their royal family to guard the national interest.

The new queen, however, might want to keep a sharp eye on her husband. At the cremation ceremonies for King Bhumibol, Vajiralongkorn had another woman, Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi, his purported mistress, close by his side.

The 30-something is already a colonel in the palace guard, and may be due for a promotion.


  • Like this newsletter? Sign up and have it delivered by email.
  • You may also like our early-morning newsletter, the Morning Brief — start the day with the news you need in one quick and concise read. Sign up here.

At Issue

Issues tied to climate change could make for a stormy meeting between the prime minister and Alberta’s new premier, The National co-host Rosemary Barton writes.

For a few weeks now we have done flooding stories on the show pretty much daily. And while they are now cleaning up in New Brunswick, they are still waiting for the water to peak here in the Nation’s Capital.

The last major climate change report for this country came just a few weeks ago. It showed things are moving fast, and flooding like what we are seeing now in different parts of Canada is only expected to happen more often.

A couple surveys floodwaters from behind a row of sandbags on the street in an east end community of Ottawa on Wednesday. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

It’s in this context that Alberta’s new premier, Jason Kenney, sits down with the prime minister for their first face-to-face.

Kenney has used a lot of bluster to insist a new pipeline get built and that Alberta get what support it needs to survive.

Justin Trudeau would hardly be opposed to those ideas, but he also wants to fight climate change.

And that’s where ideas may collide.

Kenney plans to ditch the carbon tax, so Trudeau will impose one on him.

Kenney is fed up waiting for the TMX pipeline expansion, while Trudeau is trying to respond to the federal court’s prescription on how to have meaningful dialogue during consultations.

Kenney was just elected with a large majority, Trudeau is now less than six months from an election.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks to reporters on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday after appearing at the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources about Bill C-69. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

My colleague Aaron Wherry wrote smartly about how the climate change debate is viewed and is or is not likely to affect the federal election. You can read it here — consider it homework for At Issue tonight!

We will try to sort out where all of this leaves us — Chantal Hébert, Andrew Coyne and Andray Domise will be on At Issue this evening.

See you all then.

– Rosemary Barton

  • WATCH: At Issue tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online

A few words on …

At long last, exact directions.


Quote of the moment

“There is a growing crisis of national unity in Alberta which would be exacerbated by the adoption of this bill and other policies like it. If this bill proceeds, it will be a message to the people of Alberta that their federal government doesn’t care about a devastating period of economic adversity in our province.”

– Jason Kenney, Alberta’s new premier, tells the Senate Energy Committee that proposed changes to federal environmental assessment rules are unfair to his province and that he will challenge them in court


What The National is reading

  • India prepares for “extremely severe” Cyclone Fani (CBC)
  • Woman killed, dozens hurt in Venezuela clashes (BBC)
  • Florida passes law to arm teachers (Miami Herald)
  • Man wounded in New Zealand mosque attack dies, death toll now 51 (Reuters)
  • Dems mock “chicken” Barr with empty chair, KFC (CNN)
  • Cigarette packs will be the “ugliest colour in the world” come November (CBC)
  • “Metal fraud” cost NASA two satellites worth $700 million (Quartz)
  • Scientology ship quarantined after measles diagnosis (Hollywood Reporter)
  • Burger King takes on McDonald’s with range of “unhappy” meals (NBC)

Today in history

May 2, 1986: A royal opening in Vancouver for Expo 86

The first of the 164 days of Vancouver’s world fair was wet and cold,but filled with enthusiasm. And Charles and Diana were on hand to cut ribbons, collect flowers, and watch the RCMP Musical Ride for perhaps the 100th time. Imagine their excitement over the blimp, laser show and “video-wall,” a bank of 108 linked TVs inside the Canada Pavilion.

B.C. kicks off the Expo in royal fashion, with the Prince and Princess of Wales in attendance. 4:44

Sign up here and have The National Today newsletter delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.

Please send your ideas, news tips, rants, and compliments to thenationaltoday@cbc.ca. ​


This story originally appeared on CBC

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Top