Raised on a healthy diet of Disney princesses and Anne Hathaway makeovers, I’m tempted to view the lives of royalty as song-filled romps alongside chattering woodland creatures. But in reality, life in the palace is like living in a minefield—one wrong step, and your reputation detonates. What fascinates us about the royals? We hang on their every word, laugh at their foibles, and examine their behavior scrupulously—and when they fall, they fall hard. These seven princes and princesses know firsthand how to hit rock bottom, then crawl their way back to the top.
Selling Her Soul to the Devil
In May 2010, Fergie, Duchess of York, was caught on tape accepting a bribe from an undercover tabloid reporter in exchange for access to her ex-husband, Prince Andrew. As she later told Oprah, Fergie “was in the gutter at that moment.” According to palace insiders, Queen Elizabeth never liked Fergie much, and sneered at her career moves—Weight Watchers spokeswoman, children’s-book author—as mere publicity stunts. While Fergie’s latest treachery takes the cake, it’s not the first time she’s been caught on camera with her figurative pants down. Shortly before her divorce, she engaged in an affair to remember: British tabloids published photos of her paramour du jour sucking on her toes during a romantic vacation. Fergie may be a figure of ridicule, but as mother to the queen’s grandchildren, she’ll be a thorn in the Windsors’ side for many years to come.
When Mother Nature Calls
When Prince Charles finally wed longtime love Camilla Parker-Bowles in 2005, it was a fitting resolution to their star-crossed affair. But their relationship wasn’t always a bed of roses. Charles’ previous marriage, to Princess Di, was a morass of mudslinging and scandals, but none was as humiliating as Tampongate. In a secretly recorded 1991 conversation, Charles exclaimed to Camilla, “I want to be reincarnated as a tampon and live inside your trousers forever.” The tabloids had a field day printing the lurid details. Charles might be embarrassed, but I feel worse for the public: that indelible mental image is burned on our brains forever.
Belgium is well known for its beer and chocolates, but the jolly nation got a taste of disgrace when Prince Laurent became involved in a 2007 corruption scandal. He was accused of spending official Belgian Navy funds on renovating his vacation villa. Surprisingly, the royal family did not protect their own: shortly after the scandal broke, King Albert, the prince’s father, signed a special royal decree permitting prosecutors to call up the prince as a witness. Though he was ultimately acquitted, Laurent was banned from the royal palace for several months afterward.
Fit to Be King
Royal weddings are few and far between, so the world waited with bated breath for the wedding of Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden to her personal trainer, Daniel Westling. Initially, everyone assumed Victoria was slumming it, but the toothsome commoner has won the hearts and minds of Sweden over the last five years, since the government must approve the potential spouse of a prince or princess. At least Sweden’s future king won’t be labeled a couch potato.
Every little girl dreams of Prince Charming whisking her away to a life of luxury. Sound like a perfect fairy tale? Not for this poor Malaysian princess. In 2002, unidentified assailants kidnapped Hazliza Ishak, the beautiful former model and second wife of Prince Raja Jaafar of Malaysia, bound and strangled her, and threw her dead body off a waterfall. Police detained the prince’s first wife, Raja Nor, as a suspect for the slaying; Hazliza was more than forty years younger than Nor, and the two were known to quarrel often. However, three fishermen were ultimately charged and convicted of the murder, and sentenced to death. Conspiracy theorists still believe the disgruntled first wife assassinated her; the princess is Malaysia’s very own JFK.
The Princess and the Pusher
Unsavory marriages are common in royal families; after all, not many people can expect to live up to the high standards of royalty. But Prince Haakon of Norway encountered severe criticism after his 2001 marriage to single mother Mette-Marit Tjessem Hølby, whose baby daddy is a convicted drug dealer. She may not have the ideal past for a future queen, but Mette showed class and dignity befitting her rank when she addressed her nation and repented publicly for her youthful indiscretions.
Royal Circus Act
Prince Haakon’s bride may have incensed Norwegian conservatives, but Monaco’s Princess Stephanie wins first prize for having sleazy life partners. Grace Kelly’s self-proclaimed “wild child” has three children out of wedlock; two were fathered by her bodyguard, but the father of her youngest kid remains a mystery. If that weren’t enough to make her mother roll over in her grave, Stephanie married not one, but two, circus performers. In 2001, Stephanie fell in love with an elephant trainer, left the royal palace, and moved into a Swiss caravan with her children to lead the circus life. After that short-lived marriage ended, she wed a trapeze artist. Nine months later, he filed for divorce and Stephanie’s high-wire act came to an end … for now.
It’s a hard-knock life for princes and princesses, especially in the modern age of paparazzi, the Internet, and phone tapping. They can’t hide indiscretions as well, and their mistakes live on forever on Google. But the true mark of royalty is the ability to stare adversity in the face and become stronger. Maybe it’s because of the regal upbringing, but I have to admire such tenacity—unless, of course, Princess Stephanie decides to marry a third circus performer. Then again, she might find a second career in Cirque du Soleil.