An enchanting connection
By chance, Mary was seated next to a handsome Dane that evening. It wouldn’t be long before she learnt he was no ordinary foreigner, but the future king of Denmark. Prince Frederik, a ladies’ man who had a reputation for being the “turbo prince” – racking up speeding tickets in fast cars – had flown into Sydney days earlier to support the Danish sailing team. It was his first trip Down Under and the night was young, but his attention was focused squarely on his new Australian friend.
Revisiting the beginning of this improbable romance may seem like a trivial exercise, but it provides some clues around what makes this royal match such an enduring success. Theirs is a union that dynasties around the world only hope for, not least because it is one free from scandal, but after 16 years of marriage and four children, Denmark’s future king and queen are clearly still besotted with each other.
In their 2005 biography, Mary, Crown Princess of Denmark, Danish journalists Karin Palshoj and Gitte Redder outline the courting period that followed the couple’s first encounter. After their initial meeting, the crown prince returned to Australia several times over the next 12 months; their secret bond growing stronger with each visit.
But after each goodbye, the unruly time difference followed, along with the late-night phone calls, emails and CDs via post (Mary sent him Powderfinger, while Frederik responded with Danish band Sort Sol).
Palshoj and Redder describe Mary’s Bondi Junction home as a kind of “sanctuary” for the couple, where “Fred” – as he was known to Mary’s friends – could relax into his surroundings and go undetected by the Australian press.
Nowadays, that same sense of ease is at the heart of the couple’s family life. In September, candid photographs were released of Frederik and Mary with their children, 15-year-old Prince Christian (second in line to the Danish throne), 13-year-old Princess Isabella and nine-year-old twins Princess Josephine and Prince Vincent, enjoying the summer holidays.
Royal fans have become accustomed to seeing snippets of the family’s life, including the occasional snap of their beloved border collie, Grace. Mary is often seen in casual clothes and sneakers, cycling the twins in a “cargo” bike from their royal residence at Amalienborg Palace to the nearby primary school or horse riding with her older children.
Motherhood is clearly something she cherishes, especially after losing her own mother at 25. Henrietta Clark Donaldson died suddenly after heart surgery. Before Mary’s 2004 wedding, she opened up about the impact of her mother’s death: “From time to time, I feel she is very close, that she is just next to me,” she told a Danish journalist. “I hope when I get children, I will become like my mother.”
Becoming a princess
Mary’s transformation into poised princess began well before the world learnt of her engagement, but nothing can truly prepare you for the scrutiny and spotlight royalty brings.
Veteran 60 Minutes journalist Tara Brown flew to Denmark to interview Mary and Frederik as they fronted the world’s press for the first time as a newly engaged couple. “The person who I met was very reserved and it was clear that she was going through an overwhelming experience,” Brown recalls, adding that she really felt for Mary that day.
“This was the first time they were presenting themselves to crowds as an engaged couple, but it was also the first opportunity Mary had to show the Danes her language skills, which was such an important part of her being accepted by the nation.”
Far more at ease was Prince Frederik, says Brown, recounting his amusement when she snuck in a final question despite the allotted interview time running over. With a cheeky grin, the crown prince famous for his charm consented, while Mary politely added: “Just one more.”
“He seemed much more comfortable in his role which makes perfect sense … he’s very adept at that,” says Brown.
Shortly after the engagement, an opinion poll revealed nine out 10 Danes supported Prince Frederik’s choice of bride – despite being a “commoner”, and from a tiny Australian island no less, Mary had won the hearts of her future homeland.
Brown returned to Denmark the following May for what the Danish media dubbed the “wedding of the century”. As the couple exchanged vows at Copenhagen Cathedral, thousands of locals and tourists lined the streets waving Danish and Australian flags. What was abundantly clear, recalls Brown, was the adoration the egalitarian Danes felt for their royal family: “They are in the hearts of the people … they’re very treasured and somewhat protected,” she says.
Still, Mary – a very private person who to this day rarely gives interviews – had to adjust to her new public life. Chris Meehan, a close friend of Mary’s who employed her as a sales director at his real estate firm Belle Property, praised Frederik for spending a year getting to know her, gradually adjusting her expectations about the true cost of marrying a prince.
“He did all this very quietly and calmly – one step at a time. I believe it was the right way; that it was easier for Mary that she didn’t know all that she now knows,” Meehan told Palshoj and Redder. “She got to know and love Frederik as the man he is, not as the Crown Prince Frederik.”
For Frederik’s part, he was getting to know a woman who was genuinely enjoying her life. Her professional career was taking off, she had great friends and she was willing to be surprised by her next encounter. Celebrity chef Luke Mangan knew Mary as an acquaintance at the time as she would often dine at his popular restaurant Salt.
Never in his wildest dreams did he expect to be invited to Denmark to cook for the couple’s pre-wedding celebrations only a few years later. Determined to showcase only the best Australian produce, Mangan and his team flew in 100 kilograms of Australian lamb, 50 kilograms of Port Lincoln Hiramasa kingfish and an Australian wine – a ’98 Grange – for pairing. And dessert? Licorice parfait with lime syrup, because “Mary used to have the licorice parfait at Salt,” he says.
During the main event, in which he cooked a five-course dinner for 130 VIPs including Queen Margrethe II, he remembers the couple coming into the kitchen for a chat. “They were very relaxed, very friendly … and very hold-handsy,” says Mangan, who remains friends with the couple today.
While Mary and Frederik’s last official Australian tour was in 2013, they have returned twice since for private holidays. Their last visit, in 2017, saw them spend Christmas with Mary’s family in Tasmania where they were photographed enjoying the surf on the state’s east coast.
During last summer’s catastrophic bushfires, Mary sent condolences and said she felt proud of her Australian heritage to witness such a strong sense of community in the face of adversity.
An Australian-born queen
During her time in the public eye she has established herself as a style icon; her elegant fashion choices making her one of the most photographed women in Europe. Her personal interest in fashion sees her promote sustainability within the industry as patron of the Global Fashion Agenda.
She advocates for equal rights for all, as well as raising awareness of bullying, domestic violence and loneliness as head of The Mary Foundation.
Like anyone, she is not immune to mistakes. In August, Mary apologised after shaking hands during a royal engagement at a sea aquarium amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
The mother-of-four expressed her regret on Instagram the next day. As she approaches her 49th birthday, it is obvious that Mary has found her voice on the world stage. Her altruistic leadership style was apparent during a recent World Health Organisation meeting when she urged the use of the pandemic as a learning opportunity.
“Working together to make the world a safer and healthier place for everyone is the most fitting of legacies to honour those we have lost as a result of this virus, and an invaluable gift to the children of the future,” she said.
Indeed, history may show us that a royal outsider poses a great risk to the survival of a monarchy, but it is clear that Denmark’s future queen – the girl from Tassie – is forging her own path with the same curiosity and charm that captivated a foreign prince all those years ago.
Julia Naughton is the National Lifestyle Editor.