Delphine, Belgium's royal love child

When the late French president François Mitterrand was asked about his illegitimate daughter Mazarine in an interview, his response was: "Et alors?", "So what?". Albert II, the incumbent King of the Belgians, never gives interviews. When the story about Delphine Boël, the illegitimate child he had with baroness Sybille de Sélys Longchamps, broke loose in 1999, the Royal Court remained silent. In his 1999 christmas speech, the King only vaguely made allusions to his former marital problems, and said "these matters belong to our private lives".

Sunday, Delphine was presented on French state television FR3 as "La Fille Cachée", the hidden daughter. Delphine, who is an artist and a sculptor (using papier maché like Nike de Saint Phalle), lived in London for many years, but now she has a daughter (called Joséphine) and she has moved to Brussels. After the story of her royal roots was in the open, the King refused to see her and her mother, and when she called him by telephone, he said that he was not her father. Since then, she is mad at the king, and some of her artwork is mockingly referring to the combination of masculinity, royalty and Belgium. Example: a penis, painted in the Belgian national colors black, yellow and red. In the tv show, which was called "On ne peut pas plaire à tout le monde", i.e. "One cannot please everyone", she revealed that in the sixties, Albert was to divorce his wife Paola. The Belgian government had already agreed and the paperwork was ready, but Albert's brother King Baudouin, a very religious man, refused. Baudouin threatened to take away Albert's allowance and his rights to the throne.

There is a remarkable difference in the way French- and Dutch-speaking media in Belgium were reporting about Delphine until now. All the Dutch-language media are taking Delphine's royal roots for granted, they write and speak as if it is a true fact. The francophone media are much more reluctant. "Some say that...", "the alleged..." etc. Some French-speaking media even say that all this fuss about Delphine is a Flemish conspiracy to undermine the throne and to destabilize Belgium. The truth is that mentality in Flanders is much like the one in England, where people are curious for facts, gossip and details which confirm that royals are as human as ordinary people. In the French-speaking part of Belgium, the media still treat the Royal Family as a sacred institution, not to be laughed about. The appearance of Delphine on French state television somehow seems to have changed this trend. As the proverb says: "When it rains in Paris, it drips in Brussels".

Delphine is not the only love child in the history of the Belgian royal family. Leopold I, the first Belgian king, had a mistress, Arcadie Cadet, for whom he arranged a marriage with an officer from his staff, Friedrich Meyer. Arcadie Meyer gave birth to two illegitimate royal children, Georges and Arthur. The king gave Arcadie and her children a nobility title, "Barron of Eppinghoven". Her descendants are living in Canada. Leopold II also had two illegitimate children with his mistress Blanche Delacroix, whom he married on his death bed. Lucien Delacroix became Duke of Tervuren, Philippe Delacroix Count of Ravenstein. Prince Charles, who briefly held office as Regent of Belgium after World War II, also had an illegitimate child, Isabelle Wybo. All of these names have already been published in several books.

In his book "A Throne in Brussels", to be published next week, author Paul Belien reveals that Count Michel Didisheim is an illegitimate son of King Leopold III, the father of kings Albert and Baudouin. It is the first time that this is revealed in print, although the rumour is not new. Didisheim was the private secretary of prince Albert before he became king. He is one of the founders of the "Bond Beter Leefmilieu - InterEnvironnement", an environmental lobbying group, and also is a member of B-Plus, a political action group promoting Belgian unity and federalism. He was the head of the Fondation Roi Baudouin for many years.