The fairy tale rise of an Australian sales executive to the upper ranks of European royalty is set to be completed later this month when Crown Princess Mary Elizabeth of Denmark becomes the country’s Queen Consort.
The final stretch of Mary’s path from Tasmania to the Danish throne was cleared on New Year’s Eve by the surprise abdication of Queen Margrethe II, who announced that she will be stepping down on January 14.
It’s an exceedingly rare move in Denmark, where a monarch hasn’t abdicated since 1146 when King Eric III gave up the crown to join a monastery, according to the Royal House.
Margrethe’s eldest son, Crown Prince Frederik, will become King, while his wife, Crown Princess Mary, will become the first Australian to become Queen, a development that has delighted her supporters back home.
For many of Mary’s Australian admirers, it’s a fitting finale to a romance that famously began in a rowdy Sydney pub around the time of the Olympics in 2000.
As the story goes, the two locked eyes in the Slip Inn, considered an unlikely place to find a Danish royal, much less the origins of a couple who would later become Denmark’s future King and Queen.
Millions watched the couple get married in 2004. Two decades later, their ascension to the throne is expected to captivate audiences worldwide – from Copenhagen to the Tasmanian capital of Hobart, where Mary was born.
Tasmanian Premier Jeremy Rockliff said in a statement on Monday that the state “could not be prouder of Crown Princess Mary.”
“With her demonstrated humility, grace and kindness I am sure Crown Princess Mary will be embraced as Queen alongside her husband, King Frederik, once proclaimed later this month,” Rockliff said.
“I look forward to watching the next generation, and Tasmania’s own-born Queen, lead Denmark’s future.”
A royal abdication
For the most part, Queen Margrethe’s New Year’s Eve speech covered the familiar territory of a monarch summing up the highs and lows of the year just passed.
She touched on the tragedy of war, of innocent lives lost in Gaza, the spread of antisemitism and the importance of Denmark’s support for Ukraine. She spoke about climate change, the challenges of artificial intelligence, and the pride she has in her grandson, Prince Christian, who has just turned 18.
Then the monarch turned to her own life and how recent successful back surgery had given her cause to think of the future. More specifically, she said she considered “whether now would be an appropriate time to pass on the responsibility to the next generation,” and she concluded that “now is the right time.”
“On 14th January, 2024 – 52 years after I succeeded my beloved father – I will step down as Queen of Denmark. I will hand over the throne to my son Crown Prince Frederik,” Margrethe said.
The announcement temporarily paused New Year’s celebrations in Denmark, as royal correspondents rushed to fill in the gaps.
“Nobody knew,” Kristian Ring-Hansen Holt told ABC breakfast television in Australia.
Juliet Rieden, editor-at-large for The Australian Women’s Weekly, said most Danes expected Margrethe to be in the job for life, much like Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, who ruled until her death in September 2022.
“I think she did it so her son, Crown Prince Frederik, didn’t have to do it in the early stages of his monarchy, so she could get it all out of the way and then he could start with a fresh slate,” Rieden said.
It also reflects the reasoning of a pragmatic monarch who wanted to present the royal family as offering value for money, led by two of their most popular members, Rieden said.
“The royal family is running at 82% popularity in Denmark – these are the sorts of figures politicians dream about,” said Rieden.
Denmark’s royals have a limited role under the country’s constitution, with power resting with parliament. Monarchs play an important ambassadorial role as well as signing off on new legislation.
A popular royal
Mary was born in 1972 to a Scottish mathematics professor and a British executive assistant. According to her official biography, she started her education in Houston, Texas before moving back to Hobart to attend school and university.
Mary’s introduction to the working world included stints as an advertising executive and travel around Europe before she landed a role with a Sydney-based property firm. It was there that she met Frederik, a young Danish prince who she’d later marry at Copenhagen Cathedral in a lavish ceremony televised worldwide.
Four children followed including Prince Christian, now next in line to the throne.
Aside from being praised for her poise and fashion sense, Mary has gained a following for her staunch commitment to social causes through The Mary Foundation, established in 2007.
“She’s a fierce advocate for the sexual rights of women and girls. She’s a fierce advocate for refugees. So she’s proved her worth as a serious role model and leader in Denmark, and I think Australia can be very proud of the sort of royal she has become,” said Rieden.
Trips home typically generate local headlines but not all have been welcome.
Late last year, media worldwide carried stories of Prince Frederik’s alleged romance with Mexican-born actress Genoveva Casanova.
Casanova issued a statement vehemently denying the claims and threatening legal action against Lecturas, the Spanish magazine that published images of them on a night out. The Royal House hasn’t commented.
“I think that that was probably an annoyance, one of those ‘never complain, never explain’ scenarios from the Danish royals,” said Rieden. “Nothing happened as far as they were concerned.”
When the new generation of Danish royals ascend to the throne, there’ll be none of the pomp and pageantry that accompanied the coronation of Britain’s King Charles III last May.
Details have not been confirmed but the Royal House says Queen Margrethe will abdicate at the Council of State, an advisory body for the monarchy.
Rieden says on January 14 it’s likely the new King and Queen will appear on the balcony of Christiansborg Palace with the Danish prime minister, and perhaps also wave from Amalienborg, the royal family’s official residence in Copenhagen.
“I think we will see Mary and Frederik on the balcony and I think we will see all of their family around them. And this will present the new modern monarchy of Denmark and I think it’s going to be a very powerful image,” she said.
That is likely to increase interest in Mary in Australia, said Rieden, who added that putting the princess on the cover of The Australian Women’s Weekly magazine typically leads to higher sales.
“She’s a very, very popular cover star. So I think that popularity can only increase now she is to become a Queen,” she said.