A new life for King Juan Carlos
After giving up the throne, Spain’s former monarch seems keen to maintain an informal public role
Since abdicating on June 19 in favor of his son Felipe, Juan Carlos de Borbón has spent the summer putting together the details for a foundation that will bear his name. Sources close to the 76-year-old say he has no plans to retire fully from public life, and intends to remain active.
The Zarzuela Palace, the official residence of the Spanish monarchy, has little to say about the former head of state’s activities, pointing out that he no longer has official duties. However, on August 7 Juan Carlos did travel to Colombia for the presidential inauguration of Juan Manuel Santos, standing in for his son, who in recent years had already taken over a growing number of such appearances on behalf of his father.
Juan Carlos’s exit from public view has even prompted speculation over his health, as well as rumors, which started in the Italian press, that he was to divorce his wife Sofía and marry 49-year-old socialite Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, who continues to use her German former husband’s aristocratic title. Her “friendship” with the former king was made public after it was discovered that she had accompanied him on an ill-fated hunting trip to Botswana in 2012, when he broke his hip.
Aside from working on his foundation, Juan Carlos will also have found time to rest this summer. He has apparently been on a couple of trips abroad with close friends, and spent the rest of the time in the Zarzuela Palace, reportedly receiving ongoing physiotherapy for his hip injury.
His mobility has improved, but doctors say he will always require a walking stick. He has also been on a diet to lose weight, although he recently enjoyed a very public breakfast of fried eggs and morcilla (blood sausage) at a hotel in Burgos, even posing for photographs with well-wishers.
Eating out is one way for the ex-monarch to keep in touch with his former subjects, say those close to him. He is often seen dining at one of the restaurants owned by his long-standing friend Miguel Arias. Another long-term companion with whom he regularly dines is Josep Cusí, retired owner of the racing yacht Bribón, which Juan Carlos crewed back in the 1970s.
Along with the rest of his family, Juan Carlos has traditionally spent summers in Palma de Mallorca. But this year, now no longer subject to protocol, he chose to stay away and avoid any association with the ongoing judicial investigation there into the business dealings of his son-in-law Iñaki Urdangarin, who will likely stand trial next year on charges of embezzlement. Instead, Sofía has continued the tradition. For several years now the couple have only spent time together during official acts. They continue to live in the same residence at the Zarzuela, but each in a different wing, and reportedly do not even see each other at meal times.
Juan Carlos retains an office in the Zarzuela, along with a small team of assistants run by Alfonso Sanz Portolés, his former head of protocol, who organizes his agenda. Sanz Portolés accompanied him to the two matches he attended in a non-official capacity during the recent basketball World Cup, which Spain hosted. Sport remains one of his main interests, and he likes to spend time with the country’s top athletes, among them tennis player Rafa Nadal.
Of his three children, he is closest to Elena, who is a regular visitor to the Zarzuela, although she and her two children have also vacationed with the former king.
Juan Carlos also regularly meets with the new monarch: their respective offices are just a floor away. The pair have always enjoyed a close relationship, and insiders say they were brought closer by the preparations for Felipe’s coronation.
The same insiders say that Juan Carlos will not be divorcing Sofia and has no plans to take his relationship with Corinna any further. They remain friends, she said at the recent New York Fashion Week. They haven’t seen each other for some time, although they reportedly speak regularly by phone. Spain’s former king may not have left the public gaze completely, but he certainly seems to have distanced himself from one relationship that he would probably have preferred to keep private.