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Willem-Alexander: from 'Prince Pils' to Dutch king

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Future Dutch king Willem-Alexander has undergone a remarkable transformation from his image as a boozing Casanova, ill-equipped for the throne, to a serious family man well-loved by his people.

Due to take over from his mother, Queen Beatrix, when she abdicates on Tuesday, he has been preparing for his accession by taking on more and more duties in a bid to shake off his immature reputation.

In an interview two weeks before the ceremony, Willem-Alexander, who turned 46 on Saturday, said he wanted to be a traditional 21st-century king but would not be a "protocol fetishist".

Willem-Alexander's popularity rose to new heights after the interview, with an opinion poll saying Monday that 69 percent of the Dutch trust the king, an increase of 10 percentage points from last year.

In a reverse of the classic fairytale, Willem-Alexander met his Princess Charming in the form of Argentine Maxima Zorreguieta, and much of his newfound popularity has been linked to their marriage in 2002.

The past of Maxima's father as an official of the Argentine military junta in the 1970s cast a brief cloud over their relationship.

Her father was not allowed to attend his daughter's wedding in the Netherlands, and her mother also stayed away out of solidarity. Maxima's family will also not be present at the enthronement ceremony in Amsterdam's historic 600-year-old Nieuwe Kerk church.

Maxima herself has crept into the hearts of the Dutch through her efforts to learn the language fluently and her willingness to reach out to ordinary Dutch citizens.

The couple has three young daughters, Princesses Catharina-Amalia, 9, Alexia, 7, and Ariane, 5. The three princesses are adored by the Dutch, frequently posing with their parents for official photoshoots.

The oldest of three sons, Willem-Alexander had a difficult adolescence, and was sent to complete high school in Wales.

On returning to the Netherlands for his military service in the Navy and then to study, the young prince built an image in the Dutch media as a hard-partying and troublesome royal, earning him the nickname "Prince Pils", after a particular beer.

But after graduating in 1993, he started travelling the country and took steps to shake off his negative image.

The future king said in an interview in 1997: "My image is not something that keeps me busy every day.

"But I find it sad that one picture in a paper of me holding a glass (of beer) has more influence on my image than... years of training (to be the future king)."

In 1998 he got the parliamentary nod to become a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The future Dutch king also developed an interest in water management, an effort rewarded in 2006 with his appointment as chairman of the UN secretary general's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation.

-- 'We are people. People make mistakes' --

But it was his meeting with Maxima in 1999 and their subsequent marriage in February 2002 that changed his image into that of a serious royal and family man, worthy of the Dutch throne.

Willem-Alexander is "intelligent, tender and strong and has both feet on the ground," Maxima once said of her husband in an interview.

Seen as more progressive and closer to ordinary people than even his mother, Willem-Alexander further stamped modernity on the Royal House through his visits abroad and an online blog.

Once king, Willem-Alexander will lose his various ranks in the Dutch armed forces, but he will most likely continue to visit Dutch navy vessels and air and army bases as he did when he travelled to Afghanistan and the Somali coast, where the Dutch navy is part of the European Union's anti-piracy operations.

He has a military and civil pilot's licence, meaning he can fly commercial jets. He has been known to fly official aircraft as well as planes belonging to Royal Dutch Airline KLM.

The royal family's lifestyle however has not been without criticism.

In November 2009, Willem-Alexander sold his luxurious holiday house as it was under construction on the Mozambican coast under pressure from hostile public opinion condemning it as a garish asset in the poverty-wracked southeast African country.

Last year, the future king publicly confessed to being ashamed after taking part in a traditional Dutch "toilet-throwing" contest in a small eastern village during Queen's Day celebrations on April 30.

But in the interview earlier this month, the new king won many plaudits when he said: "We are people. People make mistakes.

"If you make mistakes you must learn from them and you have to ensure that they don't happen again."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130429/willem-alexander-prince-pils-dutch-king