Queen Paola of Belgium

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Happy Birthday to Queen Paola of Belgium, who turns 80 today! Born Donna Paola Ruffo di Calabria at the Villa Claudia in Forte dei Marmi, Italy, as the youngest child of Prince Fulco Ruffo di Calabria and Countess Luisa Gazelli. Educated in Rome, she grew up to be known as one of the most beautiful women in Europe, and met Prince Albert of Belgium, brother of the King, at and event during the Coronation of Pope John XXIII in 1958. The couple were married in 1959, and have three children: Prince (now King Philippe), Princess Astrid, and Prince Laurent. At some point in the 1960s, the marriage of the Prince and Princess of Liège (as the couple were known) began to breakdown, with rumours of infidelity on both sides. However, by the 1980s, they had a turning point, saying later: “We’ve had our problems, but now we both say that we were meant for each other. We are very happy now.” In 1993, after the death of King Baudoin, the couple became King Albert II and Queen Paola of Belgium. As Queen, she supported cultural activities and promoted Belgian art and artists. In 2013, King Albert abdicated in favour of their son, King Philippe. The couple have retained the title of King and Queen but perform little public duties. Queen Paola has been in and out of hospital recently, and along with wishing her a very Happy Birthday, I also wish her Many Happy Returns!

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