King Felipe VI took the Spanish crown yesterday, setting the stage for celebrations in the flag-festooned capital a day after his father quit the throne with tears in his eyes.
The 46-year-old former Olympic yachtsman, who stands nearly 2m tall, assumed the crown after an emotional ceremony in the first royal succession of the post-Franco era.
Felipe legally became king at the stroke of midnight as an act of parliament signed by his father came into force, formalizing the end of 76-year-old Juan Carlos’ 39-year reign.
He faces a formidable challenge.
As king, Felipe must restore the image of the monarchy after his father’s reign became bogged down in scandal; inspire a people grappling with a 26 percent unemployment rate; and try to unite the nation even as the northeastern region of Catalonia seeks an independence referendum on Nov. 9.
Thousands of red and yellow Spanish flags fluttered through the city, bedecked with white flowers ready for the royal event, which is being secured by 7,000 police. Shops scrambled to sell T-shirts and fridge magnets commemorating the new generation of royals.
Even some Spaniards who glumly sat in Madrid bars and watched their soccer heroes crash out of the World Cup after losing 2-0 to Chile seemed ready to give the new monarch a chance.
Joaquin Lamas, a 34-year-old salesman nursing a beer in the city center’s Taberna del Gijon bar and bemoaning his misery at Spain’s performance, said he believed Felipe’s ascension to the throne was good news.
“He is someone who will bring something to Spain. I don’t think of the king as a king, but as an ambassador who represents Spain and as such I think he is trained and he will contribute,” Lamas said.
“There’s a festive atmosphere. It’s a party for this new king,” one passerby, Carlos Tesorero, said earlier in the day. “All the Spanish people have faith in him. He is very capable and I think he will be a good king.”
The Spanish king’s elegant 41-year-old wife, Letizia, a former TV news presenter and the granddaughter of a taxi driver, is now queen.
The couple have two photogenic blonde-haired daughters: Seven-year-old Sofia and eight-year-old Leonor, who is the youngest heiress to a throne in Europe.
Felipe is to wear the red silk sash of the military forces’ captain general as he is sworn in and proclaimed king in parliament, which has been draped in a giant red canopy with the state coat of arms embroidered in gold.
He was set to deliver a speech to lawmakers before being driven through Madrid with Queen Letizia, whose dress remains a closely guarded secret.
With Letizia and his parents, Juan Carlos and Sofia, at his side, Felipe was to appear on the front balcony of the old Royal Palace in central Madrid to greet crowds of wellwishers.
He was then to host 2,000 guests including foreign dignitaries at the palace.
However, in keeping with Spain’s tough economic times, festivities remain restrained compared with other European royal coronations.
Hours earlier, a teary-eyed and infirm Juan Carlos, dressed in dark suit and pink tie, ended his reign with a sweep of a golden pen in the vast, tapestry-clad Hall of Columns in the Royal Palace.
Juan Carlos, who walks with the help of a cane after repeated hip operations, hugged Felipe under the palace’s huge chandeliers, and briefly gripped his son’s arm to steady himself in his final act as monarch.