A princess, long denied by Belgium’s former king, meets with her father

By Megan Specia

For years, Delphine Boel, an artist, fought to be recognized as the daughter of the former Belgian monarch, King Albert II.

On Sunday, in what seemed to mark a major turning point in a relationship marred by years of strife, scandal, legal battles and paternity tests, Boel, 52, who was awarded the right to use the royal title Princess Delphine this month, formally met with her father and his wife, Queen Paola.

A statement jointly issued by Princess Delphine; King Albert II, 86; and Queen Paola, 83; said their meeting had opened a new chapter “full of emotion, understanding and, also, hope.”

The statement was accompanied by a picture of the three sitting in front of fireplace, a plate of cookies in front of them, paintings and family photos dotting the walls.

“After the tumult, the wounds and the suffering, comes the time of forgiveness, healing and reconciliation,” the statement read. “This is the patient, sometimes difficult path that we have decided to take resolutely together. These first steps pave the peaceful course which it is now up to us to pursue.”

King Albert II, who abdicated the throne in 2013, spent decades denying that he had fathered a child outside his marriage, despite reports that he had an affair with a baroness. A prolonged legal battle forced him to finally acknowledge the princess as his daughter earlier this year.

The king’s abdication opened the door for Princess Delphine to file a lawsuit seeking recognition as his biological daughter, because he no longer held the immunity he once had as the Belgian monarch. The princess has maintained that her legal battle was about recognition, not money.

In 2018, King Albert was ordered to provide a sample of DNA, which he at first refused to do, before submitting under legal pressure. The test proved that he was Princess Delphine’s father, but it wasn’t until January 2020 that he conceded paternity — and then only grudgingly.

King Albert had a long-standing affair with Princess Delphine’s mother, Baroness Sybille de Selys Longchamps, but their child was never publicly acknowledged, lawyers for the princess have said. At the time, he was a prince and already married to Paola Ruffo di Calabria, an Italian princess, with whom he had three children.

Albert unexpectedly became king in 1993 after his brother, King Baudouin, died suddenly at age 62 without any heirs. It was then that King Albert severed ties with the baroness, a lawyer for Princess Delphine told The New York Times in 2018.

A book about the queen published in 1999, “Paola: From ‘La Dolce Vita’ to Queen,” revealed the existence of King Albert’s child with the baroness to the general public. Princess Delphine went public with her own claims in 2005.

King Albert had contact with his daughter in her early years, she has recounted, so Sunday’s meeting appears to have not been their first, even if it was the first to be acknowledged publicly.

The meeting capped an eventful month for the princess.

Earlier in October, the Brussels Court of Appeal ruled that she had the right to her father’s surname and should be known officially as Delphine of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, princess of Belgium. Her two children will also be acknowledged as a prince and princess of Belgium.

Her lawyers, in a statement to Belgian news outlet Le Soir, said the princess was “delighted” with the decision, “which puts an end to a long procedure which is particularly painful for her and her family.”

Speaking to the press in an emotional news conference after the ruling, Princess Delphine said she had been in touch with her father until he abruptly cut off contact when she was 33 years old, Agence France-Presse reported.

She said she had “been a little soldier, completely protecting him and my mother since the age of 17 and not saying anything because I loved him and we had a good relationship.”

But when he refused to acknowledge her, she said, it “felt like having a knife in the back.”

Two weeks ago, Princess Delphine met with her brother, the reigning King Phillipe, for the first time at the Palace of Laeken.

“It was a warm encounter,” they wrote in a joint statement posted to the official social media accounts of the royal family. “We talked about our respective lives and areas of shared interest. This bond will further develop within the family setting.”

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