Romania's ex-king hits his 3rd UK royal wedding
Romania's former King Michael (Reuters, 2005)
By Alison Mutler
One person attending Britain's royal wedding has seen it all before: Michael I, the taciturn former king of Romania.
Michael, who will be 90 this year, travelled from Romania to London in 1947 to be a guest at the marriage of Princess Elizabeth - now Queen Elizabeth II - to his cousin Prince Philip. He returns to London for Friday's wedding of their grandson, Prince William, to fiancée Kate Middleton.
Thirty years ago, he also attended the 1981 wedding of William's parents, Prince Charles and Princess Diana.
Michael is one of the few surviving heads of state from World War II, and his life has been nothing if not tumultuous. A great-great-grandson of Britain's Queen Victoria and a third cousin of the current queen, he was first crowned king at age six and reigned as a boy from 1927 to 1930, and then again from 1940 until 1947.
The young king returned to Bucharest after the 1947 wedding as communists backed by Soviet ruler Josef Stalin had just taken over Romania. He was forced to abdicate the throne a month later, stripped of his citizenship and sent into exile, where he worked as a commercial pilot and briefly as a chicken farmer.
Even as communism collapsed in Romania in 1989, the country's leaders remained wary of the former king. He was unceremoniously expelled from Romania in 1990, a year after the bloody revolt against communism in which more than 1,300 people died.
Finally, in 1997, his citizenship was restored by a pro-European government, he was awarded compensation for his castles that were confiscated by the communists, and given use of former royal palaces.
This week former king will be arriving from Switzerland, where he spent some of his 50 years in exile.
How times have changed. In 1947, playwright and wit Noel Coward was a fellow royal wedding guest. Elizabeth had saved up her clothing rations to pay for her wedding dress fabric and women all over Britain had sent in their own coupons to help her. The service was the first royal wedding to be broadcast on live radio.
The grand nuptials of Charles and Diana were watched by 750 million people around the world, and Michael rubbed shoulders with former US first lady Nancy Reagan, the wife of former President Ronald Reagan, who was among the 3,500 guests.