For 20 years, this king ruled over his subjects, his glamorous queen forever by his side. But behind the facade, a dark secret was eating away at their marriage. Now, seven years after the royal’s abdication, a DNA test has revealed the scandalous truth – putting the rumors to rest once and for all.
As second in line to the throne, Prince Albert of Belgium had never expected to rule the small European country where he was born. But when his older brother died, things took an entirely different turn. Crowned in 1993, Albert left behind a life of fun and excitement for one of duty and responsibility. But before long, whispers began to dog the new king’s reign.
Six years after Albert’s coronation, an explosive book by a teenage journalist laid the rumors out for all to see. But for more than two decades, the king refused to give credence to the shocking claims. Now, evidence has finally been provided in court that the gossip was right all along.
Born in Brussels in June 1934, Albert was the second son of King Leopold III and his wife Queen Astrid. And while his brother, Prince Baudouin, was being groomed to take the throne, the younger sibling spent his time globetrotting. In fact, it was on one such escapade in 1958 that he would meet his future wife.
That year, Albert traveled to Vatican City in Rome, Italy to attend the coronation of a new pope. To celebrate the occasion, the Belgian Embassy hosted a reception, at which the young prince was an honored guest. There, he encountered Donna Paola Ruffo di Calabria, known as Paola, an Italian aristocrat.
According to reports, Albert was smitten, and soon he and Paola were engaged. One thing led to another and on July 2, 1959, the pair duly tied the knot in a Brussels cathedral. One year later, their first son, Philippe, arrived, followed by a daughter, Astrid, in 1962. Finally, in 1963, the royal couple welcomed a second son, named Laurent.
But although Albert and Paola’s marriage might have appeared happy on the surface, there were rumors of problems behind the scenes. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the princess was a darling of the tabloid press, her elegant appearance said to rival that of Grace Kelly. And wherever she went, she was followed by reporters desperate to land a story.
But with all eyes on the royal couple, the cracks in their marriage began to show. According to the rumors, Albert and Paola had drifted apart after their children had been born. And while they continued to live together at Belvédère Castle in Laeken, Belgium, some claimed that the pair spent their time in separate wings.
Apparently, there were even whispers that Albert and Paola had considered a divorce. However, Baudouin allegedly put a stop to these discussions, telling the princess that she would lose everything in the event of a separation. But if the rumors were true, what had come between the pair, who once had seemed very much in love?
According to the journalist Mario Danneels, who began researching a book about Paola when he was just 16, life in Belgium had been difficult for the glamorous princess. “Queen Paola was very unhappy at the court,” he told Vanity Fair magazine in January 2020. “I visited the town in Italy where she’s from and it’s always sunny, beautiful – and the food is much better than it is in Belgium.”
“She was very young, 21 when she got married to Albert and moved to Brussels,” Danneels continued. “The king and queen at the time were extremely religious and court life was very somber and very solemn and it just didn’t suit her. So the marriage started crumbling as a result.”
But while the Belgian public suspected that all wasn’t well in Albert and Paola’s marriage, none of them knew the truth. In fact, it wasn’t until Danneels began digging around in royal circles that the true nature of their problems came to light. After speaking to those that worked closely with the couple, he discovered that the king had been embroiled in an affair.
“I kept asking the people that I was interviewing,” Danneels told Vanity Fair. “They were all tiptoeing around the topic and they were very careful to put the emphasis on the fact that they had reconciled. So I was becoming a bit frustrated. Like, ‘Something must have happened, something big.’” Eventually, the young journalist was able to get to the bottom of the rumors.
Apparently, while Albert and Paola were experiencing problems in their marriage, the king met the Belgian aristocrat Baroness Sybille de Selys Longchamps. According to Danneels, she too had been struggling with an unhappy relationship. With their shared woes, the pair found they had much in common: before long they had begun an affair.
Although it is unclear exactly when this extramarital affair began, Sybille would later claim that it continued for 18 years. And on February 22, 1968, the prince’s mistress gave birth to a daughter, named Delphine. But despite the scandal, the girl’s mother claimed, she and Albert remained on good terms.
“It was a beautiful period,” Sybille said in a 2013 interview for Belgian television. “Delphine was a lovechild. Albert was not the father figure but he was very sweet to her.” However, all that allegedly changed in 1993, when the prince’s older brother unexpectedly passed away without an heir.
Suddenly, Albert’s life underwent a drastic transformation. And on August 9, 1993, he was crowned the new King of Belgium. According to Delphine, it was at this point that her father stopped all contact with his illegitimate daughter. However, the rumors surrounding Sybille and her child never quite went away.
In 1997 an article appeared in ’t Scheldt, a Belgian magazine, identifying Delphine as the king’s daughter. However, the story was not picked up by the mainstream press until Danneels’ book, Paola, was published in 1999. And although the young author intended his work to draw attention to the queen, it ended up thrusting Delphine into the spotlight.
With speculation about Delphine’s identity all over the international press, Albert was forced to acknowledge the scandal. And later that year, he alluded to the incident in his Christmas speech. “The queen and I have thought of the crisis that we went through, now 30 years ago,” the king said at the time. “This crisis was highlighted recently. We wish not to go into this much deeper, it’s part of our private life.”
Initially, neither Delphine nor Sybille would comment publicly about their relationship with Albert. However, in May 2005, the younger woman – now an artist with a daughter of her own – gave an interview to French television. In it, she admitted that she was indeed the illegitimate daughter of the Belgian king.
According to Delphine, she had contacted Albert after the publication of Danneels’ book, seeking to protect her family from unwanted attention. However, she claims that she was coldly dismissed. Apparently, the king told her, “Leave me alone with that story. You are not my daughter,” leaving her feeling rejected and hurt.
In the interview, Delphine also revealed another scandalous insight into Albert’s extramarital affair. Apparently, when she was three years old, the king – still a prince at the time – hatched a plan to leave his wife for Sybille and their daughter. According to Delphine, he plotted to leave Belgium and start a new life in London with his illicit family.
Moreover, Delphine claims, it was Sybille herself who talked Albert out of making such a potentially disastrous move. And while they never did get to be a family, she claims that the prince stayed in touch via telephone over the years. Eventually, around the time of the girl’s 18th birthday, her mother confessed the truth about her real father.
As the years passed, Delphine grew more hostile towards Albert. As Danneels told Vanity Fair, “She became enraged when she had her own children. She was like, ‘How could a parent do this to their own flesh and blood?’” In response, she began seeking official recognition as the daughter of the king.
Eventually, in June 2013, Delphine launched a lawsuit with the intention of proving that Albert was her father. At the time, the king had legal immunity, and so she also summoned two of his children to court. However, barely a month had gone by before the convoluted tale took another twist.
On July 3, 2013, the king abdicated the throne in favor of his son, Philippe. No longer restricted by Albert’s immunity, Delphine launched a second lawsuit against him. However, five years later, it was dismissed by the court. Apparently, the plaintiff had been unable to provide sufficient proof that she was the daughter of the former king.
Not one to be easily defeated, Delphine vowed to appeal the decision. And on October 25, 2018, she succeeded in a small victory. Although the court did not support her claim in full, it acknowledged that she was not the biological daughter of the man who had raised her, the industrialist Jacques Boël.
In an attempt to get to the bottom of the mystery once and for all, the court ordered Albert to submit to a DNA test. However, this did not go down well with the former king. According to Belgian newspaper De Standaard in November 2018, his lawyers considered appealing to the highest Belgian court and insisted that no sample would be forthcoming.
However, on May 16, 2019, the court made another decision. Apparently, it threatened to fine Albert $5,000 per day for as long as he refused to comply. Eventually, the former king gave in and provided a sample of his DNA, enabling scientists to finally test the veracity of Delphine’s claims.
On January 27, 2020 the results of the DNA testing were made public. And that same day, Albert released a statement acknowledging what had now been proved without a doubt: that he was Delphine’s biological father. But even though he admitted that his daughter had been right all along, the press release took an arguably passive-aggressive tone.
“Even if there are legal arguments and objections to justify the fact that legal paternity is not necessarily a reflection of biological paternity and that the procedure adopted seems to him questionable,” the statement read, “King Albert decided not to raise and put an end in honor and dignity to this painful procedure.”
Moreover, the statement also highlighted the fact that Albert had not played any part in the childhood of his illegitimate daughter. “He was not involved in any family, social or education decision whatsoever relating to Madame Delphine Boël and… he always respected the link that existed between Madame Delphine Boël and her legal father,” it read.
In fact, the statement even went one step further, accusing Delphine of wanting to “change families,” necessitating a lawsuit that had been lengthy and difficult for everyone involved. Moreover, it implied that there was still some controversy surrounding the verdict – although no further details were offered as to what this might be.
At the end, the statement finished off on what some may have felt was a somewhat self-righteous note, seemingly attempting to paint Delphine’s biological father as the hero in this scenario. “Respectful of judicial institutions, King Albert refrained from intervening in debates outside the courtrooms,” it read. “That is why, he decided to react and explain his position in this matter.”
For Delphine, however, the king’s words have provided little comfort. And while she is happy that Albert has recognized her at last, her lawyer Marc Uyttendaele has claimed that she has been left feeling hurt by the cold nature of the statement. In fact, he hinted that Delphine may even have been harboring a desire to reunite.
“The attitude taken by Albert II yesterday does not foretell the opening of a dialogue between his daughter and him,” Uyttendaele told reporters in January 2020. “For her part, she is open to this dialogue, but without much hope.” Elsewhere, the lawyer also dismissed any notion that Delphine had pursued the lawsuit for financial gain.
According to Uyttendaele, Jacques Boël, who acted as Delphine’s father figure, was a wealthy man. And as such, the artist had no need for any financial reward that might come from being recognized as Albert’s child. “Her motives were therefore in no way profit-seeking – quite the opposite,” he explained.
Despite this, however, Delphine could now inherit some of the private wealth belonging to the former king – although she will not be in line for the Belgian throne. But if money was not the motivation behind her determination, then what was? According to Danneels, the artist was thinking of her own children when pursuing the controversial case.
“[Delphine wanted] peace of mind and justice for her children,” Danneels told Vanity Fair. “That was extremely important to her – that her children wouldn’t have to live with the stigma that she has been living with for 51 years.” However, he was at pains to add that Albert’s newly-recognized daughter had no interest in the trappings of a royal life.
“I should even comment that she’s the lucky one compared to her half-brothers and half-sister, because she has freedom to do what she wants,” Danneels continued. “I mean, she doesn’t want to be a princess, not at all. She has absolutely no interest in waving at people from the balcony or wearing the title.”