We might all think the union of “bad boy” Prince Harry and divorcee Meghan Markle is the most exciting thing to happen to the Royal Family since, ooooh, Fergie and Andrew. But in the big scheme of things, it’s all still pretty tame.
Whether you’re a royalist or a republican, it’s hard to deny that they are just all so … well … perfectly pleasant, these days. Smartly dressed, polite, smiling. They turn up to things when they are told, they say all of the right things.
At least you think they do. It is a little known fact outside of press circles that when covering the royal rota, as it is known, a journalist has to hover at a polite distance behind a member of the Royal Family at a public event. They must stay out of earshot and never – at pain of having his or her head chopped off – directly quote a royal, but instead have the chat reported back by the member of the public to whom they spoke.
That is why any reports of regal walkabouts are full of “Jean from Falkirk said that Prince Philip commented on her hat” and never: “‘That’s an horrific piece of headgear you’ve got on there, Jean,’ said the Duke of Edinburgh, as he meandered down Linlithgow high street”.
Even Harry and his so-called breath of fresh air wife-to-be are less than exciting. She may have a daringly chequered past, what with being divorced and all, but she has already given up her social media accounts and announced that she is to step back from her acting career to “concentrate on her royal duties” once the pair are married later this year.
On this week’s visit to Edinburgh, even Harry made such risque remarks as complimenting a ginger-bearded hipster on his facial hair and admitting he was “excited” about his upcoming wedding.
So far, so sensible. The problem for me is they seem particularly unexciting when compared to the Romanian royals, who, despite the country having been a republic for the best part of a century, still hog the tabloid headlines on a daily basis.
Take ongoing family feuds, an illegitimate child and a secret wedding, combine that with an unlikely Geordie prince, a princess convicted of running an illegal cockfighting ring, add a dash of violent deathbed protest in the Swiss mountains and you have a top tale. In December, the last official king of Romania died. His name was King Mihai and he passed away aged 96, in his Swiss mountain home. As in many a good fairy story, the king had spent many years in exile, after being ousted from his royal duties by the Communist government in the 1940s – subsequently fleeing to England, where he spent time working as a gardener in Kent – and later to Switzerland.
His daughter, Princess Elena, met and married a Durham University geography professor, Robin Medforth-Mills and had two children – Nicholas, the protagonist of our tale – and his sister, Elisabeta, whose godmother, incidentally, is novelist Catherine Cookson.
Nicholas, or “Nicolae de Roumanie”, as he now likes to be known, is, as King Mihai’s grandson, third in line to the hypothetical throne after Crown Princess Margareta, who has no children of her own, and his mother. An unlikely royal hero, he was brought up in the north east of England, complete with Mackem accent, attending a private school in the unglamorous town of Sunderland. His parents, who lived outside of Durham for most of his childhood, mysteriously divorced in the Scottish Highlands in 1991, according to official papers.
Nicolae won the admiration of the Romanian population in 1992, when, as a small child, he accompanied King Mihai on the first visit allowed by the Romanian authorities after the fall of Communism. Photographed waving from a balcony in Bucharest’s Revolution Square, he has been regarded as a symbol of hope for those who want to resurrect the monarchy in the eastern European nation.
In the meantime, his aunt Irina, who initially moved to the US after marrying Swedish businessman John Kreuger, was convicted of running a cockfighting ring at her ranch in Oregon. By 2007, Princess Irina had divorced and married a former sheriff’s deputy, who was also involved in the illegal gambling incident, which saw competitors put in a minimum of $1,000 to allow their bird to fight. According to local media in the US, Princess Irina’s involvement was mainly in providing food and drinks for the participants – until they complained that her cooking was not up to scratch and a Mexican woman was paid to replace her. You couldn’t make it up.
Prince Nicolae, however, presumably well aware of his grandfather’s advancing years, began honing his princely skills. He had, for the first time in his life, started to learn the language of the country over which he hoped to rule, attending a prestigious course usually reserved for British diplomats in the Romanian city of Iasi. In 2015, there was another twist in the tale. Nicolae was mysteriously stripped of his titles and princely rights by the royal house of Romania. Rumours began to abound as to the reason, with a Romanian environmental activist, Nicoleta Cirjan naming him as her baby’s father – a situation he has claimed has never been fully resolved due to the “constant lack of co-operation from the mother of my alleged child”, although he hasn’t denied his relationship with her.
An official statement said he was disinherited due to King Mihai’s desire to have the royal household led by someone who is “modest, well-balanced and with moral principles”. Ouch. The outcast youngster’s reputation took another dent in November when the royal household issued a press release claiming that he had turned up at his grandfather’s deathbed in Switzerland, where he was barred – and then alleged to have “physically and verbally assaulted” three staff members in a bid to get through the door where, he insists, he wanted to say his last farewells to King Mihai.
Nicolae’s intentions to revive the Romanian monarchy are clear. His Facebook account, which was fairly quiet throughout 2017, save for his engagement and rapid, private, civil wedding to Bucharest-born press officer Alina Binder – the public, lavish affair is due to happen later this year – burst to life at the time of the death of his grandfather in December. Photos of the young pretender with his grandfather were quickly fired out, linking him in the minds of royalist Romanians, to the revered king. Now, Nicolae de Roumanie has been doing the rounds in the British pro-royal press, where he comes across as a decent chap wanting to dedicate himself to the country of his family’s birth, going so far as to admit to a national newspaper in the country that, if the Romanian people asked him to become king, he would not refuse.
Perhaps Nicolae and Harry need to meet up for a princely pint – it might revive Harry’s bad boy spirit.