royaltyQueen Mathilde will turn 50 next Friday. To mark the occasion, she has granted an exceptional TV interview to VTM NEWS. It is the first time that she talks so extensively and candidly on TV. “Although there were some taboo subjects,” says journalist Eva Peeters.
VTM NEWS was allowed to follow the Queen exclusively last year. That resulted in the special Mathilde 50 – The Big Conversation, which airs next Friday on the day of her birthday. The cameras filmed the queen during her encounters throughout the country and in the context of her concern for the mental health of Belgians.
In addition, Mathilde also gave a longer TV interview for the first time. In conversation with journalist Eva Peeters, she talks about her life inside and outside the palace walls. She describes the radical turnaround when her engagement was announced: from an anonymous damsel to just about the most famous woman in the country. And she explains why she has been keeping a strict watch over her private life and that of her family ever since. The conversation was recorded a month ago in Queen Mathilde’s office and salon at the palace in Brussels.
“You don’t arrange an interview with the Queen in a few days or weeks,” says Bert Heyrman, editor-in-chief of VTM NEWS. “We have been working on this for almost two years. Of course we made clear agreements with the royal palace. That is how we knew that the queen was absolutely not allowed to make political statements.”
And she didn’t want to ask too private questions either, adds Eva Peeters. “Not about her children, for example. I was told that her daughters and sons are now in their teens or adolescence, and don’t like Mom talking about them in the press. Also the death of her sister (Marie-Alix died in an accident in 1997 at the age of 22, ed.) was a taboo subject. I thought that was relevant, because it was in line with her commitment to mental well-being.”
If there were so many restrictions, why did VTM NEWS still want this conversation? “It remains exceptional that the Queen gives an interview,” Peeters responds. “You get a better insight into her life and work. You see where she works every day. And even with the restrictions, I was able to discuss interesting topics. I wanted to know how she sees her role as queen in the 21st century. By extension, this is about the monarchy, an institution that nevertheless receives a lot of comment. I found it interesting to know her view on this. And she reveals how to escape her busy life at Court. Close your computer, put your mobile phone away, take off your watch… And don’t have to keep an eye on the time. That’s free time for her. Freedom.”
Denied at first
The Dutch Queen Máxima allowed a TV interview in May 2021 for her fiftieth birthday. VTM NEWS then asked the palace in Brussels for the first time whether Queen Mathilde wanted to do the same. “But they rejected that pretty quickly. Because of two reasons. First: the Queen does not consider her birthday a milestone. And secondly: she doesn’t like to talk about herself,” says Peeters.
“We kept pushing. The palace came up with a counter-proposal to follow her on her cycling and walking tours that she organized in recent months in the run-up to her birthday. They were her initiative to draw attention to the importance of exercise for our mental well-being. We were allowed to pin a microphone on her and record everything she said, which is exceptional. Gradually she allowed us a short interview twice after such a trip and that’s how confidence grew. After several negotiations with the palace, they still agreed to our original request for a big, beautiful interview.”
Mathilde received VTM NEWS at her workplace in the royal palace. And not at her home in the castle of Laeken. “It was nevertheless the intention that we would speak to her in Laeken. But that was changed last minute, because King Filip had to receive the Indonesian president in an audience there.” Wouldn’t they have preferred to interview her at home? Isn’t that more intimate? “In retrospect, not. The King and Queen fence off their living quarters – no photo of them has ever appeared. They do have areas for receptions in the castle, and the interview was to take place there. It was just as well that we were forced to move to her desk in the palace. She sits there almost every day. She works there, consults with her advisor Machteld Fostier, and receives guests. It’s the most intimate place we could hit with a camera crew.”
‘Mathilde 50 – The Great Conversation’, Friday 20 January at 8.35 pm on VTM and on VTM GO
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