The Fabulous Lives of Royals

Our fascination for a life of fantasy finds its roots in our childhood, accelerated by Disney movies. We all grew up reading fairytales featuring magical kingdoms in dreamy, faraway lands, featuring castles, ruled by kings and queens. It seems only natural that even today, we are captivated by royal families and their lifestyles, no matter the complicated history, and the fact that monarchy is defunct (well, almost.) The opulence, quirks, and weddings of royal families always have, and continue to keep us “commoners” watching with rapt attention. Today, there are 28 sovereigns in 43 countries around the world, out of which 16 are British provinces. 

In terms of international profile, Britain’s royal family is perhaps the most famous. However, there are many other constitutional and absolute monarchs outside of Britain. These kings, queens, sultans, and emirs don’t rule countries like monarchs used to (except for UAE), but they continue to live in some of the wealthiest regal houses, and lead lavish lifestyles. Boasting fortunes that go up to hundreds if not thousands of billions, they are surrounded by fleets of luxury vehicles, private estates, art, and jewellery that are unparalleled. 

Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn posing with royal noble consort Sineenat Bilaskalayani

One glance at the Royal Thai Palace is all it takes to see the definition of extravagance. Thailand’s Chakri dynasty has been the reigning monarchy for 236 years, and continues to hold their people’s regard and admiration. In Thailand, it is illegal to defame, threaten, or even insult any ruling members or heirs-apparent of the royal family. Violators can be punished with anywhere between three to 15 years of jail time. In 2016, King Maha Vajiralongkorn ascended to the throne after his father’s death, late King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Their estimated wealth of $60 billion is managed by the Crown Property Bureau of Thailand. Valuable real estate ownership of 3000 acres in central Bangkok, and shares in Siam Cement and Siam Commercial Bank, make the royal family of Thailand one of the wealthiest in the world. Their portfolio generates close to three billion dollars of revenue a year. They also currently own the undisputed largest faceted diamond globally, the 545-carat Golden Jubilee Diamond, which was honourably presented to late King Bhumibol Adulyadej on his 50th coronation  anniversary. The approximate value of this yellow-brown treasure ranges anywhere between $4 and $12 million, and it is held at the Royal Thai Palace, among their many crown jewels. 

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani

The UAE is a federal monarchy with seven absolute monarchy member states, each with its own emir. While most built their fortune on oil, they have since diversified their funds across the world. It is hard to get exact numbers on net worth, but a lot of research goes into guesstimating their wealth. Abu Dhabi’s House of Nahyan has been the ruling royal house since 1793, and shares ancestry with Dubai’s current monarchy, the Al Maktoum dynasty. With a net worth of $150 billion, the royal family of Abu Dhabi amassed most of their wealth from oil during the 1970s. Emir of Abu Dhabi and UAE president since 2004, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan also heads the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, which manages $875 billion in holdings that includes Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. Since 2013, Qatar has been ruled by the world’s youngest emir, 38-year-old Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, whose family has reigned since the mid-19th century. The House of Thani is valued at $335 billion, and their fortune includes the UK’s Olympic village, Harrods department stores, and the London Shard skyscraper. Qatar’s royal family also has considerable shares in Tiffany & Co., Volkswagen, Barclays, and the Empire State Building. Moving on to Kuwait, ruled by the Al-Sabah family since 1752, the current emir of which is Sheikh Sabah IV. Kuwait’s royal family holds substantial stocks in the U.S. market, in major-league companies, pegging their net worth at around $360 billion. 

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II with Sir Alan Mansfield

At the top of the list of the wealthiest royals, is Saudi Arabia’s ruling dynasty. Estimated to be worth a staggering $17 trillion, the House of Saud has ruled since 1744, currently headed by King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, also the prime minister of Saudi. 

The royal family is said to have more than 7000 princes. King Salman alone is worth $17 billion and owns a villa in south-eastern France, where the beach closes for him during his annual holiday. During the reign of Ibn Saud, the vast petroleum reserves discovered in Saudi Arabia continue to fund the regal lives of Saudi princes who own French chateaus and homes on the French Riviera. The younger ones are keener to flaunt their wealth. Although they are private, their customized luxury cars, especially in London and the US during summers, are signs that the annual party has begun. Millionaire princes and their friends fly out their fancy cars to their holiday destinations, which are often seen parked outside the famous Claridges, Harrods, and Dorchester Hotel. Locals find it strange that they don’t mind or want people looking at their cars, but they don’t reveal their names and don’t want anyone to know what they are up to. 

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II with Sir Alan Mansfield

Many of us have read about royal whimsies that come with a side of eccentric habits right from what they eat and wear to how they dress, sit, sleep, travel, and interact with others. These are either traditions handed down or rules born out of etiquette, mostly to safeguard themselves, extend life expectancies, or simply differentiate themselves from us ordinary folks. 

Throughout history, as a result of seeking longer lives, many kings and queens developed strange habits.

Princess Diana meets with a child during her visit to Angola.

The first emperor of united China, Qin Shi Huang, was determined to become immortal. He had a special team of doctors and alchemists to brew potions that could extend his life. Henry VIII constantly tried to protect himself from being poisoned; his housekeeping staff had to kiss his sheets, pillows, and blankets daily to prove that there was no poison on them. He also made his servants test for poison and thoroughly clean any new garments that came for his son Prince Edward.

Meanwhile, Queen Elizabeth II’s outfits are all numbered, and she purposely wears bright colours so that it is easy to spot her in a crowd. 

The Royal Wedding of Crown Prince Frederik and Mary Donaldson

She travels with supplies of her own blood but does not need to carry a passport since all British passports are made in her name. As a preventive measure against food poisoning, British royal family rules do not allow the consumption of shrimp, oysters, crab, and lobster. Garlic has been completely banned from Buckingham Palace; rice, potatoes, and pasta are not allowed at dinner simply because the Queen said so. 

Nobody is allowed to eat once the Queen has finished her meal, and no one should sit if the Queen is standing. Royal kids can only wear shorts (no trousers) until the age of eight, and nicknames too are forbidden. British royalty are not permitted to give out autographs, take selfies, or even touch non-royals, but much of that changed with Princess Diana. 

King Mohammed VI of Morocco and Princess Lalla Salma

Beauty and skincare habits of royals have been an area of great interest for royal watchers. Going further back in time, when beauty ideals were far from fair, Queen Elizabeth I had a persistent habit of using ceruse foundation and cinnabar as lip and cheek tint, which is loaded with mercury. Subsequently, other royal women followed suit by filling in smallpox scars with substances like turpentine and beeswax. On the contrary, many royals in the past believed that showers were dangerous. Queen Isabella of 15th century Spain claimed to only bathe twice in her entire life, while Queen Elizabeth I showered once a month. 

In order to strategically grow the family lineage, Queen Victoria of England ensured that her descendants would marry into every single royal family in Europe. To this day, Britain, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and Denmark are all ruled by her familial heirs. This redefined Europe’s monarchial landscape, making Queen Victoria the grandmother of the continent. Royal intermarriages, in general, had the power to end wars and, from a diplomatic standpoint, were events with high stakes. This is also why European royal weddings gained significant global viewership as they affected the fate of the mainland, ergo the world. With the advent of photography, film, and television, everyone got to see and learn of royal wedding traditions and enduring ideals. Many of these are longstanding traditions and enduring ideals that are still continued, while some have been discarded. 

Kitty Spencer in Philip Treacy hat

Back in the day, Russian czars took The Bachelor approach to pick their bride, albeit in a more old-school manner. A customary, formal viewing of eligible bridal “contestants” would occur in open courtyards before a jury of doctors and courtiers. The czar finally made his pick after going through descriptions that included family details and beauty and health information. In England, it is still mandatory for the first six royals in line to the throne to seek the Queen’s written approval before getting married. The Church of England has and continues to prohibit the bridal kiss from all places it considers sacred, including palaces. That’s why the recently-famous royal kiss that is publicly showcased only happens on balconies outside the palace. In Morocco, a longstanding tradition commands that royal wives be kept hidden on the day of their wedding, which was famously broken by King Mohamed VI and Princess Lalla Salma with a public wedding celebration. 

Catherine Middleton and her sister, Pippa Middleton

Royal brides, their sartorial choices and the designer engaged for the prestigious job of the bridal gown have always garnered a special kind of attention. Fun fact: Queen Victoria is credited as the trendsetter of white as a wedding colour. In 1840, she wore a white, off-shoulder silk ensemble for her own wedding. Until then, brides wore colourful wedding gowns. Royal wedding protocol also requires brides to wear a tiara, and the wedding invite explicitly states that all ladies must wear hats. That explains the plethora of Philip Treacy hat sightings at Harry and Meghan’s wedding! Since 1923, all wedding rings of kings and queens of England have been made using a rare Welsh gold from the Clogau St. David’s mine. 

In Thailand, royal customs dictate that the king is higher in stature than everyone else, and requires that he be seated with his feet above everyone’s heads. Only when the king and Queen sit, the bride may sit next to her new husband. All the others present in the royal court must continue to lay at the king’s feet. Last year, Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn wed his partner Suthida Vajiralongkorn, a former Thai Airways attendant. She, too, lay at his feet in accordance with the ritual. 

When Queen Victoria married Prince Albert, her grandmother-in-law gave her a sprig of myrtle for her bridal bouquet, which she later planted in her myrtle garden. Every royal bride since has followed the tradition of carrying a sprig of myrtle in her bridal bouquet. It is a symbol of love and long marriage, and special as it is taken from Queen Victoria’s myrtle garden for every princess. This tradition also trickled down to Princess Margaret of Connaught, granddaughter of Queen Victoria, who married Prince Gustaf Adolf of Sweden. Also, the tradition of throwing a wedding bouquet has never existed in British royal nuptials. Instead, brides lay them on the Tomb of a soldier the next day. Lady Elizabeth owes-Lyon began this tradition in honour of her brother, Fergus, who lost his life in World War I. 

Both Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle did the same. Per Spanish royal wedding tradition, the bride leaves her bouquet at the feet of a statue of the Virgin Mary. The quintessential gorgeous, white, tiered fruitcake is also a longstanding tradition of British royal weddings. The top tier of the cake is preserved and eaten at the christening ceremony of the couple’s first baby. This, too, was followed by Charles and Diana as well as Kate and William. Like most royal couples, William got a second cake, chocolate-flavoured featuring McVitie’s biscuits. 

Queen Victoria's wedding

Royals worldwide have captured the nation, and in many cases, even the world’s heart. Shows like The Crown have taken the baton from Disney’s classics to feed the royal obsession and have made it possible for many to get an insider’s view on royal lives. It is quite natural to feel like being connected to a part of something larger-than-life, which explains why we all probably sat glued to our televisions to watch royal weddings. It is also why the outfits Kate Middleton or Meghan Markle wear are sold out in a matter of minutes. Our fascination with royal families is essentially a way to partake in an aspirational, fantasy life without guilt or moralizing.           – Namrata Loka