The life of King Vajiralongkorn, who on Sunday was finally crowned in Thailand two years after ascending the throne, has been defined by both privilege and eccentricity.
Rarely seen making public appearances or speeches, and known for spending most of his time living in Germany where he owns a $13m (RM62m) mansion in an affluent area of Munich, Vajiralongkorn has yet to inspire the same devout loyalty and stature as his father, King Bhumibol, who died in 2016 after seven decades on the throne.
“King Vajiralongkorn has a very different style to his father,” said Dr Patrick Jory, a senior lecturer in south-east Asian history at the University of Queensland. “He came of age when the primacy of the monarchy had been restored in Thai politics. Unlike his father he has spent most of his life in the military and is used to issuing orders and having them obeyed, but is lacking the charisma of his father.”
The birth of Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun on 28 July 1952 was a moment of great relief for Bhumibol and his wife, Queen Sirikit; at last they had a male heir for the Thai throne.
Like his father and most members of the Thai royal family, Vajiralongkorn was sent to the west to be educated from an early age, attending a prep school in Sussex at 13 and then on to Millfield boarding school in Somerset until he was 17. He later moved to Australia and enrolled at the Royal Military College in Canberra, graduating as a lieutenant in 1976. Much of his life was spent as an officer in the royal Thai army.
Yet despite his being officially named heir apparent in 1972, some in Thailand have raised questions about his suitability for the throne. For years, Vajiralongkorn faced allegations that he was involved in illicit activities.
In a rare meeting with journalists in 1992, Vajiralongkorn directly addressed the allegations: “Do I look like a mafia boss type? I tell you, if I were, I would have been a millionaire by now … I don’t understand why, whenever anything goes wrong, it is always linked to me.”
Vajiralongkorn – whose name means “adorned with jewels or thunderbolts” – also became known for his colourful personal life, even according to his mother, who, on a trip to the US in 1982, described her son as “a little bit of a Don Juan”. He has been married four times, with multiple acrimonious divorces, and has seven children by three different mothers.
Vajiralongkorn’s latest wife, whom he married this week in order to secure her title as Queen but has been romantically linked to since 2014, is a former Thai Airways flight attendant whom he promoted to deputy commander of his bodyguard unit and then to full army general in 2016.
The new king is a lover of sports cars and, being a trained pilot, also owns a Boeing 737 that he flies regularly. A keen cyclist, he recently shut the streets of Bangkok for a 24-mile (39km) cycling event where he could be seen riding in yellow spandex. Vajiralongkorn is also known for his love of dogs – he named his pet poodle Foo Foo an air chief marshal. The poodle would accompany its owner to formal events dressed in full miniature uniform. When Foo Foo died in 2016, he was given a four-day funeral with full Buddhist rites.
But while images of Vajiralongkorn’s life in Germany are often splashed across the pages of foreign newspapers, the strict laws preventing criticism of the monarchy in Thailand have kept them far from Thai media, with journalists who have touched in detail on Vajiralongkorn’s life finding themselves jailed or exiled.
– The Guardian