Thank you to our Baguette Iselen for breathing life into a royal who is often seen in the background. We think you’ll find it as fascinating as we do!
Princess Irene could well be described as the wandering royal, for she has lived on several continents and in various countries. She was born in 1942 in Cape Town, South Africa, where her family was exiled for part of World War II. Her parents were then Crown Prince Paul and Crown Princess Frederica of Greece. The baby joined an older sister and brother, Princess Sophia and Prince Constantine, who were 4 and 2 years older.
Although in exile, her family remained very royal. One of Irene’s godfathers was Field Marshal Jan Christiaan Smuts, the 2nd Prime Minister of South Africa. In 1946, the Greek royals returned to their country and in 1947 her father ascended to the throne, succeeding his childless brother.
Princess Irene was a studious and disciplined child and young adult, and one with considerable musical talent. She was a pupil of the concert pianist Gina Bachauer and would later perform as a professional concert pianist. She lived in Greece during the reigns of both her father and brother, which would last until 1973 when the monarchy was abolished. At that point, she followed her family into another exile in Rome.
The princess had a couple of long-term romances, including one with Prince Michel of Orléans and, later in life, with an equerry in her brother’s employ. She was discussed as a possible match for King Harald. As we know, Harald had other ideas, and Irene moved with her mother India. Being intellectually curious women, mother and daughter took on a serious study of Hindu philosophy. Queen Frederica died relatively young, and Irene moved to Spain. She was given her own mini apartment in Zarzuela palace and King Juan Carlos invited her personally to live with them so she could keep Sofia company. Irene keeps her own counsel and prefers to stay in the background. Rather than praising the discretion of his sister-in-law, Juan Carlos complained that she never wanted to go out and spent her days reading philosophy books in her rooms. There is no pleasing some people!
Among her “possible” lovers, in addition to Michel of Orleans, was Guido Brunner, the German ambassador in Spain who invited her out a couple of times, and Gonzalo of Bourbon, Juan Carlos’ cousin, who ended up being a good friend. There was also Jesús Aguirre, who had good contacts among the Spanish high society back in the 70s. He became a good friend and flirted with her publicly, even asked her to marry him but she turned down the proposition and he ended up marrying Cayetana, Duchess of Alba, years later. Honestly, I’m happy she didn’t marry him, Aguirre was a very serious and difficult man, very stubborn and Irene seems too sweet and funny, not a good match. She doesn’t like to talk about her boyfriends because “it could affect other people,” her own words, and there were rumours about Irene being in love with a married man for many years.
Felipe loves Irene and calls her “Tía Pecu” which means “Aunt Peculiar” (nicer in Spanish than it sounds here!). She calls herself a rebel, she’s a ufologist and shares that hobby with Queen Sofia! Irene beat breast cancer back in 2002 helped by Queen Sofia. She hates pretentious people and, even if everybody claims she’s a lovely lady with good British humor, she can answer back when feeling upset. During the celebration of Princess Alexia of Greece’s wedding, a lady was bragging about her expensive clothes nonstop. Irene couldn’t stand it anymore and answered: “I got these shoes in a street market in Madrid for 20€, aren’t they beautiful?”
The Princess is a passionate defender of animals and established the World in Harmony organization (Mundo en Armonía), an organization devoted to promoting compassion and harmony between humans and animals. She’s also famous in Spain because she managed to take 100 cows from Cantabria to India by plane to give them as a present for poor people (her foundation promotes sustainable farming projects.) She is also a patron of several arts organizations, ranging over many countries including South Africa, India, and her new home in Spain.
After all these years of moving from place to place, the Princess has found a home in Spain. In 2002, she received a payout from the Greek government for properties and assets lost during the revolution. She donated all the moneys to her foundation. In 2018 she renounced her Greek nationality and became a citizen of Spain.