22 Aug, 2020 @ 15:11
1 min read

‘L’etat c’est moi’: Giles Brown looks back at the glory days of King Juan Carlos

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IT’S been a busy week broadcasting, what with reporting on the rise of coronavirus cases and the shutting down of later night bars and discos – although my own Saturday Night Fever sessions are now thankfully, long behind me.

There’s nothing worse than going clubbing in Marbella and bumping into a friend’s kid. I gave up on the nightlife scene after a 20th anniversary bash at a club I used to frequent. Chatting to a young woman at the bar, I mentioned that I had been at the opening night two decades before. ‘I don’t remember the opening night’ she replied. ‘Yeah, it was pretty wild, heh?’ I said, unleashing my most Clooney-esque grin. “No, the reason I don’t remember the night is that 20 years ago I was four.”

I gave up being a night fly shortly after.

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Juan Carlos was the embodiment of Spain

One of the pieces of news that hit home, however, was the emeritus King Juan Carlos leaving Spain and going onto self-imposed exile. If you were born in the 80s, then the story seems to be a simple case of an ex-monarch fleeing Spain to avoid financial disgrace.

But if you came to Spain in the 80s, as I did, then the story takes on a different aspect. For many people, Juan Carlos was the embodiment of Spain and its remarkable transformation from dictatorship to democracy. Franco never intended that the young Juan Carlos would change Spain to a modern democracy. Under the dictator’s plan. Juan Carlos would rule as a 20th century equivalent of an absolute monarch.

It says something of the young Juan Carlos’ determination that when he ascended to the throne he chose not to take that path, and when the coup attempt came in 1981 he appeared on national television to denounce it. From that moment on, Juan Carlos was Spain.

As the country became full EU members, images of the handsome king and his family were regular features on TV. The high water mark came in 1992 – Sevilla held the World Fair and Barcelona a magnificent Olympics where the young Prince Felipe led in the Spanish team and a nation burst with pride.

And now this. The old king, the Royal Family riven with financial and domestic scandals, flees the country as it heads into a medical and economic disaster. As another Bourbon monarch once said: “L’etat c’est moi.”

Giles Brown

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