As anyone watching the most recent series of The Crown will have been reminded, Queen Elizabeth II famously suffered an ‘annus horribilis’ in 1992 as scandal hit her family and there was a fire at Windsor Castle. For Spain’s former king Juan Carlos I, 2022 is no doubt also proving to be a terrible year – but for him it’s just the latest in a long line.
Since 2020, Juan Carlos has been living in self-imposed exile in Abu Dhabi, after mounting allegations of financial irregularities forced him to flee. His son, King Felipe VI, wanted to get some distance between the Spanish royal family’s past and present.
But rather than escaping the focus of the public – both in Spain and abroad – Juan Carlos has been a regular fixture in the headlines this year. First, thanks to an HBO documentary titled Saving the King, which laid bare not just his financial dealings over the years but also his many affairs.
And now one of those ex-lovers, Danish-German businesswoman Corinna Larsen – who goes by her married name of Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn – is telling her version of their time together in a podcast titled Corinna and the King. Here’s what you need to know about the latest in this ongoing royal saga.
The podcast, which was produced by bestselling authors Tom Wright and Bradley Hope, is an eight-part series, based on extensive interviews with Larsen as well as journalists who followed the story over the years and other key figures. Episode one explains how the two met and their relationship began, episode two delves into Juan Carlos’s past, episode three examines the role of Queen Sofía, who is to this day still married to the self-styled emeritus king, and episode four – which will be released on Monday and to which The Olive Press has had advanced access – covers the infamous hunting trip in Botswana that sparked a crisis in the royal family.
How they met
“It’s a Shakespearean story about power, money, and sex,” explains Larsen in the first episode of the series, during which she tells the story of how the pair were at a hunting trip together at the Duke of Westminster’s property, La Garganta, in the Sierra Morena mountains in Castilla-La Mancha. Tired after a long day, Larsen broke with protocol and asked for the king’s permission to leave. “You’re not supposed to retire to bed until the head of state leaves,” she explains. All eyes ended up on her, including the king’s.
How it started
Larsen explains how the king’s phone calls, first about business, became gradually more personal and more regular. ‘It was kind of surreal, because [a relationship] hadn’t really crossed my mind. But he was very funny and sort of very persistent, but in a humorous way. He’s clearly known as one of the greatest seduces amongst royalty.’ When they share a meal together in a hunting lodge near the Zarzuela royal palace, he confesses that his marriage to Queen Sofía is just for show.
The anger of the queen
In episode three, Larsen tells the story of being given a private tour of the Zarzuela palace, having been promised that Sofía was not home. ‘Suddenly, Queen Sofia burst into the room. And with a face like thunder,’ she explains. ‘She pointed at me and said, “I know who you are!”’
The ‘court of miracles’
Larsen tells of the ‘unusual’ things in Juan Carlos’s life, what she calls the ‘court of miracles’. ‘I would see him coming back from trips and be happy as a five year old, and there’d be bags full of cash.’ Asked about them, the then-king would say: ‘Oh, this is from my friend so and so.’ ‘He’d say you are so dramatic, you don’t understand how Spain works. And no, clearly I didn’t.’
Larsen makes clear in the podcast that she demanded Juan Carlos be faithful to her, being aware of previous affairs he had such as with Bárbara Rey, an actress who later claimed she was receiving death threats after having broken up with the king. But, Larsen explains, after the death of her father, the king had an unpleasant surprise for her. ‘The king somehow in a conversation mentioned something about me not having been available much during those eight months when my father was in his last stage of cancer. And then he’d been seeing someone else.’
The hunting trip
Episode four provides Larsen’s account of the infamous 2012 hunting trip, news of which set Juan Carlos on the path to his 2014 abdication. She and the king were both on the safari together, despite having broken up. According to Larsen, the king woke up one morning after a night of heavy drinking and realised he must have had a fall and said he would spend the day in bed. His medical team, however, thought he had internal bleeding, and he was rushed back to Spain on Larsen’s chartered private jet. Despite the severity of the situation and his condition, the king requested a glass of wine. Larsen tried to reason with him, but, she explains, ‘he was like, I am the king. I can do whatever I want. And it was like a petulant child.’
The hunting trip alerts the press to the existence of Larsen in Juan Carlos’s life, and all hell breaks loose – especially given the tough economic times Spaniards are suffering. Larsen recounts the ‘complete fabrications’ about her in the press, and thinks she knows who is to blame. ‘This has the fingerprints of Queen Sofía all over it,’ she states, although as the podcast points out, there is no evidence to back up that claim.
What’s the damage?
While the podcast heaps yet more shame on the already disgraced emeritus king, the fact that it is available in Spanish and English, and has been widely covered in foreign publications such as The Times and The Daily Mail, also does Spain’s reputation few favours. It paints a picture of an out-of-control monarch, a press that is turning a blind eye to his antics, and state machinery that swings into action to protect him. And there is no doubt worse to come in the remaining episodes. ‘It’s like Spain, oh it’s such a nice country, go on holiday there, we’ll have some tapas, so fun… It’s almost more dangerous because people are completely unaware,’ says Corinna, in a teaser for episode five.
For the Spanish press, especially conservative newspapers who have sought to defend Juan Carlos and demonise Larsen, the timing of the podcast release was very suspicious: the first two episodes came out the week that an appeals hearing was held in the High Court in London, where Larsen has filed a civil case against Juan Carlos for alleged harassment and threatening behaviour via Spain’s national intelligence agency after they broke up. But speaking to this Olive Press reporter, executive producer Bradley Hope called it a mere coincidence. Representatives for Larsen, meanwhile, also confirmed that the businesswoman was not involved with the creation of the podcast – it is not ‘her’ podcast, as some newspapers have made out. Whatever the case, its release is yet another in a long line of embarrassments for the exiled emeritus king.
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