FORMER King Juan Carlos I celebrated his 86th birthday on January 5 at his new home in Abu Dhabi, surrounded by friends, family and a star-studded assortment of Spanish and international guests.

Spanish media reports the celebration included a flamenco-themed dinner, and the globally known Latin Pop duo Los del Rio (of Macarena fame) as well as the king’s daughters Elena and Cristina, their children, and radio journalist Carlos Herrera, among around 100 other attendees.

The celebration began with an informal afternoon lunch, then continued with a celebration in the gardens of the king’s Abu Dhabi residence, reports La Vanguardia

Other rumoured invitees include Peruvian novelist and longtime friend of the former king’s Mario Vargas Llosa, although according to journalist Martin Bianchi in an interview for a Cadena Ser podcast, he did not attend. 

Juan Carlos’ son, King Felipe VI, was also absent from the festivities.

Spain's Emeritus King, Juan Carlos, celebrates his 85th birthday
Spain’s Emeritus King Juan Carlos I celebrated his 86th birthday on January 5 from his self-imposed exile in Abu Dhabi. Credit: Cordon Press

The celebration, though glamorous, was quite different from Juan Carlos’ 80th birthday, which he spent at home in Madrid’s Zarzuela Palace, and saw the entire royal family gathered together as well as a secret after-party with 200 guests.

 The former king — known for being the first to succeed Franco and credited with saving the country from the 1981 coup attempt — was abdicated in June 2014, after which the throne passed to his son and current monarch, Felipe VI. 

Since 2012 Juan Carlos has faced humiliation after humiliation, beginning with an ill-fated, widely criticised elephant hunting trip to Botswana in the midst of Spain’s financial crisis, and ending with the closure of financial fraud investigations in 2022, the initiation of which led to his fleeing Spain to Abu Dhabi in 2020, where he has lived since. 

Juan Carlos has been accused of credit card fraud, tax evasion, and hiding a $100 million donation linked to Saudi Arabia in a Swiss bank account, a charge for which he was the subject of a bipartisan drive in the Spanish Parliament to launch a formal investigation in 2020. 

In October 2023, the former king won a harassment case initiated by his ex-lover Corinna zu Sayn Wittgenstein when a London high court tossed aside the charges, the judge stating that the court had no jurisdiction. Juan Carlos has denied wrongdoing.

In a leaked 2015 conversation with Spanish Police, the Danish entrepreneur claimed the monarch registered multiple overseas properties in her name without her consent in an alleged money laundering scheme, and that Spanish Intelligence agents had mercenaries break into her home to steal sensitive documents. 

Though his legal troubles in Spain appear to be clearing up, Juan Carlos has chosen to remain in the United Arab Emirates, where he is now a tax resident. He’s returned to Spain seven times since 2020, his visits having recently increased in frequency. 

On October 31 he attended a family celebration at Madrid’s El Pardo Palace for his granddaughter Princess Leonora’s 18th birthday, and on December 20 he returned to celebrate his daughter Elena’s 60th birthday with the royal family at a posh restaurant in Madrid, marking his sixth visit in 2023. 

Most often, he leaves the same day he arrives to avoid having to stay at the Zarzuela Palace — part of his promise to his son, Felipe VI, to not interfere with the king’s reign.

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