When Thailand‘s new Queen Suthida dons her crown alongside King Maha Vajiralongkorn this weekend, she will cap an unusual Cinderella story that saw her go from flight attendant to bodyguard to member of the Thai royal family.
King Vajiralongkorn shocked the nation on Wednesday when he married General Suthida Vajiralongkorn Na Ayudhya, his consort and the second highest-ranking member of his bodyguard unit. (The king is his own chief bodyguard.)
The 66-year-old king wed Queen Suthida, 40, at the royal palace in Bangkok on Wednesday, in a lavish ceremony broadcast on Thai television. The footage showed the new queen prostrating herself before the king while offering him a tray of incense and flowers, according to royal tradition. The king appointed her queen and granted her royal powers in front of a gathering of senior politicians and members of the Thai royal family.
King Vajiralongkorn wore a pristine white uniform for the ceremony, while his bride wore a traditional pink silk dress.
The unexpected wedding comes days before the king (and now queen) are due to be crowned, ending a three-year waiting period that began with the death of Vajiralongkorn’s father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, at 88.
Who is Queen Suthida?
Little is known about Thailand’s new queen beyond a few details released through royal decrees, palace statements and a few media reports.
Suthida Tidjai was working as a flight attendant for Thai Airways International when she met then-Prince Vajiralongkorn in 2013, according to reports. She joined the palace guard later that year and was promoted to deputy commander of the prince’s bodyguard unit in 2014.
Vajiralongkorn showered Suthida with honours after he became king. He named her a full general in the Royal Thai Army in late 2016, then promoted her to deputy commander of the king’s personal guard and granted her the title of Thanpuying, which means “Lady,” in 2017.
The palace did not acknowledge a relationship between the two prior to Wednesday’s wedding.
Wife No. 4 for former ‘playboy prince’
King Vajiralongkorn has a long history with women and scandal, particularly in international tabloids.
“He is a good student, a good boy, but women find him interesting and he finds women even more interesting,” the king’s mother, Sirikit Kitiyakara, told The Dallas Morning Herald on a trip to the United States in 1981. The late queen also described her son as a “little bit of a Don Juan” at the time.
As a prince, Vajiralongkorn spent much of his adult life travelling abroad in his personal Boeing 737 and living a lavish lifestyle filled with luxury villas, fast cars and women. He was also frequently photographed wearing a crop top that exposed his many fake tattoos.
King Vajiralongkorn has three ex-wives and seven children, including a son with Srirasmi Suwadee, his latest wife whom he divorced in 2014. The divorce was announced shortly after several of Srirasmi’s relatives were arrested as part of a corruption investigation.
Vajiralongkorn also had a beloved poodle named Foo Foo. He granted his dog the rank of Air Chief Marshal in the Thai Army, and gave it a lavish funeral when it died in 2015.
Both Srirasmi and Air Chief Marshal Foo Foo featured prominently in a major scandal that rocked the royal family in 2014, amid a quiet battle over the order of succession. A video, leaked at the time, showed Vajiralongkorn and Srirasmi celebrating Foo Foo at a lavish birthday party sometime in the 2000s. Srirasmi appears topless throughout the video.
Vajiralongkorn’s first wife was Princess Soamsawali Kityakara, his cousin whom he married in 1977. The two had one child together during their 16-year marriage. However, Vajiralongkorn also carried on a long-running relationship with actress Yuvadhida Polpraserth during his first marriage, and had five children with her between 1979 and 1987.
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He eventually divorced Soamsawali in 1993 and married Yuvadhida in 1994. The marriage lasted two years, and ended when Yuvadhida left with her children for Britain. Vajiralongkorn responded to her departure by plastering the royal palace with posters accusing her of adultery, and banishing her along with his four sons.
The coronation of King Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida is scheduled for May 4-6. Thai citizens and media have been publicly applauding their king all week ahead of the event.
“Long live the king,” reads a message on every page of the Bangkok Post.
Thai law prohibits anyone from criticizing or insulting members of the royal family, which now includes the new Queen Suthida. The crime is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
It’s unclear who is next in line to the throne. Vajiralongkorn’s four eldest sons are currently living in exile with their mother in the U.S. He has one other son by his last wife.
— With files from Reuters and The Associated Press