She may be Europe's least known Queen and she celebrates her 75th birthday today "dans l’intimité" - "in private" as the court announced - without public celebrations. But her Italo-Belgian charm can easily match that of the more famous European Queens.
Queen Paola was born Princess Ruffo di Calabria, on 11th September 1937, at Forte del Marmi in Italy. She is the youngest of seven children of Prince Fulco Ruffo di Calabria, a First World War flying ace, and Countess Luisa Gazelli. Her grandmother on her father's side, Laure Mosselman du Chenoy, was Belgian.
The Queen spent her entire youth in Rome, where she completed her classical secondary education in Latin and Greek.
She married Prince Albert of Belgium on 2 July 1959, whom she met at the coronation of HH Pope John XXIII in October 1958. The couple have three children: Prince Philippe, Duke of Brabant (born on 15th April 1960), Princess Astrid (born on 5th June 1962) and Prince Laurent (born on 19th October 1963).
The Constitution did not provide for any particular official role for the Queen. Nevertheless, Belgian queens have always played a role in the public life of the country. So the Queen assists the King in carrying out his functions as Head of State: many visits to institutions, contacts with the population, ceremonies in Belgium and abroad, state visits, audiences with representatives of various groups in society and many cultural and social activities. Towards this end, the Queen pays special attention to her role as hostess.
The Queen deploys the Queen's Charities to offer help to citizens who are struggling to cope with financial hardship in their daily lives and often turn to her as a last resort.
- Meaningful support offered to agencies providing help to young people struggling to be included in the main social networks.
- The Queen Paola Prize for Education (launched in 1997) seeks to highlight and reward innovative schemes undertaken by educationalists from all academic levels and networks.
- The School of Hope (set up in 1999): this initiative lends support to schools operating in a disadvantaged social and economic environment.