The wedding of Prince Laurent

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The wedding of Prince Laurent and Claire Coombs.

Surrounded by European royalty, Belgium’s Prince Laurent married English-born commoner Claire Coombs in an elaborate state ceremony. The wedding put an end to years of speculation in the Belgian press that the 39 year-old prince, known for his love of cars and laid-back style, would remain a bachelor forever. The prince was visibly nervous at a civil ceremony earlier in the day, offering “I do” even before Brussels Mayor Freddy Thielemans finished saying the vows. After the ceremony at the historic medieval town hall, the couple made their way to the Saint Michael and Gudula Cathedral, where Cardinal Godfried Danneels officiated.

The bride, 29, wore a simple gown by Belgian designer Edouard Vermeulen and a Brussels lace veil first worn by Laurent’s great-grandmother in 1877. After the church ceremony, the newlyweds and their more than 500 guests headed to the royal palace to greet the crowds with a traditional balcony appearance and a kiss. Royalty attending the ceremonies included Grand Duke Henri and his wife, Grand Duchess Maria Teresa, of Luxembourg; Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden; Princess Margriet and Pieter van Vollenhoven from The Netherlands; and Prince Nikolaus of Liechtenstein. Also present were Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt and his cabinet. Laurent, the youngest son of King Albert and Queen Paola and eighth in line to the Belgian throne, and Coombs announced their engagement in December after months of speculation about the royal romance in the Belgian media.

Under the Belgian constitution, the couple’s marriage had to be approved by the government or Laurent could have lost any future claim to the crown. Claire holds dual British-Belgian nationality and works as a surveyor with a real estate company in the northern city of Antwerp. She has not said whether she will continue working now that she is a princess. Bilingual in French and English, Claire has recently been perfecting her Dutch, which is spoken by 60 per cent of Belgians. Princess Claire, born in Bath 29 years ago, has a British father and Belgian mother, and moved to Wavre in Belgium with her family when she was three. Her elder sister Joanna and younger brother Matthew were also born in Britain but now live in Belgium, although the family often visit the UK to see their relatives.

Prince Laurent has made headlines in Belgium after being caught speeding on several occasions, earning him the reputation as the “enfant terrible” of the royal family. He lists his interests as fast cars and protecting nature and animals and presides over a foundation which “aims to improve relations between man and the animal kingdom”. He has also had extensive military training, qualifying as a diver and helicopter pilot . In contrast to his “enfant terrible” image, Prince Laurent is president of Belgium’s Royal Institute for the Sustainable Management of Natural Resources and the Promotion of Clean Technologies, which he helped to establish in 1994. The Institute aims to find original, constructive, and harmonious solutions for the complex problems of the environment. As President, he has guided the Institute’s direction and major projects, including such groundbreaking efforts as the joint, Belgium-Moroccan development of a wastewater processing plant to protect the environmentally sensitive Mediterranean Sea. (Extract from Royalty Magazine Vol. 18/07)