In Danish there is a word, ildsjael, which roughly translates to mean "someone with a fire in their belly", and the Crown Princess is certainly an ildsjael who burns for a cause and has the power to act. She is committed to using the position royalty allows to speak up for those who do not have a voice, as a champion for gender equality and sustainability.
During the month Vogue and Mario Testino visited Copenhagen to photograph this cover and take these beautiful pictures, the Crown Princess also opened two important conferences: the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, which focuses on sustainable practices within the fashion and textile industries; and Women Deliver 2016, the largest global conference on the rights, health and wellbeing of girls and women in the past decade. And aside from her family and country, it's clear this is where her passions lie.
"I see my role as not just being a voice of the voiceless, but also being able to be a catalyst for bringing people and relevant actors together," she tells me. "I believe that in order to find solutions to some of the most pressing global challenges of today we need to take a holistic approach that requires us to consider the social, environmental and economic aspects and work together in new and innovative partnerships, maybe with people and organisations we wouldn't have thought about working with before.
"It will require a continuous effort and patience, and strong and authentic leadership: it takes time to create real and sustainable change. I try, as effectively as possibly, to use the platform that I have built up over the years to advocate and work for the empowerment of women and girls and the protection and respect of their human rights."
I ask her if she sees herself as a role model: "I find it difficult to speak of myself as a role model, as role models are defined by the individual. It is what they see in a person that gives meaning or inspiration to them that makes another person a role model for them. It's not something I consciously think about. But at the same time, I am very aware of my role and my responsibility. If I can inspire others and if others see something in me that can motivate them, then that's a big compliment." Many women, including Natasha Stott Despoja, who was an Australian delegate at the Women Deliver conference, admire the Crown Princess for her authentic and commendable commitment to the issue of gender equality.
"For me, gender equality means equal access to education, health services and information, economic participation and political representation," explains the Crown Princess, who wants all girls and women to have equal opportunities so they can fulfil their full potential. She becomes particularly impassioned when we discuss some of the remarkable women and ildsjaels she has met: "They and the youth at the Women Deliver conference are the people who inspire and motivate me."
Unlike celebrity, royalty comes with a large amount of duty, which is something royals have managed with varying degrees of success. Modern royalty comes with the added complication of an unforgiving media spotlight, which is never switched off. In this environment it would be easy to understand why a royal might choose an easier path than committing herself to tackling some of the most pressing problems on the planet. But Crown Princess Mary is not that type of royal; she is not one to shy away from a challenge. Her desire to help is governed by a deep sense of justice and fairness is a strong, overarching value.
"One thing I have always found difficult from as early as I can remember is seeing people who appear to be alone," she says. "It has always affected me deeply and I can't explain why. To see people standing on the outside looking in, who can't understand why they aren't part of a community or group. We all have this innate fear of not belonging; as humans we have a fundamental need to feel like a valuable and an accepted member of a community or group."
And so the Mary Foundation was formed 10 years ago, thanks to a generous wedding gift of 1 million Danish Krone, and the idea of creating a foundation that was different and could give something back to people who are socially isolated.
"We all have the right to belong. Domestic violence, bullying and loneliness, they are our three focus areas," explains the Crown Princess, and within these focus areas we have different initiatives, projects and partnerships to address the complex problems within these focus areas. Those three areas were chosen because they all have links to social isolation and many of them are very taboo or overlooked. The abused woman, the bullied child and the lonely adolescent feel very, very alone in the world with their problems and will often never share them. The problem feeds on isolation and isolation feeds on the problem; the Mary Foundation is all about the value of community and belonging, something that is fundamental for each and every one of us."
Her commitment to tackle difficult, often taboo issues was a driving force 10 years ago, but where did it come from? "It's difficult to explain; I have not always been so driven. Over the years you develop and grow, you have your earlier years where you just do what you have to do but, once you find your passion, things change in many ways. One thing my parents always said to me was: 'Do your best', whether you were going to a sporting event, sitting an exam or helping a friend, it was always: 'Do your best', and I think that builds in you a sense of duty and responsibility to fulfil your potential."
Her father, John Dalgleish Donaldson, is a professor of mathematics and has spent more time working in Copenhagen since her wedding; her mother Henrietta Clark Donaldson was an executive assistant at the University of Tasmania, and passed away in 1997. The hymn Eternal Father was included in the royal wedding ceremony in 2004 in memory of her.
It was obvious from the moment she appeared in public life that the Crown Princess was a perfect fashion plate and it was no surprise that the Danish fashion community was quick to adopt her as its patron of the Danish Fashion Fair. But the Crown Princess is not the type of woman to be content simply sitting in the front row of fashion shows as a celebrity guest. Instead, she has used her influence and knowledge to promote the most significant global summit on sustainable fashion, which in this its seventh year attracted a powerhouse of speakers and guests.
"The Danish Fashion Institute approached me to get involved and at that time it was clear that the fashion industry needed to make some fundamental changes?" explains the Crown Princess. "I believed in the Fashion Institute's initiative and its ideas to be a catalyst for bringing influential decision makers in fashion, business and politics together to engage in discussions on how to tackle the growing environmental and social footprints that the industry leaves across the globe."
Denmark is an obvious choice to host such an initiative, with its strong reputation for and focus on renewable energy, often demonstrating that it is possible to generate economic growth while causing minimal environmental damage. In July last year, unusually strong winds meant Denmark's windfarms produced 140 per cent of the nation's electricity needs and the surplus was sold to neighbouring countries Germany, Norway and Sweden. A surge in windfarm installations could mean Denmark is able to produce half its electricity needs from renewable sources and meet its 70 per cent target date of 2020. By 2050, the country plans to meet 100 per cent of its energy needs from renewables, abandoning coal, oil and gas forever.
And it isn't just in sustainability that Denmark is leading the way. In March this year the country was again rated the happiest place in the world by the UN World Happiness Report (WHR). It's a nation offering admirable leadership in environmental challenges, and design in Denmark is unsurpassed (every restaurant and public space in Copenhagen is a study in good taste), yet it is also a country of high taxes and long dark winters, which is not what you would call the perfect recipe for a happy population. The secret to their success seems to me to be a sense of fairness and equality. Denmark is a country with a constitutional monarchy, a royal family with the longest continuous royal lineage, and yet in this nation you don't get an overarching sense of an aristocracy or privilege shared only among a select few. This relatively egalitarian approach to life is nothing new. The 18th-century Danish philosopher Nikolaj Grundtvig said Denmark was a country where "few have too much, and even fewer have too little".
It is also a country in which a royal family has not only survived but thrived. Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, Crown Prince Frederik's mother, is known for her love of painting and the arts. Danes celebrated with gusto when the much-adored monarch turned 76 earlier this year.
Likewise, the Crown Prince and Crown Princess are applauded for their unaffected manner: the royal couple are often spotted pedalling their young twins, five-year-olds Prince Vincent and Princess Josephine, to school — they sit in a little bucket on the front of their mother's bike.
The day following our photo shoot we bumped into the Crown Princess while fashion director Christine Centenera and I were out exercising. I am not sure who I felt more sorry for: the royal guards who, dressed in their regalia, raised their guns in salute until HRH left the square, which we delayed because of our chatter; or us, dressed in our sweats. When I was a little girl my grandmother instructed me to always leave the house looking my best, because you never know who you might run in to. Her words were ringing in my ears as I talked to the Crown Princess in my trainers.
And yet the Crown Princess made us feel comfortable, as though she was just another mother on the school run, albeit beautifully but casually dressed, and perfectly groomed. The Crown Prince is equally warm and at ease in public, as we discovered when Testino photographed the royal couple on a chalup for Vogue, with the Amalienborg Palace glowing behind in the sunset. It was an unusually sunny day in Copenhagen and some happy Danes had decided to take out an open barge and indulge in a few drinks at sundown. Recognising the royal couple, they directed the skipper to come closer to the yacht and called out waving and cheering. The Crown Prince smiled broadly, laughing and waving back as though they were long-lost friends.
Patrick Kinmonth was also on the photo shoot and is a long-time collaborator of Testino's. He was a creative director for fashion and portraiture shoots for British Vogue, and has been responsible for many royal portraits during his career, including the famous images Testino took of Diana, Princess of Wales, for Vanity Fair in 1997, and the portraits of the Crown Prince and Princess that were hung in the Mario Testino No Limits exhibition, which opened in Copenhagen the week we were in town. Today, Kinmonth is widely known for his stage, costume, opera, ballet, interior and architectural designs.
"The Crown Princess looks more beautiful than ever and profoundly settled into her working life in the royal family," says Kinmonth. "One of their outstanding qualities is in the sharing of their privilege and making one feel completely at home. I cannot say which of them is more adept at this — it's a tie!"
Amalienborg Palace is actually made up of four different palaces that surround a square. The Crown Prince and Princess live with their family in the north-eastern palace named after royal forbearer Frederik VIII; it is also known as Brockdorff's Palace. The royal couple renovated their home in 2009. With his critical eye, Kinmonth best sums up the beautiful interiors, which feature the work of young Danish artists prominently, saying the radical inclusion of works by contemporary artists in this historical Danish landmark building is integral to the decor, which he feels speaks to the way this thoroughly modern royal family choose to live.
"There is a wonderful relaxed atmosphere and genuine warmth and elegance," he says. There are grand rooms, but within the palace there is also a comfortable home including a chic modern, wooden Danish kitchen, in which Vogue took the beautiful family portrait featured in this issue.
We arrived into a grand reception room, where our names were collected to be read out individually so that we might be formally presented to the Crown Prince and Princess. (Yes, just like in the fairytales.) I have to confess, walking towards this beautiful couple, who were all smiles but so handsomely dressed and possessing an even more regal presence in such a grand situation, was a rather surreal moment. Once inside, I could fully appreciate the beautiful decoration and scale of the sumptuous rooms. Then things became more surreal when we were seated at the dining table under a row of enormous chandeliers sipping from glassware each stamped with the double monogram of the couple, and the Copenhagen Boys Choir surrounded us and began to sing. I have seen many a haute couture show and some rather amazing events, but this was far more beautiful.
Much has been written about the Crown Princess's former life in Australia, where she was born in Hobart in 1972, mostly focusing on her chance meeting with the Crown Prince during the Sydney 2000 Olympics. What is often omitted is that she holds a Bachelor of Commerce/ Laws, having graduated from the University of Tasmania in 1994. Between 1996 and 2003 she had several jobs in advertising and she made a move to Paris in 2002. When she moved to Copenhagen she was employed by Microsoft Business Solutions. Australians who knew her before she married tell me she was always exceptional and insist she was destined for great things. Danes who I spoke to — from my taxi driver to a school friend of the Crown Prince —adore her and rave about her ability to learn Danish so quickly and proficiently, which speaks again of her intelligence and the impeccable job she has done in her royal role. Today she speaks English with a European accent and apologises when she occasionally labours to find an English translation for something she is trying to explain; she clearly thinks in Danish. And yet there were a few instances during our shoot when she suddenly breaks into her Australian accent just for our entertainment.
Humour, intelligence and a desire to give their children as normal an upbringing as possible are just some of the qualities the royal couple share. Their first son, Prince Christian, was born on October 15, 2005. Now 10, he will succeed his father as a future King of Denmark one day. Princess Isabella arrived in 2007, and then the royal couple decided they would add one more to their family, only to be pleasantly surprised with twins: Prince Vincent and Princess Josephine, in 2011. With such a young family I wonder if her children understand the importance of the work their mum is doing.
"(Gender equality) as a topic of conversation is probably something that occurs more subconsciously. It's not an issue we discuss directly unless, of course, I'm sharing with them stories or experiences from my travels and work. It's interesting to hear what their responses and reflections are. It is not only what they see and experience but what the messages we as parents give them both consciously and unconsciously. They are privileged to be growing up in a (Danish) society where men and women, for the most, are equal, and they also see that in our relationship."
When Vogue interviewed the Crown Princess in 2004, she said she believed monarchies today are flexible and open enough to allow a modern woman to combine her aspirations with tradition and that she hoped she proved worthy of the enthusiastic acceptance she had received from the Danish people. "I have to believe I wouldn't be here if I couldn't do this," she said. When I suggest she should be proud of her achievements and that Australians certainly are, for the first time in our conversation she struggles to respond. The Crown Princess is not very good at taking a compliment.
"I would say I'm not very good at accepting praise and recognition," she agrees. "I have a strong perfectionist streak, which means that, for example, if I look back over a speech I tend to focus on the bit that was not quite right, instead of everything else that was good." The famous Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen wrote: "Life itself is the most wonderful fairytale." He might have written that for Crown Princess Mary, who is living each day giving it 100 per cent.
She's a fierce advocate for gender equality, but it's Crown Princess Mary's charm and intelligence that made her message all the more powerful as honoured guest at a welcome reception hosted by the Australian ambassador to Denmark to celebrate Australia's participation in one of the most dynamic women's conferences in the world. Women Deliver, held in Copenhagen in May, was the largest global conference on the health, rights and wellbeing of girls and women in a decade, and the Australian-born princess was its patron. I led the official Australian delegation, joined by 80 Australian delegates from non-government organisations, universities, youth groups and medical research institutes.
Many of these people are unsung heroes in their work, which ranges from maternal and child health to ending child marriage. As specialists in their field, they are not easily impressed, yet they were all in awe of Crown Princess Mary's knowledge, perception and understanding of the issues. The Crown Princess chatted happily and informally for hours with us, covering topics such as sexual and reproductive health, midwifery, the role of young people and LGBTI rights. The tabloid headlines the next day, however, focused on her sartorial choice and debated whether she had stepped out in an electric blue dress or a jumpsuit. Apparently it was a pantsuit, as the Crown Princess was gracious enough to do a twirl when asked by some of the guests. It is this down-to-earth manner and charm that endears the Crown Princess to her nation and to legions of fans around the world. These admirers are no clutch of simpering royal watchers: it is the global women's movement that has come to respect and claim her. In September 2015, at the Global Citizen Festival in Central Park, New York, which celebrated the adoption of the UN sustainable development goals, Crown Princess Mary asked: "Next time someone asks you or you ask yourself: 'What the most important thing that can be done to improve the world?' You know the answer: gender equality."
I recall literally bumping into her at that event as I rushed around to catch a glimpse of Coldplay and Malala Yousafzai. She looked like any hip New Yorker. She was one of the crowd and seemed surprised that anyone would recognise her. Her pronounced support for gender equality is not new. Her commitment to these issues has been ongoing for more than a decade. The Crown Princess has used her power and privilege to advance these causes in her home country and abroad. She is a staple at the UN Commission on the Status of Women, and is a member of the High-Level Task Force for the International Conference on Population and Development, which works to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights. But Women Deliver was Crown Princess Mary's most significant platform to date.
About 6,000 women descended on Copenhagen and it was the perfect city for such a conference. The conference centre, like the capital, is sustainable, modern and edgy. It had everything from an abundance of environmentally friendly bathrooms to recycled brown paper packaged lunch bags. Copenhagen is a picture-postcard liveable, green city. Everyone is on a bike and the town is clean and accessible. Denmark is also a nation used to women in positions of power and to powerful men who talk as easily about women's empowerment and sexual and reproductive rights as they do about football.
As a former senator, I felt I was in an episode of Borgen, the Danish series featuring a progressive female leader of a minor party who becomes Prime Minister. The Danes are not afraid of powerful women. And the royal family exemplifies this commitment to gender equality, at least. Crown Princess Mary's opening address to Women Deliver frankly pleaded with governments and society to do more to achieve gender equality. She stated that closing the gender gap should be a priority in all modern societies. "It will require strong and authentic leadership from governments and civil society. By working as one and closing the gender gap we become more powerful," she said. It is not unusual to see the front row of multi-lateral summits reserved for royalty along with heads of states and ministers. Women Deliver was no different, as modern European, mostly female, royals lined the rows.
Princess Mabel van Oranje of the Netherlands ("Call me Mabel") chairs Girls Not Brides, which is committed to ending child, early and forced marriage. She sat with Princess Benedikte of Denmark, Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway. It can be a challenge for us hard-line republicans, but these contemporary monarchs are using their privilege and opportunities for domestic progress and for the global good. Crown Princess Mary has established the Mary Foundation, which focuses on bullying and wellbeing, domestic violence and loneliness. In addition, she is patron of the Maternity Foundation, which works to secure survival of women when pregnant or giving birth. She is patron of the United Nations Population Fund, which tries to ensure each pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe and young people do not get HIV/AIDS. And she is patron of the Danish Mother's Help, which gives support and counsel to families or single mothers. She is our strongest link in our blossoming Australian-Danish relations. As I left the conference, I drove past Amalienborg Palace, where Crown Princess Mary and her family live, and saw that an Australian and Danish crowd had gathered for a function to commemorate Jim Utzon, the Danish architect who designed the Sydney Opera House.
The first time I met Her Royal Highness was during her first official visit to Australia when she came to the Federal Parliament. Like many politicians and their families, I was part of a scrum in the Great Hall keen to see an Australian princess. I was with my husband, Ian, and my 12-week-old son, Conrad. As Conrad was restless in the BabyBjorn held by Ian, we began to bounce up and down to cajole him. Just as we were about to leave, the Crown Princess appeared. She greeted us warmly with a noticeable Australian accent (these days her English has a strong Danish inflection), but as I shook her hand I blurted: "Oh goodness, we are still bouncing!" She replied: "That's fine, we will all bounce together." And she did. That moment crystallised her empathy and kindness and I have been fortunate to see it on the world stage ever since.
As Jill Sheffield, the president of Women Deliver, remarked: "She does her homework, she delivers and she's well-spoken and smart." At Women Deliver, Crown Princess Mary urged us: "Together, let's deliver for girls to have choice, not chance." Our Australian-born princess is using every chance to ensure just that. ■ Natasha Stott Despoja is the Australian Ambassador for Women and Girls.
- Photos: Mario Testino
- Article originally published on August issue of VOGUE Australia.