Mathilde’s carefully chosen words

  • Mathilde is in New York, working on children’s rights, which will remain her priority
  • She seems to prefer being the king’s wife rather than the queen: not too much majesty

In New York for two and a half days for a directors’ summit of the UN Global Compact, Queen Mathilde has held bilateral meetings, visits and formal meals one after another, none of them open to the press. The Global Compact’s aim is to convince businesses to include sustainable development in their strategies. Since becoming queen, she can no longer grant formal interviews to the media, at least according to tradition.


Thursday, at 8:30 sharp, she held an “informal” meeting with twenty journalists who accompanied her to New York. In other words, no photos, notes, or transcripts allowed in the question-and-answer format.


What were the takeaways?


Mathilde is a professional. She says and does what is appropriate, is well prepared and pleasant. When required, she smiles, explains the role of the Global Compact to the uninformed, and slips in the fundamentals of this kind of thing here and there. She is proud of the work done by the Belgian network within the Global Compact and of that done by Unicef Belgium for children’s rights. She is sure that, by working together, the public and private sectors can make the world a better place. She repeats how the people’s warm reception during their series of Joyous Entrances meant so much to her and the king, without forgetting to emphasize the importance of meetings with governors, mayors and other guests from the provinces.


She includes a few personal anecdotes, recounting how she is still recovering from her children’s return to school, and how Philippe continues to take them to school while she picks them up afterwards. She says her children loved the July 21 parade and, that, as Philippe was taking his oath, Eléonore wanted to take her shoes off but her brother stopped her.


Mathilde knows her priorities. Serving as Unicef Special Representative from 2005 to 2011, Mathilde is still honorary president of Unicef Belgium. Thursday, she shared her intention to remain in that position. Her thinking is: ‘I’ve been involved in children’s and women’s rights for many years, and I don’t see why that should change. My situation may have changed a bit, but theirs hasn’t. Therefore, children’s rights will remain one of my top priorities.’


Whether or not she is queen, her own children also remain her priority, she adds. She explains, as she often has in the past, that she wants her children to have as normal a life as possible. She thinks that, for them, nothing has changed since July 21.


Mathilde chooses her words. That’s just part of communications. During the 25 minutes she spent with journalists, Mathilde never acted the part of “Queen.” She presents herself as the new king’s wife, perhaps to avoid the criticism that she is too much in the forefront. She uses the expression, “when I was the prince’s wife,” and “since I’ve been the king’s wife.”


She also takes care to emphasize how busy her husband is in Belgium, and how she is getting used to her new role day by day.


Mathilde avoids sensitive questions. Choosing one’s words also includes not responding to certain questions. When asked about the mini-controversy that started when it was decided that she should be called Majesty and not simply Madame from now on, even if the Palace says that both are correct and it wasn’t Mathilde who asked for this formality, she sidesteps the question in a well-prepared way: this is a question of substance, not form. ‘I want to remain close to the people, to be attentive to them.’


She often uses a favorite saying: if we have two ears and one mouth, that’s because we should listen twice as much as we talk!


Mathilde and the Palace want a simple approach. Over the first 24 hours, the impression is clear: the Palace plainly does not want to make what they call the queen’s “working visit” to New York seem too glamorous. Not too much pomp: no arrival protocol at the airport, Wednesday night’s opening event/discussion held in a very simple room in Unicef’s basement, a no-frills meeting with journalists Thursday morning at the ambassador’s residence. Even Mathilde’s clothes are understated.


Finally, in Mathilde’s own words, “the king’s wife” is on a “working visit” to New York to “talk substance.”



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