11 September 2011

Princesses at Ground Zero

(L-R) Deputy Executive Director of the Port Authority of New York Bill Baroni shows Belgium's Crown Prince Philippe and Princess Mathilde the plans for a revitalized Ground Zero at the World Trade Center in New York June 23, 2011. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ROYALS)
Ten years ago today, the entire world experienced a terrible tragedy. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 killed thousands of people from dozens of nationalities. For thousands, perhaps millions of people whose families were touched by the deaths that day or the recovery efforts that followed, that day is still a close, personal horror. The remembrance ceremonies, both public and private, will take place all around the world. The truly international scale of the event is indicated by the fact that the site of the main attacks, now called Ground Zero, has become a required stop for any dignitary visiting New York, including our favorite royal ladies.

One (formerly) royal lady undoubtedly has the closest connection to 9/11. Sarah Duchess of York was not only in New York on Sept. 11, 2001, but she was running late on her way to the World Trade Center to meet with the staff of her Chances for Children charity. Fortunately for that staff, they had gathered in the lobby to greet her and, therefore, were able to escape. As ABC News reported at the time, she was "desperately upset for everyone involved in this terrible tragedy," according to her spokesperson. "It is unbelievable, she was just a few minutes away when the explosion took place." Meanwhile, her ex-husband Prince Andrew was on one of the numerous of transatlantic flights that were turned back to Europe when the United States shut down its air space that morning. Andrew and Sarah together attended the memorial ceremonies five years later. Recently, recently has published a children's book online called "The Little Pear Tree" about a tree that survived the attacks.

The next closest connection was with one of our princesses who was also not a royal at the time. Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano was still a highly successful television journalist when her network sent her to cover the aftermath of the attacks live from Ground Zero. This was just one of several onsite tragic stories she covered in her career. In fact, she is reported to have met her husband, Spain's future king Prince Felipe, when he visited an oil spill disaster that she was covering. After Felipe and Letizia announced that they would marry in the spring of 2004, the national celebrations planned for their wedding were greatly reduced as a result of the terrorist attacks in Spain on March 11. As a royal fiancee, the earliest public exposure Letizia experienced was visiting the survivors and victims families of the 3/11 attacks.

 Having lived in New York before her marriage to Crown Princess Willem Alexander of The Netherlands, Crown Princess Maxima may also feel a very personal connection to the events of 9/11. She and her husband attended the memorial ceremonies at Ground Zero on the eighth anniversary of the attacks.

The King and Queen of Norway were in New York barely a year later, while the debris was still being cleared. Poor weather that day only heightened the dismal view they had of the site. They returned again in 2005 after a Norwegian architectural firm was selected to design the entrance pavilion to National September 11 Memorial and Museum. Last year, their son and daughter-in-law Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit paid a visit to inspect the construction progress of the pavilion.

During her June 2010 trip to address the United Nations in New York, Queen Elizabeth II laid a wreath where the South Tower of the World Trade Center once stood. Then, she and Prince Philip traveled to Hanover Square to officially open the British Garden of Remembrance, dedicated to the 67 Brits who died that day. Five years earlier, when the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall made Ground Zero the first stop of their American tour, a tattered Union Jack that had flown that day and been found among the rebel was flown again in honor of the royal visit. The couple left behind a bouquet with a message that read, “In enduring memory of our shared grief, Charles and Camilla.”

Crown Prince Philippe and Crown Princess Mathilde of Belgium were there in June 2011. It was only the most recent of several visits to the site for Mathilde, who had been to the World Trade Center before the attacks and returned again only seven months after the devastation. During her 2002 visit, she was quoted as saying, "'there are no words to describe this now.''

While Queen Margrethe II of Denmark did not include Ground Zero as part of her two-day official visit to New York in June 2011, she will be represented by her son and daughter-in-law Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary next month when several Nordic heads of state gather to mark the 100-year anniversary of the American Scandinavian Foundation and the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

 But only one royal lady has ever been put on the spot about the aftermath on 9/11. Last year, Queen Rania of Jordan was caught in a challenging position while visiting New York to promote a United Nations program for girls. As part of her tour, she had agreed to do media interviews. At the time, a lot of American media was focused on a controversial proposition to build a 'mosque' near Ground Zero and on an irate preacher's call to burn the Qu'ran. When faced with questions about these hot-button topic, the Islamic queen responded with the rational equanimity for which the entire Jordanian royal family is known. She told Matt Lauer of Today, "I think it's very important for us to focus on the actual debate, because my fear is that the debate now is dominated by radicals on both sides who want to preach hatred and spread fear among people. Or, worse still, it's also being used by some demagogues in order -- as a cheap political tool. And what's really important for us is to see the debate being dominated by well-informed people who are reasonable, who really care about the issues at hand. We need to redraw the battle lines. It's not Muslims against Christians. It's not East against West. It's extremists on all sides against moderates of all sides. Once we can really understand that this is the landscape, then we can start to rid ourselves of the evil forces that exist."

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