*Editor’s note: The following opinion was submitted by Paraskevi Kakridas Stavrianakos. It is published as a community member account of a personal encounter with Greece’s last king Constantine II, a person of historical interest, following his recent passing. Neos Kosmos does not endorse this opinion nor the romanticising of monarchy.

The recent passing of Constantine II, the former king of Greece, provoked deep sense of sadness for me. Now I understood why so many people mourn the death of “famous people they don’t know” because the reality is, that when you love someone, be it from afar, the grief you feel is as real.

I have grown up intensely interested in Greek politics, and similarly intensely disappointed or embarrassed at their behaviour at times. But the former king – well for me he represented something magical. I grew up in the 90’s. Need I say more? My head was filled with the Disney movies I watched as a kid, and my perception of a monarchy was all fairy tales and romance. I was charmed by the idea of a king. Furthermore, stories of ancient kings in our history were exciting and mysterious. I was prepared to adore the man who called himself King of the Hellenes.

So on the 15th of September 2005, when I was in Year 12, my heart stopped when I saw a small passage on the front page of the Neos Kosmos, stating that the former King Constantine II would be visiting Australia. I immediately wrote an email to the school he was to visit (Ivanhoe Grammar in Melbourne) with great enthusiasm. I don’t remember exactly what I wrote, but it was no doubt very passionate. They responded almost immediately and extended an invitation to the function former king Constantine would attend for me and a friend.

The conference was only a week later, and it’s safe to say that I was ecstatic. I told anyone that would listen that I was going to rub shoulders with royalty, and I can only imagine what an annoying teenager I was.

The responses I got from the people around me were mixed. Many including my parents, sisters, some aunts and uncles and my Greek school teacher Kurios Dimitris, were supportive and happy for me, keen to hear how it went. Other people in my circle made comments that were shockingly jarring. Many sneers of “Greece doesn’t have a king. Look it up.” “He’s not even Greek you know. He can’t even speak Greek.” “He’s a traitor.” “He won’t care about meeting you. Why would he care?” I’ve seen similar comments echoed on social media at the news of his death, which in part compelled me to write this piece.

At the time, a slither of doubt crept in. Suddenly my excitement to meet former king Constantine felt like I was making a political statement. Even my grandfather took my apparent stance very personally. He had a healthy distrust of all things royal and could not reconcile with my excitement at meeting the former king, as though I was somehow betraying him.

I had read many accounts of former king Constantine’s life, and comments he had made to the media. I really believed that he was a nice man whose circumstances were unfortunate.

But… what if those people were right? What if he was just awful; rude, snobby, pompous? Would he even speak to me?

Well, I’m not sorry to say that anyone who shared their negative viewpoints were blatantly wrong.

The conference my friend Georgie and I attended for the Round Table Association, a charity, had over five hundred people in attendance, most of whom were students from various high schools from around Australia and the world. After the initial welcome, by Prince Andrew the Duke of York*, everyone was leaving the hall to go to the oval for a group photo. Georgie and I walked past a door labelled “VIP” and suddenly we noticed that former king Constantine was walking right beside us! I couldn’t believe it! He was a very tall, big-boned man, with a quiet authority about him and a serious frown as he walked.0

It was one of those moments where my brain told me not to say anything, but against my best intentions I blurted out in Greek, “Good morning Your Majesty!” (Kalimera megaliotate!) He looked over at me, and his face split into a smile. Now he didn’t look intimidating at all – just nice and a bit goofy. He stopped walking and shook my hand and my friend’s hand, and he said to us in perfect Greek, that it was lovely to meet us and asked our names. It didn’t take him long to exclaim in realisation, “Oh you’re the girl who wrote the letter to the principal of this school!” and I said “Yes!” He hugged me and told me how charmed he was. When the principal of Ivanhoe Grammar, Mr Fraser, came and introduced himself, he said to the king “You’d never believe what a lovely letter this young lady wrote so that she could be here today. It was the least we could do to let her come…”

Former king Constantine said in a thickly accented, deep voice, “Yes, yes, you pr-r-r-omised you would send it to me. I have yet to r-r-read it.” His Greek accent when he spoke English was very strong, and he rolled his r’s theatrically. I made a mental note to tell my pappou that former king Constantine’s Greek was exceptional and he had an accent when he spoke English. Much like himself.

Presently, another younger man in a gold buttoned blue suit that can only be described as very European, approached. Former king Constantine introduced us to his son, former prince Nikolaos, who was even taller than his father. I remember former prince Nikolaos calling him “baba” which I thought was hilarious.

There were so many little details of this meeting that I remember to this day. former king Constantine was so tall, that he craned his neck downwards to maintain eye contact with me. His attention was often taken by a photographer, or another VIP but he always came back to our conversation. He spoke politely to everyone, but to Georgie and I he would mutter in Greek a running commentary of what was going on. “Let’s hope this coffee is good!” “Does this person know how to take a good photo of us? I think he’s holding the camera upside down!” and then louder, “Pliz, take it again! I was blinking!” And we couldn’t help but laugh. In short he made us feel at ease, and that he valued our company and conversation.

I remember asking him why his eldest son Pavlos was also called the Duke of Sparta, and he answered that his grandfather King Constantine received a very warm welcome in Sparta and so honoured the city by naming his heir the Duke of Sparta. Since then, the heir to the throne is named thus. He reminded me that those titles, including his title as King, were no longer recognised in Greece. He stated it as a mere fact. I look back now, and I wonder how many times he has had to say that over the years. To remind people that a huge part of his identity is not…real.

My grandmother was so proud that I managed to meet the former King. She had seen him once from afar she said, on Independence Day when she was in high school. She framed my photo with former king Constantine and former prince Nikolaos and put it on display, but every time she walked past it, it would be face down. She would right it and find it face down again later or the next day. It was my grandfather, of course.

Then one day she called me and told me in a hushed voice that she had seen pappou bent over the photo, and holding it to the light of the window, just looking at it, tilting it this way and that. He didn’t like the king, but he was also secretly proud of me, my grandma told me.

I suppose that the former King Constantine was someone who lived his whole life knowing that people either intensely liked or disliked him, much like me and my grandfather, without actually knowing him. I think he would have had a great deal of personal strength to stay motivated and inspired to do his work, despite a lot of adversity. To think how much remorse he must have carried with him throughout his life, being rejected by the country and the people that he loved, because of events that he surely felt were out of his control.

It still impresses me that when I met him, over thirty years after that chapter of his life was closed, he was in his own way, continuing to represent Greece and Greek people with pride and dignity; a true ambassador. I feel such a rush of warmth for this person who was in every respect kind and gracious to my undoubtedly annoying younger self, when he certainly didn’t have to be.

Rest in Peace and thank you, King Constantine.

[*Editor’s note: The Duke of York was stripped of his military titles and royal patronages in 2022 amidst the civil sexual assault case of an underage person brought against him in the US, which concluded in a settlement. He retains the title of “prince” from birth, and remains the Duke of York but cannot use the title His Royal Highness in an official capacity.]