The most wonderful royal news of December 2002 came from Belgium where on the 19th Prince Laurent finally became engaged. His fiancée Claire Coombs was born in Bath, Great Britain, on January 18, 1974, as a daughter of the British Nicholas Coombs and the Belgian Nicole Mertens. The announcement of the engagement by Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt at the end of the morning didn't come as a surprise anymore as the press had guessed the date right already some ten days before. In the afternoon a presentation of the couple in the royal serres of Laeken Palace attracted quite a lot of curious press. They answered several questions in French and Flemish and it was obvious that the newest addition to the Belgian royal family didn't speak a lot of Flemish yet to the big disappointment of the Flemish part of the press. In the background the whole family of both Laurent and Claire was present and they also all joined the couple at the yearly children's Christmas concert at the royal palace in the early evening. Everybody now is looking forward to the wedding that will take place on April 12, 2003. I'll certainly be there.
Some joy in the Netherlands as Queen Beatrix's granddaughter Countess Eloise van Oranje-Nassau, Jonkvrouw van Amsberg - daughter of Prince Constantijn and Princess Laurentien - was christened in the chapel at Palace Het Loo in Apeldoorn on December 15. Most members of the royal family attended the happy event. Her godparents were Prince Johan Friso, Crown Prince Haakon of Norway, Princess Carolina de Bourbon de Parme and Sophie van de Wouw. Among the guests were a few foreign royals: Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway, Prince Guillaume and Princess Sibilla of Luxembourg. One week later, on December 22, Isabella van Vollenhoven - daughter of Prince Bernhard van Oranje-Nassau van Vollenhoven and his wife Princess Annette - was christened in the same chapel. Her godparents were Prince Maurits, José Sekrève and Menno de Jong. Both events were strictly private and the press was only able to shoot a few pictures. Less good news was the theft of jewellery at the Museon science museum in The Hague on December 2. Among the stolen items were some very priceless diamond royal Portuguese jewellery that were on loan from the National Palace in Ajuda for an exhibition. Some Dutch royal items happily were left behind. The case hasn't been solved yet.
The month started with a suspected arson attack at the flower shop of former royal butler Paul Burrell, recently cleared of theft of items once belonging to the late Diana Princess of Wales. On December 3 also the trial of royal butler Harold Brown and society jeweller Jan Havlik collapsed at the court. They were accused of stealing and handling valuables from Princess Diana of Wales's estate. Questions have already been asked by senior politicians and law officers on the way the cases were pursued, the parts played by members of the royal family and why the prosecutions went ahead. On December 15 James Hewitt says if he would sell the 64 love letters he exchanged with his former lover, the late Diana Princess of Wales, it would reportedly cost the buyer $16 million and a promise to keep them private. Two newspapers also said a plan had been revealed to steal the hair of Prince Harry to obtain a DNA sample to test rumours that James Hewitt is Harry's father. Also an inquiry was started after an intruder entered St James's Palace shortly before midnight on December 11 without being stopped by security. The man was only apprehended after he started drunkenly knocking at the door of the Princess Royal, apparently asking for directions to Victoria Station. And despite suffering from a strained ligament of the right knee Queen Elizabeth II attended the church service at the Sandringham estate on Christmas morning.
A strange month for the Japanese Imperial family that started with the celebration of the first birthday of Princess Aiko. Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako brought their little daughter to see the Emperor and Empress in the Imperial Palace in the morning and then held a lunch for her at the Crown Prince's, after which a tea ceremony was held that was attended by some 30 people. In the afternoon, the crown princely couple held a dinner at the prince's palace with the Emperor and Empress, and Prince and Princess Akishino. Later in December the crown princely couple made an official nine-day trip to New Zealand and Australia and enjoyed their first trip abroad together in eight years very much. Just before Christmas Emperor Akihito of Japan was admitted to the Hospital of the Imperial Household to undergo a biopsy on his prostate and it wasn't expected to be very serious. However on December 28 it was revealed that the Emperor was diagnosed with prostate cancer and will undergo an operation in mid-January to have the cancerous tissue removed. He is said to have a very good chance of a full recovery.
On December 23 Prince Vittorio Emanuele of Savoy, his wife Marina and his son Prince Emanuele Filiberto returned to Italy ending an exile of 56 years. For Prince Emanuele Filiberto it was his first visit to his homeland. They arrived by plane in Rome early in the morning. At 11:00 they had a short private audience with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican. At the end of the day the family returned home to Switzerland, but it certainly will not be their last visit to Italy.