A New Royal Romance

On Sunday, February 3, 2002, in the early afternoon I watched the last wedding guests of the Prince of Orange and Máxima Zorreguieta leaving the Krasnapolsky Hotel in Amsterdam, across the Royal Palace on the Dam Square. The staff of the hotel said no important guests were inside anymore and the fences in front of the hotel had gone, but I was not convinced the guests had all left. So some tens of other people and I managed to see Prince Jaime de Bourbon de Parme, Prince Pieter-Christiaan van Oranje-Nassau van Vollenhoven, one of the little bridesmaids with her parents, and several Argentinian friends of the new Princess Máxima of the Netherlands leaving. Because the fences had gone I decided to stay near the entrance of the hotel, which soon turned out to be the wrong decision. When I looked back after a while I saw Prince Laurent of Belgium and a young blond woman walking towards the hotel and me with their arms around each other's waist, just coming back after a walk through the centre of Amsterdam. When I had recovered from the shock - as I hadn't expected him there at all as he had been staying in the Amstel Hotel - I was too late to take the picture of my life, one I would have been able to take if I had been standing on the place I stood before. They passed me and within seconds they had entered the hotel. Knowing the wedding guests were leaving I waited and not long afterwards they showed up again, now walking on a short distance of each other. Despite that, I managed to get them together in one photo leaving the hotel. I followed them to the car that was waiting for them, hoping for another photo, but they were driven away without giving me the chance to take a better shot.

I knew I might have an interesting photo, as I had read before that Prince Laurent might have a girlfriend but there weren't very many photos taken of them together and certainly not on an occasion like a royal wedding. Having some contacts with the Belgian press, I contacted a journalist working for the VTM-programme "Royalty" whom I knew via the Internet. I sent him the photo and he was delighted to find out the woman on the photo was indeed Prince Laurent's supposed girlfriend Claire Coombs. Some weeks later my photo was shown at "Royalty" after the people working on the programme had compiled a story about the couple with the information available. Very soon stories turned up in the Belgian press about a possible engagement between Prince Laurent and Claire Coombs. In the first week of March photos of the couple during a skiing holiday at Gstaad, Switzerland, were taken and published in magazines. Although they let the press take some pictures while Claire had her arm around Prince Laurent's waist and he had his arm on her shoulder, he urged to tell them they were just very good friends but that speculations about a wedding or an engagement were nonsense. The Belgian royal court immediately issued a statement confirming a friendship.

How long the couple has known each other is not known. Surprisingly they were already filmed together for the first time in Brussels in 1998 when the car they were driving in had to stand still for a while because of a demonstration. When Prince Laurent left the car to speak to the demonstrators, a cameraman spotted a young woman in his car. In 2000 they were seen and filmed seated next to each other at a nobility ball in Brussels. They tried to hide they were together by only speaking to other people. In 2001 they were spotted together several times among others at a film-presentation, a birthday party and gala evenings. In January 2002, after an official visit of Prince Laurent to a car showroom, Claire showed up after the press had left and together they selected a new car, a Jeep Cherokee Sport. Meanwhile Claire Coombs has stayed very discreet and doesn't speak with anyone in public about her relationship with Prince Laurent. Very little is known about her. Claire Coombs seems to be in her early thirties, has a British father and a Belgian mother, was born in Great Britain but is said to have Belgian nationality. She lives at Uccle near Brussels, a place where better situated Belgians live, and works for a geometrical office in Wavre.

Although an engagement or a wedding might not be foreseen for the near future, for royalty watchers it is obvious that Claire Coombs is the present girlfriend of Prince Laurent. I am very curious if this relationship will ever turn out into a wedding. With me thousands of others are looking forward to this eventual wedding, although it is most likely it will not be a very big media event as Prince Laurent is only eight in line of succession to the Belgian throne.

Netty Leistra
Royal Watch
April 2002

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