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The truth about Princess Mary and Prince Frederik’s love story

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Before she met Denmark’s Crown Prince Frederik at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Australian advertising executive Mary Donaldson stopped at the stall of a tarot card reader at a local flea market.

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Donaldson agreed to a reading, and the fortuneteller placed the cards in the traditional pattern on her table, and began turning them over. The 28-year-old was told she would leave the business where she’d been recently employed to meet a man from overseas.

She’d become famous, the clairvoyant said, move to Europe to live. “So I left there and thought, ‘Well yes, that was a lot of fun, but nothing more,’” the former Miss Donaldson—now Crown Princess Mary of Denmark—told Jens Andersen, author of 2017 authorized biography of her husband Prince Frederik, Under The Bar. “But I’ve always been interested in the spiritual,” said Mary now TK, according to Danish newspaper Kristelgt Dagblad.

“In mystery and fate.” Soon after, on September 16, 2000, Donaldson—who worked for high-end real estate company Belle Property—was having a night out with her flatmate Andrew Miles and friend Beatrice Tarnawski at Sydney restaurant and bar the Slip Inn. The Olympics were in full swing, and the city was crowded with international visitors.

Frederik was one. According to Royalty Central, he was at the Slip Inn with his brother Prince Joachim, his cousin Prince Nikolaos of Greece, and Princess Martha Louise of Norway. They met up with Prince Felipe of Spain, who knew the sister of Donaldson’s flatmate.

According to reports, Donaldson began debating with Tarnawski whether a man was more attractive with a hairy chest. Frederik, Joachim and Nikolaos offered to be guinea pigs. Ice broken, Donaldson and Frederik talked all night but Mary did not realize until later her new friend— who’d introduced himself simply as “Fred” — was royalty.

“The first time we met, we shook hands,” she told Andersen of their introduction. “I didn’t know he was the prince of Denmark. Half an hour later, someone came up to me and said, ‘Do you know who these people are?’”

At the end of the night, Donaldson gave Frederik her phone number, and he called her the next day. The prince later said he felt she was his soulmate when they met, but while Mary told Andrew Denton’s Enough Rope in 2005 that “something clicked”, she added, “It wasn’t the fireworks in the sky or anything like that but there was a sense of excitement.”

The couple’s relationship blossomed via a long-distance relationship by phone, email and letter, and the discreet jetting of the duo back and forth between Denmark and Australia (where they even hit the Melbourne Cup in 2002.)

At the start of the relationship, Mary hired Sydney style consultant Teresa Page to give her a makeover, according to a Sun-Herald 2003 report. She paid $1195 for the six-week course to “boost her confidence and social graces,” said the newspaper.

In November 2001, Donaldson—who at the time was working as an English tutor in Paris—was named as the prince’s girlfriend by Danish weekly magazine Billed Bladet. The next month, the cover blown, she moved to Copenhagen to live, taking up both a job with a job with Microsoft and Danish language lessons.

The couple made their first public appearance together when, with Mary in baggy jeans and Frederik in shorts that showed off a leg tattoo, they posed for photos before he competed in a yacht race in Hobart in January 2003.

The Danish press was fascinated with the athletic brunette commoner who was to become part of their royal family. Mary’s background was modest; the youngest of four children born to Henrietta, an executive assistant, and maths professor John Donaldson, she was raised in Hobart, Tasmania.

She graduated with a degree in commerce and law from the local university in 1995 and kicked off her career working for advertising agencies in Melbourne and Sydney. As her professional life was taking off, Donaldson suffered private sadness when her mother died in 1997. Four years later, her father married British author Susan Horwood.

The next bride in the family was Mary. Armed with a ring featuring an emerald-cut diamond and two emerald-cut ruby baguettes, Frederik proposed to her on a trip to Italy.

“We decided we wanted to go to Rome, just to see Rome,” the prince said later. “And I had never been to Rome before. I thought, ‘This is the moment. Seize the day and… get your kneepads on.’ And then suddenly, on one of those wonderful areas in Rome, I had to say, ‘This is it, Mary’. “The engagement was announced on October 8, 2003. Joked new fiancée Mary about her engagement, “I wasn’t allowed to say no.”

The couple was married on May 14, 2004 at Copenhagen Cathedral. The bride, by then a Danish citizen and Lutheran convert, made her entrance to Handel’s ‘Zadok the Priest’. She wore an ivory duchesse satin dress by Danish designer Uffe Frank. The skirt had satin set in panels which opened from the hip to showcase nearly eight metres of Irish lace underneath, and a detachable six-metre satin train.

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Mary’s veil had been worn by almost every Danish royal bride since 1905, and holding it in place was a tiara given to the bride by Queen Margrethe and Prince Henrik. Her custom earrings featured brilliant-cut diamonds and South Sea pearls, and, in a personal tribute to her late mother, Henrietta’s wedding ring was sewn into the dress’s bodice, close to her heart.

Waiting for his bride, the prince teared up, and was emotional during the ceremony. In his sermon, the Bishop of Copenhagen, Erik Normann Svendsen, told Mary and Frederik to “be pleased you have found each other”, adding, “a royal couple does not belong solely to each other but to all of us.” Said Frederik at the altar, “From today, Mary is mine and I am hers. I love her and I will protect her with all my love.”

After the service, cheered on by hundreds of thousands of wellwishers, the beaming couple rode in a horse-drawn open carriage from the cathedral to the Amalienborg Palace, where they made a balcony appearance before their reception.

The wedding banquet featured a menu of timbale of shellfish, roast venison and a white chocolate delice. As the 400 guests sat down, Queen Margrethe thanked her new daughter-in-law for inspiring her son to find his “true self”. But, she added, “Now is the season of flowers. But it will not always be summer.”

Frederik said he had “been blinded and totally dependent” on Mary’s “radiance” since their first meeting. “I love you Mary. Come, let us go! Come, let us see! Throughout a thousand worlds, weightless love awaits.”

The 90kg wedding cake—topped with cartoon figures of the couple—was two meters high and featured 10 almond and chocolate tiers covered in white marzipan with pink roses and the couple’s monogram in chocolate. , some with almond and others with chocolate. After it was cut, Mary and Frederik led their guests to the Dome Hall in the palace for the traditional bridal waltz just before midnight.

The same night, they left on their honeymoon to Africa. “She didn’t know where we were going, and I wanted to go some place where we could get…be ourselves, literally, just the two of us,” Frederik told the ABC in 2005.

That northern summer, the newlyweds attended the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, almost four years after they first met at the Sydney Games. The next year, on October 15, their first child Prince Christian was born, followed by Princess Isabella on April 21, 2007 and twins Prince Vincent and Princess Josephine, who were born on January 8, 2011.

Mary, 46, Frederik, 49, and their family are often seen cycling through Copenhagen streets to the children’s public schools, and they also ski and horseride together. Their home at the Amalienborg Palace is “more a big home,” Mary told Enough Rope. “It’s not very palatial. It’s more warm and cosy.”

Now a fixture on international best-dressed lists, the princess founded the Mary Foundation ten years ago with the aim of combating social isolation. In December 2017, Mary told The Women’s Weekly she hopes she can teach compassion to her family as well as the wider community: “We feel that we have a responsibility as part of our role as parents to bring up our children to be open and tolerant adults,” she said. “Empathy is what holds our world together.” 


That empathy was on show at the February 20 private funeral of Prince Henrik; Mary wiped away tears as her father-in-law was farewelled after he passed away in his sleep on February 13 at age 83. Dressed in black with a double strand of pearls, she pulled her upset daughter Josephine close for a cuddle, stroking the little girl’s face. The prince’s death ignited buzz that Queen Margrethe, 77, might abdicate in favour of her son, making Mary the first Australian-born queen.

Her royal destiny wasn’t something she looked for, Mary said shortly after her engagement: “I don’t recall wishing that one day I would be a princess. I wanted to be a veterinarian.”

prince frederik
(Credit: Getty Images)

Now a fixture on international best-dressed lists, the princess founded the Mary Foundation ten years ago with the aim of combating social isolation. In December 2017, Mary told The Women’s Weekly she hopes she can teach compassion to her family as well as the wider community: “We feel that we have a responsibility as part of our role as parents to bring up our children to be open and tolerant adults,” she said. “Empathy is what holds our world together.”
That empathy was on show at the February 20 private funeral of Prince Henrik; Mary wiped away tears as her father-in-law was farewelled after he passed away in his sleep on February 13 at age 83. Dressed in black with a double strand of pearls, she pulled her upset daughter Josephine close for a cuddle, stroking the little girl’s face. The prince’s death ignited buzz that Queen Margrethe, 77, might abdicate in favour of her son, making Mary the first Australian-born queen. 

Her royal destiny wasn’t something she looked for, Mary said shortly after her engagement: “I don’t recall wishing that one day I would be a princess. I wanted to be a veterinarian.”

For more on Kate and William’s 17-year-relationship and the fairytale romances of your favourite royals, pick up a copy of the WHO Collector’s Edition of Greatest Royal Love Stories.

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