New Queen was in charge of King's bodyguards

A Thai Royal Household Bureau photo showing King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida paying their respects at the Bangkok City Pillar Shrine on Thursday. As the wife of Thailand's ruler - who is reportedly the world's richest monarch with assets of
A Thai Royal Household Bureau photo showing King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida paying their respects at the Bangkok City Pillar Shrine on Thursday. As the wife of Thailand's ruler - who is reportedly the world's richest monarch with assets of at least US$30 billion under his control - Queen Suthida will wield immense powers behind the scenes in the country.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Queen Suthida Vajiralongkorn Na Ayutthaya, the new wife of Thailand's monarch, has often been pictured in his retinue at various events, but her elevation as Queen Consort just three days before King Maha Vajiralongkorn's coronation took many by surprise.

Rumours of a romantic linkage have been swirling for some time now, first surfacing after the former flight attendant was made a deputy commander of the King's bodyguards in August 2014.

The King and Queen Suthida - born Ms Suthida Tidjai - are known to spend most of their time shuttling between Thailand and Germany, where the monarch owns a US$12 million (S$16.3 million) mansion on the shores of Lake Starnberg in Munich.

One of King Vajiralongkorn's sons from a previous marriage is also known to live with them.

In December 2016, the Queen was made a full general and, in June 2017, she was elevated to the rank of acting commander of the Royal Thai Aide-de-Camp Department following the reorganisation of the Royal Security Command.

The King, 66, had also given the Queen, 40, the royal title of Than Phu Ying, which means High Lady, further fuelling the rumour mills.

Still, the announcement in Thailand's Royal Gazette that the King has legally married Queen Suthida was a bolt out of the blue, especially given the fact that the date of their marriage was not specified.

As the wife of Thailand's ruler - who is reportedly the world's richest monarch, with assets of at least US$30 billion under his control - Queen Suthida will wield immense powers behind the scenes in the country.

Queen Sirikit Kitiyakara, the wife of King Vajiralongkorn's father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, was a formidable figure who forged strong links to the country's business and military elite.

She was always by her husband's side, but retreated from public life in the years before he died, due to her own battles with ill health.

She was last seen last year receiving birthday wishes from her children, according to a picture released by the palace.

This is the fourth marriage for the King, whose colourful personal life has been staple tabloid fare overseas, though strict lese majeste laws have limited the coverage at home.

He married his first wife, his cousin Princess Soamsawali Kitiyakara, in 1977. They had a daughter before their divorce in 1991.

A niece of Queen Sirikit, she remains influential in Thailand, having received the title of "the Princess Mother of the King's First Grandchild" after the divorce.

King Vajiralongkorn's next two marriages to commoners did not end as amicably.

In 1994, he married actress Sujarinee Vivacharawongse. She had been his steady companion since the late 1970s and gave birth to four sons and a daughter.

However, the marriage - which did not have the blessings of Queen Sirikit - did not last long, with Ms Sujarinee fleeing to Britain in 1996 with her children. She now lives with her sons in the United States, while her daughter returned to live with her father in Thailand.

The King's third marriage to Ms Srirasmi Suwadee - who served as his "lady-in-waiting" in the 1990s - in 2001 also ended in acrimony in 2014. The couple had a son together.

The marriage ended abruptly in 2014, when the then Crown Prince sent a letter to the Interior Ministry asking for her family members to be stripped of their royal titles, ostensibly after seven members were accused of corruption.

The 47-year-old Srirasmi was also stripped of her royal titles.

Since ascending to the throne, King Vajiralongkorn has reorganised affairs at the palace to his liking.

The vastly wealthy Crown Property Bureau is now under his stewardship and he has picked new privy counsellors and established a highly trained personal guard.

Most recently, he barred his sister, Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya, from contesting in the country's general election as the prime ministerial candidate of a party aligned with the Shinawatra clan.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 04, 2019, with the headline 'New Queen was in charge of King's bodyguards'. Print Edition | Subscribe