For a man who once enjoyed a life of unimaginable opulence and the adoration of his people, the former King of Spain’s current plight might tempt some to feel sympathy.
Living in exile in the United Arab Emirates, estranged from his wife and family and facing a multi-million pound lawsuit from his former mistress, Juan Carlos, now 85, is unable to shake the pervasive whiff of scandal.
This week it is reported he will have a private lunch with King Charles, and on Monday night he was seen leaving an exclusive private members’ club in London.
For younger readers, it is hard to imagine that a man who is now best known for his misdeeds was once one of the most glamorous men on the world stage.
And he was a hero to Spaniards thanks to his rejection of the legacy of dictator Francisco Franco and the ushering in of a new democratic, liberal era after decades of authoritarianism.
But there were shadows too, such as the shooting dead of his younger brother in an accident, the adulterous bedding of hundreds of women and the accusations of financial impropriety.
It took the emergence of an elephant-shooting trip with his former lover, the aristocrat Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn in 2012, for a previously reluctant Spanish public to turn on their king.
The former monarch, 85, was pictured waving to the cameras from his 4×4 as he left a London venue on Monday evening
Juan Carlos pictured in February being assisted during a public appearance in Paris
For younger readers, it is hard to imagine that a man who is now best known for his countless misdeeds was once one of the most glamorous – and sought after – men on the world stage
King Juan Carlos I pictured with Queen Elizabeth during an official tour in Spain in 1988
Amid increasingly poor health, abdication and self-imposed exile came two years later, with the king letting his son, Felipe IV, take over.
Now, reeling from a raft of money-related state investigations that were only shelved last year, the man who is still a hero to many in Spain faces the extraordinary claims first aired in the Mail on Sunday that secret forces working for him broke into ex-lover Corinna’s Shropshire estate as part of an eight-year campaign to intimate her.
It is just the latest episode in a life of drama.
Juan Carlos was born in Rome in 1938, amid his family’s exile and the bloody Spanish Civil War, which led to Franco’s rise to power.
The Daily Mail’s report on the death of Alfonso, Juan Carlos’s younger brother
Groomed by the feared dictator to replace him, Juan Carlos’s childhood and adolescence was ‘appalling’, according to his British biographer Professor Paul Preston.
‘I think it explains a lot. The privations of his childhood and adolescence might well count for some of the avarice shall we say, the urge to collect money in one way or another,’ he told the podcast Corinna and the King last year.
The accidental killing of his 14-year-old brother, Alfonso, came in 1956, when Juan Carlos was 18.
The shocking incident is said to have happened when Juan Carlos, home for Easter from his military school, was cleaning a revolver he had been given by Franco.
The shot hit Alfonso in the forehead and the teenager died instantly.
After being forced to swear he had not done it on purpose, Juan Carlos was sent back to his austere academy – his relationship with his father, Don Juan, now in tatters.
When Franco nominated Juan Carlos as his successor in 1969, it came as a surprise to many, including his father. Having kept Juan Carlos close by in his final years, Franco hoped that he would maintain his ultraconservative regime after his death.
His swearing of loyalty to Franco’s Movimiento Nacional on being chosen as the next ruler signified that he was prepared to continue with the status quo.
He was a hero to Spaniards thanks to his rejection of the legacy of Spain’s dictator Francisco Franco and the ushering in of a new democratic, liberal era after decades of authoritarianism. Above: Juan Carlos with Franco in 1971, when he had been chosen as the dictator’s successor
Juan Carlos (pictured above left with his father Don Juan and brother Alfonso) was born in Rome in 1938, amid his family’s exile and the bloody Spanish Civil War, which led to Franco’s rise to power
The accidental killing of his 14-year-old brother, Alfonso (left), came in 1956, when Juan Carlos was 18. The shocking incident is said to have happened when Juan Carlos, home for Easter from his military school, was cleaning a revolver he had been given by Franco. Above right: Juan Carlos (centre) with his mother, sisters Pilar and Margarita and brother Alfonso
Don Juan is seen leading his son and other family members behind the coffin of Alfonso, after the 14-year-old was shot dead by Juan Carlos
General Franco is seen with Juan Carlos on the balcony of Madrid’s royal palace
But when the dictator died in 1975, Juan Carlos actually ignored those who wanted an extension to autocratic rule and instead ushered in parliamentary democracy.
His position was further cemented when, in 1981, he saw off a coup d’etat attempt that saw disgruntled members of the Guardia Civil attempt to seize power.
Facing the apparent catch-22 of either fleeing Spain or staying and risking death, Juan Carlos made a public television broadcast while wearing his uniform of the head of the armed forces.
Support for the coup melted away, whilst the king’s popularity skyrocketed.
Juan Carlos, who has three children – two daughters and a son – with wife Queen Sofia – then enjoyed years of adoration.
He had a close relationship with Queen Elizabeth and the British royal family, with one photograph showing him chatting to the late Princess Diana as a young Prince William sat between his legs.
Juan Carlos’ popularity was boosted in 1981, when he saw off a coup d’etat attempt that saw disgruntled members of the Guardia Civil attempt to seize power. Above: The Daily Mail’s report of the saga
Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia pose with their children (left to right) Princess Elena, Prince Felipe and Princess Cristina in Madrid in October 1973
Juan Carlos was close to the British royal family. Above: Carlos with Prince William on his lap as he chats to Princess Diana during a royal visit to Majorca in 1986
King Juan Carlos greets HM Queen Elizabeth II at the Spanish Embassy in 1986
Juan Carlos is seen riding one of his motorbikes in the grounds of Zarzuela Palace in Madrid in the 1970s
His 1992 interview with broadcaster Selina Scott demonstrated his allure.
He was seen piloting his helicopter, racing around in his speed boat and riding his Harley Davidson motorbike in the garden of his palace.
For nearly three decades, the popular king was able to keep the more seedy details of his private life out of the spotlight.
On the subject of his illicit lovers, Spanish author Amadeo Martinez Ingles claimed he slept with 62 women in just one six-month stint, and allegedly bedded more than 2,000 female partners between 1976 and 1994.
One rumoured mistress, the 18-year-old actress Sandra Mozarowsky, died in mysterious circumstances in 1977 after falling from her balcony.
One rumoured mistress, the 18-year-old actress Sandra Mozarowsky, died in mysterious circumstances in 1977 after falling from her balcony
Princess Diana denied suggestions that Juan Carlos ever made a pass at her, but did say that he could be a ‘little too attentive’
Prince Juan Carlos of Spain is pictured left in the Military Academy of Zaragoza and is seen right seen at Madrid University in 1960, 15 years before he came to the throne
Princess Diana denied suggestions that Juan Carlos ever made a pass at her, but did say that he could be a ‘little too attentive’.
Public money worth more than £500,000 today was allegedly paid to Spain’s 1971 Miss World candidate, Barbara Rey, so she would not spill the beans on their romance.
Another lover, the Spanish photographer Queca Campillo, told how, because they had nowhere to meet for their amorous encounters, she would go to the back entrance of the Zarzuela Palace – the royal residence – and meet ‘in a van they had’.
Meanwhile, the king remained married to Queen Sofia, although the pair had allegedly not shared a bed since the late 1970s.
Public money worth more than £500,000 today was allegedly paid to Spain’s 1971 Miss World candidate, Barbara Rey (above), so she would not spill the beans on their romance
The wedding of Prince Juan Carlos and Princess Sofia of Greece and Denmark at the Royal Palace in Athens, Greece on 14th May 1962
King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain leave Westminster Abbey in London after a thanksgiving service to commemorate the golden wedding anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh in 1997
But it was his five-year relationship with the glamourous German-Danish aristocrat Corinna, coupled with his love of big-game hunting, that would ultimately lead to his downfall.
The pair became increasingly close after they began their affair in 2004, with Corinna secretly accompanying him on official trips.
The king showed the extent of his apparent love for her by giving her a ring that she was careful not to wear in public.
But the businesswoman broke off the romantic side of their relationship when she discovered that he had secretly been in another adulterous long-term tryst.
In a podcast series, Corinna revealed she first met the then-King in 2004 at a hunting party in Southern Spain. The pair pictured at the Schloss Schockingen castle in Stuttgart, Germany on February 2, 2006
It was his five-year relationship with the glamourous German-Danish aristocrat Corinna zu Wittgenstein-Sayn that contributed to his eventual downfall. Above: The businesswoman outside the Royal Courts of Justice last year. She is now suing the former king
Spanish King Juan Carlos meets Corinna Sayn-Wittgenstein during the Laureus Award 2006 in Barcelona
Juan Carlos’s elephant-shooting trip to Botswana in 2012 caused a media frenzy and national outcry in Spain. Above: A photo of the king posing next to an elephant he had shot dead in an earlier hunting trip in 2006
In 2012, she was persuaded to join him on a hunting trip to Botswana to celebrate her son’s birthday.
But when the king fell after an evening of drinking, she had to surrender the use of her private plane so the injured monarch could be secretly flown back to Spain.
An official plane was off the cards because of the fact that the all-expenses trip had been paid for by a Syrian businessman and kept secret from the government.
The subsequent news of the luxury getaway, and the emergence of a photo of Juan Carlos posing with a dead elephant he had killed during an earlier trip, triggered a worldwide media frenzy, with Corinna now firmly in the spotlight.
The Spanish people were furious that their king had embarked on a lavish jaunt costing an estimated £35,000 when the country was going through a terrible recession and youth unemployment stood at 50 per cent.
And the killing of an elephant – in 2006 – marked just the tip of the iceberg in the king’s roll-call of animal conquests.
Two years earlier, during a trip to Romania, he shot nine bears.
It was even claimed that, during a private trip to Russia in 2006, he shot dead a tame bear that had been plied with honey and vodka.
A Spanish monarchy spokesman did however insist that the claim was ‘ridiculous’.
Juan Carlos issued a grovelling public apology for his Botswana trip and gave up his £20million yacht, as well as taking a pay cut.
But that did not stop the collapse of the decades-long agreement with the Spanish media to ignore his salacious private life, and so Juan Carlos’s reputation continued to nosedive.
In the months before his abdication, speculation about his future had been rife, with his health increasingly under the spotlight.
Both of his hips had to be replaced and he needed the help of a cane during public appearances.
For a man who once enjoyed a life of unimaginable opulence and the adoration of his people, the former King of Spain’s current plight might tempt some to feel sympathy. Above: Juan Carlos at Westminster Abbey with his wife Sofia for the Queen’s funeral last September
Further ignominy hit the Spanish royal family in 2013, when Juan Carlos’s daughter Cristina was investigated for corruption alongside her husband.
After a probe lasting more than three years, Cristina – who became the first Spanish royal to appear in court – was acquitted, although her husband was jailed and she was stripped of her dukedom by her brother.
When Juan Carlos stepped down, he told his subjects: ‘I have decided to end my reign and abdicate the crown of Spain.
‘A new generation is quite rightly demanding to take the lead role.’
On the way out, he also took a swipe at the then Prince Charles, saying: ‘We do not want my son to wither waiting like Prince Charles.’
In August 2020, after six years out of the spotlight, Juan Carlos opted to leave Spain, saying he did not want his personal affairs to undermine his son King Felipe VI’s reign.
Juan Carlos abdicated in 2014 and handed over the throne to his son King Felipe. King Felipe VI of Spain (second left), his wife Queen Letizia (far left), their daughters Princess Sofia (front left) and Princess Leonor (front right), former King Juan Carlos I (second right) and his wife former Queen Sofia (right) pose before attending the traditional Easter Sunday Mass of Resurrection in Palma de Mallorca on April 1, 2018
On the way out, he also took a swipe at the then Prince Charles, saying: ‘We do not want my son to wither waiting like Prince Charles’
The Daily Mail’s coverage of when King Felipe IV began his reign in 2014, after his father’s abdication
Earlier that year, his son had stripped him of an annual allowance of nearly 200,000 euros as details of his financial dealings emerged.
And Spain’s Supreme Court had launched an investigation just two months before his departure into his alleged involvement in a high-speed rail contract in Saudi Arabia.
The late Saudi king Abdullah allegedly deposited £77million (85million euros) into a Swiss bank account that Juan Carlos was said to have access to.
However, the case was ultimately dropped.
Corinna’s legal action against Juan Carlos rests on her claim that he intimidated and threatened her in the hope of persuading her to return a £50million ‘gift’.
The aristocrat, 57, is seeking damages and an injunction, claiming he caused her ‘great mental pain’ because of ‘a continuous and ongoing campaign of harassment’.
She is also selling her £15million stately home in Shropshire after telling friends she fears for her safety.
The case is expected to be heard at a trial next year.
Last September Juan Carlos attended the Queen’s funeral at Westminster Abbey, reportedly in defiance of the wishes of the Spanish government and his own son.