Yes, he’s back in the news, that former Spanish king who abdicated in 2014 (and was immediately blessed with the legally unprecedented, quickly invented title ‘King emeritus’, probably to make him sound like he was still regal) and in 2020 went into gilded exile in a homophobic, misogynistic dictatorship called the United Arab Emirates.
His Majesty skedaddled because he was suspected of skimming off commissions to the alleged tune of 88 million euros from Saudi Arabia for having facilitated the construction of a Spanish-built high speed rail network in that country; and of some tax dodging of consequence; and of having made an extravagantly unacceptable use of his royal credit cards. There was also the matter of his 65 million euro ‘gift’ to Corinna Larsen, his lover since 2004, and who has now taken the former director of the Spanish Intelligence Services and Juan Carlos himself to court (in England) for having been threatened by them with dire consequences should she spill the beans concerning her long affair with Spain’s saviour of democracy. And now, despite having been accused of money laundering, tax avoidance, adultery, and being an all-round scam artist, Juan Carlos has decided he wants to come back to the country of his birth this year (well, more or less: he was born in Rome); a return which would cause unbearable embarrassment to his son (the current sovereign) and the Spanish Prime Minister and possibly to the entire Spanish political class, as well as alienating that large portion of the Catalan public (assuming they could be alienated any more than they already are) who do not recognise the Spanish monarchy and would prefer to live in an independent republic.
Yet no sooner had the rumour mill regarding Juan Carlos’s homecoming started to turn, when another skeleton in his spacious cupboard stepped into the light of day. The Catalan journalist Andreu Barnils neatly summed up the situation at the end of last year: between 1976 and 1994, the then crowned head had a lengthy relationship with an actress whose stage name, oddly enough, is Bárbara Rey. In her day Ms Rey was quite a celebrity, starring in 43 films and around 20 stage shows. She and her monarch held their trysts in a chalet in a town near Madrid, where Rey secretly filmed and recorded him; these tapes not only show the Commander in Chief of the Spanish Armed Forces making whoopee, they also contain comments of his on the private life of his wife - aka the Queen - and the revelation of various state secrets, including the still publicly undisclosed inside story of the 1981 coup d’état.
So when the King gave Ms Rey the big E in 1994, she threatened to release these tapes unless she received ample compensation. She eventually obtained four million dollars and several contracts for programmes on public television, including a cookery series on Valencian TV (although she didn’t know how to speak Valencian - a variant of Catalan - or cook). (The excerpts of this programme on YouTube are worth their weight in taxpayer’s money: a po-faced Ms Rey goes through the motions of preparing a tatty-looking piece of fish accompanied by three mysterious yellowish blobs).
She is currently being investigated in the Spanish senate for having illegally received public funds to stop her blackmailing her liege lord. This month, she was due to be grilled in the Senate to clarify just exactly where her dollars and her TV contracts came from and why. The party in power, the PSOE, vetoed her appearance. You can’t help but get the impression that Spanish politicians - of whatever colour they be - fear that the downfall of even a former King could trigger off a national catastrophe. After all - to paraphrase the title of Chinua Achebe’s masterly novel - sooner or later, kingdoms fall apart.