Amid the splendour of a 16th-century Dutch palace, Herald reporter Jamie Gray meets the King of the Netherlands.

In a room full of cherubs, in an ornate 16th-century palace, the King of the Netherlands talks modern matters of trade, refugees and the future of the European Union.

The occasion is a news conference, ahead of a visit to New Zealand and Australia by King Willem-Alexander and his wife, Queen Maxima.

The royal couple will make the trip this month and early next month, to maintain what he describes as already close ties.

The event, held for visiting New Zealand and Australian media, isn't your typical news conference.


For one thing, there's the venue - the highly decorated "putti room", named for the putti - Italian for cherubs - embossed into the wallpaper.

Then there are the ground rules. By royal protocol, the King cannot be quoted directly by the media, but reporters are able to indirectly report on the King's responses to written, pre-approved, questions. The event could not be filmed, although palace officials did provide some photographs.

During the rare news conference, the King spoke warmly of Dutch ties with New Zealand and Australia.

He also noted the influx of Dutch migrants into both countries during the post-WWII years and the role that played in cementing ties.

The Royal visit this month and early November will coincide with a 60-company trade mission to New Zealand from the Netherlands. The mission will be led by the Minister for Economic Affairs, Henk Kamp.

Willem-Alexander talked about the three countries' shared values and the multilateral co-operation that already exits between them.

While it will be their first visit to New Zealand as King and Queen, Willem-Alexander and Maxima have been here before, in 2006.

During the sometimes light-hearted news conference, the suit-clad Willem-Alexander said he had fond memories of the Abel Tasman National Park, the Southern Alps and Auckland.


He also spoke more seriously about the apparent trend towards political polarisation in Europe and in several other parts or the world. There was also the decision by Britain - a close ally on trade matters - to leave the European Union, and the problem Europe is facing in dealing with the influx of refugees from Africa and the Middle East.

Herald reporter Jamie Gray (right) with King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands (fourth from left) and other reporters at Noordeinde Palace in the Netherlands.
Herald reporter Jamie Gray (right) with King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands (fourth from left) and other reporters at Noordeinde Palace in the Netherlands.

The King also talked about the unity seen in the Netherlands in the aftermath of the MH17 disaster, which claimed the lives of 298 people - most of them Dutch - when their plane was shot down by a missile in Ukrainian airspace and crashed in 2014.

Relations between the Netherlands and Russia have taken a turn for the worse over the downing of the plane, and the families of the 139 Dutch people who lost their lives are still pushing for answers.

The venue for the news conference, the Noordeinde Palace in The Hague, is one of the Dutch royal family's most lavish palaces and acts as King Willem-Alexander's official office.

It was built as a farmhouse in the 16th century and its original cellars can still be seen in the palace basement. The palace has a grand ballroom, with gold chandeliers and marble walls, and an extensive art collection. The grounds were landscaped by Frederik Hendrik, the son of William of Orange.

Noordeinde Palace, one of the three official palaces of the Dutch Royal family. Photo / 123RF
Noordeinde Palace, one of the three official palaces of the Dutch Royal family. Photo / 123RF

The palace complex also includes the Royal Stables, and the gardens contain the Royal Archives.

The Netherlands has been a constitutional monarchy since 1814, and Willem-Alexander was born as Crown Prince in 1967, in the Dutch city of Utrecht. Following the abdication of Queen Beatrix, Willem-Alexander became King in April 2013. He is the Netherlands' first male monarch since the death of his great-great-grandfather, King William III, in 1890.

Queen Maxima was born as Maxima Zorreguieta in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The couple married in 2002 and have three daughters.

Man of action

• King Willem-Alexander was once known as "Prince Pils" (after Pilsner lager) thanks to reports of his drunken exploits at Leiden University.

• Willem-Alexander can pilot jet planes, once skated a 200km contest on frozen canals and ran the New York marathon in 1992. Before becoming King, he chaired a UN advisory panel on water and sanitation and was a member of the International Olympic Committee.

• While other monarchs are crowned, Dutch kings and queens are "inaugurated" at a meeting of the Dutch Parliament, where they promise to serve and uphold the country's constitution.

• Queen Maxima has faced criticism in the Netherlands because of her father's role as a Minister in Argentina's dictatorship, when he served under General Jorge Rafael Videla during the country's "Dirty War".

• The Dutch royal family is known as the "House of Orange", a name that comes from a medieval principality in the south of France.

• There is nothing to stop Dutch monarchs abdicating when they want to step down, as did Willem-Alexander's mother, Queen Beatrix, her mother, Queen Juliana, and her mother, Queen Wilhelmina.