Queen Paola of Belgium, consort of King Albert II of Belgium was born as Paola Margherita Giuseppina Maria Consiglia Ruffo di Calabria, the youngest child of Prince Fulco Ruffo di Calabria (an aviator during World War I) and Countess Luisa Maria Gazelli di Rossana e di Sebastiano.
She was born in one of the most noble and ancient families in Italy, and was hailed one of the most beautiful princesses in Europe in the '60s. She was fluent Italian, French, German, and English.
Paola met the then Prince Albert of Belgium in Rome at a reception at the Belgian embassy, during the inauguration of Pope John XIII. He made his discreet inquiry about the blond beauty. "Oh, that's Paola," said a noblewoman haughtily. "She is nice, but so shy that you hardly know whether she's around or not."
When it became apparent that Prince Albert had fallen in love with Paola, the shy princess immediately became the talk of the media. Two months later, she was introduced to the Prince's family.
Prince Albert proposed to her, and she accepted. Two months later, they were married at St. Goedele Cathedral in Brussels. When she arrived to Brussels for the first time, Paola quickly won the hearts of the Belgian people. Her beaming smile earned her the nickname the "Sunshine Princess".
Princess Paola bore three children: Philippe, Astrid, and Laurent. Being the wife of the Prince of Liege, Princess Paola had only few public roles. There was King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola. However, when it became clear that Queen Fabiola would not bear children, Prince Albert and Princess Paola's public appearances became frequent. Paola was frequently seen attending occasions with Albert or with Queen Fabiola.
She became one of the glamorous and best-dressed royals of her time, and the paparazzi followed her everywhere. She was so lovely and charming enough to even inspire the Italian-Belgian singer Salvatore Adamo to composed a song especially for her: "Dolce Paola"
But her first few years in Belgium were difficult. She was homesick and lonely, and had difficulty adapting to her new life as a princess. There was nobody to guide her. Her husband was constantly away with his work and motor bikes. Queen Paola once said: "At that time, I really would have wanted Queen Astrid to be there."
Albert and Paola's marriage started off happily, but by the late '60s, things were going wrong between the couple. They were allegedly having their share of affairs and scandals. They decided to live apart, and there were even rumors of a divorce, but that did not happen.
Later in the '80s, things were starting to improve between the couple, until they finally had a reconciliation, due to the help of their two eldest children and King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola.
In 1993, King Baudouin died, and Prince Albert and Paola became the new King and Queen of Belgium. Their marriage had grown stronger over the years, and now they were a devoted couple. During an interview, Queen Paola said: "We had our difficulties, but now we say that we are made for each other." In 2009, King Albert and Queen Paola celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.