Cabin crew, bodyguard, Thai queen: Suthida's meteoric rise

Bangkok (AFP) –


Kneeling in front of her King, Suthida Vajiralongkorn na Ayudhya was invested as Queen on Saturday in Bangkok's Grand Palace, taking up a prominent role in a country where the monarchy is deeply revered, a fairytale ascent for the former flight attendant.

Wearing a pink traditional dress, Suthida took her seat next to King Maha Vajiralongkorn in the throne hall after he poured a few drops of sacred water on her forehead and handed over insignia according her status as queen.

The newest member of the royal family is the fourth wife of 66-year-old Vajiralongkorn, a deeply private monarch who spends a lot of his time abroad in Germany. He has a 14-year-old son from his third marriage and six other children.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn's coronation Saturday came just three days after a stunning palace announcement that the pair had married bestowing Suthida with the title of Queen.

But not much is known about his long-time consort-turned-queen, who faces a new and protocol-filled life in the wealthy and venerated Thai monarchy.

Broad biographical details such as her work as a flight attendant and her education at an upper-crust institution have emerged in Thai media. But the palace has so far declined requests for more information.

Suthida does not have the same royal lineage as Vajiralongkorn's mother Queen Sirikit, who is the great-granddaughter of the Chakri dynasty's fifth king.

She has "really come from the people", said Sophie Boisseau du Rocher, Thailand specialist at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI).

Harsh lese-majeste laws mean unguarded discussion about the monarchy inside the country is dangerous and can result in a prison term of up to 15 years per count.

Thailand's normally effusive social media have been subdued in reaction to the royal news.

Suthida's first public engagement came Thursday when the couple kneeled to pay their respects to statues of previous Chakri dynasty monarchs in Bangkok's old quarter.

On Friday, she accompanied her husband to the sacred Temple of the Emerald Buddha in the heart of the Grand Palace.

- Queen brings 'legitimacy' -

Born on June 3, 1978, she graduated with a Communication Arts degree in 2000 from the Catholic-run Assumption University of Thailand.

She then worked as a flight attendant for national carrier Thai Airways.

According to a local media report she met the future king, a keen aviator with a pilot's licence, when he flew the company's aircraft during a charity event in 2007.

In November 2013, Suthida entered the royal army before becoming part of the monarch's prestigious security detail less than a year later.

She was promoted to the rank of general in December 2016 two months after the death of revered former King Bhumibol Adulyadej as Vajiralongkorn took to the throne.

Less than a year later, in 2017, she was made deputy commander of the king's Royal Guard, often seen shadowing the monarch at public events.

One of her latest appearances was in April, when she sat stone-faced behind her future husband wearing a white uniform with a black tie and epaulettes as he addressed police.

The couple would often travel to Bavaria in southern Germany, where Vajiralongkorn has several residences.

The king's marriage to Suthida is a "way of further legitimising" his reign, said Paul Chambers, political analyst at Thailand's Naresuan University.

"A king is supposed to have a queen and now he has one."