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Artistic redemption for Belgian king's 'dirty laundry'

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Knokke-Heist (Belgium) (AFP)

After a lifetime of pain and a bruising legal battle, in January Delphine Boel finally won what she had always wanted: recognition that she is the daughter of former Belgian king Albert II.

But the victory was bittersweet for the 52-year-old artist, turning an unwanted media spotlight on a painful part of her life.

Albert, 86, acknowledged in January that he was Boel's father after a DNA test came back positive, ending a paternity battle that had dragged on since he abdicated in 2013.

"I felt shameful of just my existence," Boel told AFP in an interview in the upmarket Belgian seaside resort of Knokke.

"Just to remind you that I didn't become famous because of my artistic talent -- it was because I was the 'dirty laundry' of Albert II, and so it was kind of a shameful fame".

- 'Shame' -

Boel, who gives few media interviews, spoke to AFP at a retrospective exhibition of her work.

The interview comes a few weeks before a hearing at a Brussels appeal court, which has yet to rule on the legal consequences of Albert, who reigned from 1993-2013, accepting Boel as his fourth child.

After living in London from the age of eight with her mother Baroness Sybille de Selys Longchamps, Boel considers herself "Anglo-Belgian" and speaks flawless English with almost no trace of an accent.

She turned to art at an early age as "a good soothing medicine" and graduated from the prestigious Chelsea School of Art in 1991.

Her new exhibition in Knokke, which runs until September 13, draws on one of the darkest periods of her life, some five years ago when she was struggling through the courts and questioning whether to continue her fight.

She threw her feelings onto large canvases, with dark phrases referring to "shame" and "guilt" contrasted with bright-coloured abstract work with positive messages such as "love", "hope" and "be strong".

After an unsuccessful attempt at reconciliation in 2013, the year Albert handed the crown to his son Philippe, Boel began her court battle.

- For the children -

Boel says Albert's decision to recognise her "definitely changed my life".

"First of all, I feel I'm taken more seriously. Two, I was heard and that made a big difference to me," she says.

The change of heart from the former king came only after a court ordered a DNA test and levied a fine of 5,000 euros ($5,500) a day for each day he refused.

Since 1999, the year a journalist revealed the existence of the then-king's secret daughter, born from his affair of nearly 20 years with de Selys Longchamps, Albert always denied his paternity -- even though he had been in contact with her when she was a child.

But despite her experiences, Boel remains a committed monarchist and found accusations to the contrary deeply painful.

"And I really suffered of that because it's not true. I am royalist."

But she is proud of having stood and fought for her identity -- both for herself and for her own children, aged 16 and 12.

"They used to be asked at school like, 'are you sure your mother is not just making this up? Are you sure she's all right in their head?'," she says.

"Now I'm so happy that nobody can ever tell them that again."

And she hopes her story will inspire others like her to keep searching to "find out who they are, their identity".

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