Queen Sofía (formerly Princess Sophia of Greece and Denmark, born 2 November 1938) is the wife of King Juan Carlos I. Born a Greek and Danish princess, she became Queen consort of Spain upon her husband’s accession in 1975. On 19 June 2014, Juan Carlos abdicated in favour of their son, Felipe VI.
Princess Sophia of Greece and Denmark was born on 2 November 1938, in Psychiko, Athens, Greece, the eldest child of King Paul and his wife, Queen Frederica. Sofia is a member of the Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg dynasty. Her brother is the deposed King Constantine II and her sister is Princess Irene.
Princess Sophia spent some of her childhood in Egypt where she took her early education in El Nasr Girls’ College (EGC) in Alexandria. She lived in South Africa during her family’s exile from Greece during World War II. They returned to Greece in 1946. She finished her education at the prestigious Schloss Salem boarding school in Southern Germany, and then studied childcare, music and archeology in Athens. She also studied at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, now though not then a constituent college of the University of Cambridge, She represented Greece, alongside her brother Constantine, as a reserve member of the Gold Medal-winning sailing team in the 1960 Summer Olympics.
Sophia met her paternal third cousin the then Infante Juan Carlos of Spain on a cruise in the Greek Islands in 1954; they met again at the wedding of the Duke of Kent, her paternal second cousin, at York Minster in June 1961.
The couple married on 14 May 1962, at the Catholic Cathedral of Saint Dionysius in Athens. The bride’s gown was made by Jean Dessès and she was attended by her sister Princess Irene of Greece and Denmark, the groom’s sister Infanta Pilar of Spain, and Sofia’s future sister-in-law Princess Anne-Marie of Denmark (later Queen of Greece), along with Princess Irene of the Netherlands, Princess Alexandra of Kent, Princess Benedikte of Denmark, Princess Anne of Orléans and Princess Tatiana Radziwill.
Sofia converted from Greek Orthodoxy to Roman Catholicism to become more palatable to Catholic Spain, and thus relinquished her rights to the Greek throne. Along with this, the usual Latinisation of her Greek name was changed from Sophia to the Spanish variant, Sofía.
In 1969, Infante Juan Carlos, who was never Prince of Asturias (the traditional title of the Spanish heir apparent), was given the official title of “Prince of Spain” by the Spanish state; Sofía herself had suggested the title. Juan Carlos acceded to the throne in 1975, upon the death of Francisco Franco.
The couple have three children: Elena (born 20 December 1963); Cristina (born 13 June 1965); and Felipe (born 30 January 1968). Their four grandsons and four granddaughters are Felipe and Victoria de Marichalar y de Borbón, Juan, Pablo, Miguel and Irene Urdangarín y de Borbón, and Leonor, Princess of Asturias and Sofía, all of whom are in the line of succession to the Spanish throne.
Besides accompanying her husband on official visits and occasions, Queen Sofía also has solo engagements. She is executive president of the Queen Sofía Foundation, which in 1993, sent funds for relief in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and is honorary president of the Royal Board on Education and Care of Handicapped Persons of Spain, as well as the Spanish Foundation for Aid for Drug Addicts.
She takes special interest in programs against drug addiction, travelling to conferences in both Spain and abroad. The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía is named after her, as is Reina Sofía Airport in Tenerife. Queen Sofía is often seen representing the Spanish Royal Family at weddings of other European royalty, most recently at the wedding of Victoria, Crown Princess of Sweden, and Daniel Westling in 2010, and the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton in 2011; her husband had earlier expressed his wish that he not attend such royal functions.
The Queen is an Honorary Member of the San Fernando Royal Academy of Fine Arts and of the Spanish Royal Academy of History. She has received honorary doctorates from the Universities of Rosario (Bogotá), Valladolid, Cambridge, Oxford, Georgetown, Evora, St. Mary’s University (Texas), and New York.
A keen supporter of sport, the Queen also attended the final match of the 2010 Wimbledon Championships – Men’s Singles where she watched Spanish tennis champion Rafael Nadal win for a second time, as well as the 2010 FIFA World Cup where the Spanish team was crowned as world champion.
Queen Sofía has been honorary president of the Spanish Unicef Committee since 1971. She has been working closely with Dr. Muhammed Yunus on his Grameen Bank (or “Village Bank”), which offers microcredits to women across the world. Queen Sofía has travelled to Bangladesh, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador and Mexico to support the activities of the organization led by Yunus. Queen Sofía has also been a strong supporter of Somaly Mam’s efforts and of the NGO she founded—Agir pour les Femmes en Situation Précaire (AFESIP)—in combatting child prostitution and slavery in Cambodia. In 1998, Mam was awarded the prestigious Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation in her presence.
In July 2012, the Queen visited the Philippines for a fourth time. She inspected several development projects around the former Spanish colony that her country’s government is funding via the Agencia Española de Cooperacion Internacional para el Desarollo (AECID). She visited the National Library, National Museum and the University of Santo Tomas. She also met with Spanish nationals residing in the Philippines, and attended a reception at the Spanish Embassy. She also attended a state dinner in her honour at Malacañan Palace hosted by President Benigno Aquino III.