Queen Silvia of Sweden (born Silvia Renate Sommerlath on 23 December 1943) is the spouse of King Carl XVI Gustaf and mother of the heir apparent to the throne, Crown Princess Victoria. In 2011, Silvia became the longest serving queen of Sweden, a record previously held by Sophia of Nassau.
Silvia Renate Sommerlath was born in Heidelberg, Germany, on 23 December 1943, the only daughter of the late Alice (née Soares de Toledo) and Walther Sommerlath. Her father was German and her mother was Brazilian.
She has two older brothers: Ralf and Walther Sommerlath. They and their families were guests at the 2010 wedding of Victoria, Crown Princess of Sweden, and Daniel Westling and the wedding of Princess Madeleine in 2013. Her third brother, Jörg Sommerlath, died in 2006. The Mother-Child House Jörg Sommerlath in Berlin, operated by Queen Silvia’s World Childhood Foundation is named after him.
The Sommerlath family lived in São Paulo, Brazil, between 1947 and 1957, where the Queen attended the traditional German school Colégio Visconde de Porto Seguro and Walther Sommerlath held various positions, including President of the Brazilian subsidiary of Swedish company Uddeholms AB. The family returned to West Germany in 1957.
Before her marriage to the King of Sweden, Silvia Sommerlath worked at the Argentine Consulate in Munich, was an educational host during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, and served as the Deputy Head of Protocol for the Winter Games in Innsbruck in Austria. She briefly worked as a flight attendant.
A trained interpreter, Swedish is actually her sixth language. She speaks her native German, her mother’s language of Portuguese, as well as French, Spanish, and English. She has some fluency in Swedish Sign Language, a national sign language used by the deaf community in Sweden.
During the 1972 Summer Olympics, Silvia Sommerlath met Crown Prince Carl Gustaf. In a later interview, the King explained how it just “clicked” when they met. After the death of King Gustaf VI Adolf on 15 September 1973, Carl XVI Gustaf succeeded to the throne.
He and Silvia announced their engagement on 12 March 1976 and were married three months later, on 19 June in Stockholm Cathedral (“Storkyrkan Cathedral”) in Stockholm. It was the first marriage of a reigning Swedish monarch since 1797. If he had married Silvia during the reign of his grandfather, King Gustaf VI Adolf, he would have lost his position as heir-apparent to the Swedish throne. This was due to the inflexibility of his grandfather, who believed that royalty must marry royalty. This was also the reason why Carl Gustaf’s uncle, Prince Bertil, did not marry until after Gustaf VI Adolf’s death. (Bertil was second-in-line to the throne until his nephew produced an heir, and was therefore unable to marry the Welsh commoner, Princess Lilian, with whom he had been in love for decades, until 1976.)
In celebration of the forthcoming wedding of the King and the soon-to-be-Queen, Silvia, the internationally famous pop group ABBA performed the song Dancing Queen at a gala performance attended by the King and Silvia the night before the ceremony, although the song was not written for Silvia.
Queen Silvia is involved in numerous charity organizations, especially in the area of disadvantaged children, and has made several public statements about human rights and children sexual exploitation. On her own initiative, she alone watched videos confiscated by the police, of sexually abused children in an early pedophile tangle. The statement she made to the press became an eye opener for many people that the problem exists.
She was a co-founder of the World Childhood Foundation in 1999, having been inspired by her work as Patron of the first World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children held in Stockholm.
She works actively for the handicapped, including as Chairman of the Royal Wedding Fund and Queen Silvia’s Jubilee Fund. In 1990, she was awarded the prestigious German prize “Deutscher Kulturpreis” for her work for the handicapped. She is an honorary board member of The Mentor Foundation International, that works against drug use in adolescents and young adults. She is Patroness of the “Queen Silvia Fund” operated by the World Scout Foundation which raises funds for Scouts with disabilities.
Her commitment to the work with dementia and the care of the elderly at the end of life is also well known and respected. On her initiative, Silviahemmet was established in Stockholm. It works to educate hospital personnel in how to work with people suffering from dementia, and also initiates research in the area.
The Queen also has brought the subject of dyslexia into the public arena in Sweden. For many years, it was widely rumored that the King has dyslexia. Journalists noted that he misspelled his name when signing his accession document, and in 1973, when visiting a copper mine, he misspelled his name when signing it on a rock wall. In an interview on Swedish television in 1997, the condition was admitted publicly when the Queen addressed the issue. “When he was little, people did not pay attention to the problem,” she said. “He didn’t get the help he needed.”