Dany’s ChoiceThe most viewed Telefacts episode ever, and the most talked-about. ‘Dany’s choice’ is today dusting off the very first report with Princess Marie-Christine. At the time good for 1.7 million viewers, and even now the candor of King Philip’s aunt remains unseen. “She talked about her divorce and being raped by a relative. Royals rarely speak so frankly,” recalls maker Peter Van Camp.
Jun 24 2022
In 1994, Peter Van Camp – a young VTM reporter at the time – travels to Los Angeles to visit the disaffected Princess Marie-Christine – the eldest daughter of King Leopold III and his second wife Lilian Baels. “Nowadays, members of the royal family occasionally give interviews, but in the 1990s this was not the case,” explains the reporter. “Suddenly it turned out that Princess Marie-Christine had broken that unofficial rule. She had given an extremely well-behaved interview in the French-language magazine Ciné Télé Revue. We learned from that that she led a glamorous life in Los Angeles.” The then chief of Van Camp instructs him to also arrange an interview with Marie-Christine. “I had a good fixer in Los Angeles at that time. Coincidentally, it turned out that the princess was staying in the same street as my contact person, so the conversation was quickly settled. After she gave her agreement, the princess asked if I could be in Los Angeles a week later. She had an event scheduled with Elizabeth Taylor and Arnold Schwarzenegger that she wanted me to attend.”
Van Camp – with a camera crew in his wake – flies headlong to America. “We initially thought that the princess was exaggerating, but it turned out on Sunset Boulevard that she was telling the truth. After all, there was an immense billboard announcing the party, and Princess Marie-Christine of Belgium was one of the famous guests.”
Initially, Van Camp’s reporting seems to focus exclusively on Marie-Christine’s glamorous life. “She felt like a fish in water among the stars in Los Angeles, and loved all the attention she got. But the more time I spent with her, the more that layer of veneer disappeared and the more candid she became,” clarifies the reporter. “It soon became clear that this break with her past was so much more than mere frivolity. For example, the princess told about her extremely difficult relationship with the royal family, the non-existent bond with her mother and the many quarrels. In addition, she also told that she – with the help of the very Catholic King Baudouin – was able to get a divorce and that when she was seventeen, she was raped by a distant relative during a ball. Those revelations sent shockwaves across our country. 1.7 million people watched that report at the time, making it the most viewed Telefacts broadcast to date.”
If you want to spot the very young Van Camp in that report, you have to make a lot of effort. For example, Van Camp only appears once, almost by accident. “The editors-in-chief of Telefacts thought I was too young – at 25 years old – for that kind of report. That’s why I didn’t just have to stay out of the picture as much as possible, I wasn’t even allowed to read in my own work myself,” laughs Van Camp. “Too bad, but I’m still very proud of that broadcast. I was nominated for the press prize of Het Gemeentekrediet (today the Belfius press prize, ed.) and the next day I received only rave reviews in the newspapers. I saw the report myself two years ago, and I am still very proud of it. And before you ask, the princess was pleased herself. I got Christmas cards for years after that.”
No more contact
In 2001 Van Camp visits the princess a second time, again for Telefacts. “That report was less frivolous,” says Van Camp. “The princess had then had a series of misfortunes, and was almost on the ground. How she lost her money remained unclear, but it was a fact that she was looking for work in America. Through that second interview, she also wanted to encourage Belgium to help her. But that turned out completely wrong. After my report, one of my colleagues made a follow-up piece. It was investigated whether Marie-Christine was entitled to an endowment, or something of that nature. This appeared to not be the case. Marie-Christine found out through someone else, and she was angry. Also on me, yes. Since then I have no contact with her, but I cherish the beautiful memories.”
‘Dany’s choice’, a new episode every Friday on hln.be.
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