Oh What A Night


‘I got to the second round.’
Mary on meeting her future husband at a Sydney pub

The pin-up slimmers for diet regimes love showing off their ‘before’ photos. ‘Check me out’, they enthuse from magazine ads and TV commercials. ‘Check out how fat and miserable I was before Starvation Plan X. Marvel at the size of my mega jeans.’

Crown Princess Mary of Denmark is nothing like those dieting icons. As soon as it became clear she was inhabiting the ‘after’ photos, all the before stuff had to go. Some was shredded and chucked in the bin. Some was hoovered from websites. And some was the subject of ominous pseudo-legal letters from the Danish palace.

But this is an era of electronic snail trails. We leave a slipstream of sound and vision from the moment we arrive, our progress recorded by cameras, telephone answering machines and now – God help us all – mobile phone cameras (particularly if we have the hide to combine skirts and escalators). For most of us, the spies aren’t government agents in wraparound sunnies and darkened minivans. They’re friends, family and neighbours, and they keep those terrible old photos and that horrible home video footage in boxes under their beds FOREVER. If you’re a celebrity, you can multiply all this to the power of Paris Hilton.

Like most famous people, Mary’s attempts to control what the public knows about her pre-princess life has failed. Private investigators hired by the media bagged bits and pieces from her Sydney rubbish bin. Friends gave the press photos before they realised they shouldn’t. And Sydney filmmaker Nigel Traill made Going Public – an ABC documentary which inadvertently reveals the future queen of Denmark in the dying days of her normal life.

In June 2000 Mary discovered Love. Not the euphoric emotional state from the pop songs, but the advertising and PR company run by Porsche-driving bachelor-about-town Siimon Reynolds. Siimon is famous for coming up with the graphic late-80s grim reaper TV campaign warning against the dangers of HIV/AIDS. That and taking the advice of a fortune-telling numerologist and adding an extra ‘i’ to his name when he was 17.

One of the co-founders of Love was Monique Haylen – Mary’s old mate from the Novell days. It was Monique who arranged for Mary to be headhunted from Young & Rubicam. ‘We’d just started the company and were looking for staff’, she recalls. ‘I really wanted to work with Mary again and thought she’d fit into the culture we were trying to establish. It sounds silly but when we were looking for people we asked each other "would you want to go on a holiday with this person?" Mary was very personable. She looked very balanced in her life and had a real presence about her.’

After several meetings, Mary was made an offer and accepted a position as the company’s first account director. This was a people-wrangling role which involved liaising with clients and the creative team. ‘We’d had quite a bit of coverage about what we were doing so everyone was pretty excited’, Monique says. ‘I think Mary was particularly excited about joining a new company because she saw it as something she could help grow. I’m sure Young & Rubicam was unhappy when she left.’

Eight or nine people started work in Love’s open-plan office in Woollahra. This was a start-up company, so specialisation was a luxury and multi-tasking essential. Colleagues remember Mary’s organisational ability and efficiency. The way she’d finish her own work early and help others. The time she joined one of her bosses behind a microphone at a karaoke night. There was also her sense of humour, her popularity with clients and her thing for footwear. ‘She had the most fantastic shoes’, says Monique. ‘All the girls here remember them. They were always really stylish. Mary dressed very well. There’s a pretty relaxed dress code at Love. You don’t need to wear a suit every day. But Mary was always very well groomed. Her hair and nails were always nice.’

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Siimon has only vague recollections of Mary as a ‘pleasant, inoffensive’ girl. (He says the upside of his inability to recall much detail is that she obviously didn’t perform poorly in her job.) Love’s chief executive Julian Martin remembers that Mary used to be far less formal than she is today: ‘She was likeable, attractive, personable and human. Not full of hot air. She seemed up for the challenge of helping us start a new agency. Not everyone would have taken that chance, and given up a safer job.’

It was Mary’s work at Love that led to her first taste of the media spotlight. Nigel Traill met the young shoe fan in mid-2000 while he was shooting a fly-on-the-wall documentary about a group of small Apple retailers attempting to join forces and float a new and improved company on the stock market. Love was offered $50,000 to come up with a name and logo for the new entity, which meant Siimon, Julian and Mary were familiar faces during the initial months of the operation. The Going Public gang continued shooting Mary until August – a month before she met Frederik.

‘Mary was there for most of the meetings I filmed over the course of a few months’, says Nigel. ‘She was a relatively background figure to Siimon and Julian. She was fairly quiet, though I have got a few shots of her making half-hearted leaps and jumps ‘ Nigel is speaking literally here. In the episode to which he refers, Mary can be seen joining the Apple gang in a wacky, arm-waving game which involves shouting ‘I got it, I got it, I got it’. Siimon can’t recall exactly what was going on here, but suspects it was an exercise in which participants were asked to describe the new company using a noise or movement. Other corporate bonding activities included wearing ear flowers, pretending to be waiters and shooting paper aeroplanes.

Mary appears in three of the four half-hour episodes of Going Public, working alongside a bunch of super-confident young guns who cheerfully refer to themselves as smiling assassins. One boasts that he’s won at everything he’s ever done in his life. At these meetings Mary dresses in bland, slacks-oriented office gear with a whoppin’ great stick-on nametag. Her hair is often wrenched off her face or pulled into an unflattering ponytail (a hairstyle fashion gurus refer to as a ‘that’ll do tail’ because it takes so little effort). There’s no sign of the now-famous regal posture. Mary slumps, looks bored and picks at her ears. Every so often she flashes that brilliant smile of hers. But the most animated she gets is the jumping game with the hand-waving and navel-flashing. This is the woman Prince Pingo will see in a month’s time and think ‘Wow. Absolutely radiant.’

In one episode of Going Public, Love runs a naming day for the new Apple business. The group discusses Whoosh (which it is agreed works on many levels) and Rêve (which appeals because it is French for dream as well as sounding like a car engine). But both these possibilities fall through and Love cops an earful. ‘What value is Love adding to this process?’ complains one guy. Another says he and his colleagues seem to be rêve-ing up all the naming ideas themselves: ‘Ultimately if we paid five grand for that I am happy because that’s a five grand process, but to pay 50 grand is an absolute shitload.’

Siimon holds his head in his hands and does his best to defend himself. Mary stays absolutely silent. In fact it’s difficult to work out what she’s doing here, what she’s supposed to be contributing. Nigel says she spoke a little more in real life but warns against getting too excited about out-take possibilities: ‘I don’t think you’ll see anything that makes you think "wow, there really is a hellcat".’

Siimon reckons Mary was intimidated by the cameras and out of her area of expertise. ‘The account director’s job is to run the account, not do naming workshops or brand strategy’, he says. ‘However in this case she was reduced to handling the details S a bit higher than secretarial stuff: checking briefs, coordinating the various parties, overseeing production of ads, checking prices We would have appreciated any contributions she made in that process, but I think she was a little unsure of herself on this type of brand. IT can be hard to decipher strategically.’ As can ad-speak.

Back in Going Public, Julian arrives to help out and the gang comes up with the ‘total standout’ company name of Buzzle. ‘Tomorrow belongs to Buzzle’, proclaims the new CEO. Unfortunately for Buzzle, the days after tomorrow belong to bankruptcy. The new enterprise dies a slow death and is put into receivership in March 2001. Siimon, Mary and Julian only receive a small fraction of their fee.

Love wasn’t faring any better in Mary’s personal life, either. She was living with a group of friends in Bondi Junction and dating occasionally, but there was no steady boyfriend. ‘Of course I wanted to meet someone’, she says. ‘But I don’t think I spent too much time agonising about it It wasn’t as though I sat around with my girlfriends saying, "Oh! Oh! Oh! Where is that man?" There were too many other things going on.’

A big distraction in Mary’s life was sport. In September 2000 athletic types from around the globe were streaming in for the Sydney Olympics, while non-athletic types sick of the hype took advantage of cheap flights on empty planes and streamed out.

One of the arrivals was a dapper Danish sports nut called Fred who’d just wrapped up an Arctic trek across Greenland and was looking forward to kicking back in the Sydney sun. Fred had left his fashion designer girlfriend in London and was travelling with his aunt and cousin. Also in tow was his younger brother, Joachim, who’d spent time in Australia working as a jackaroo in Wagga Wagga in the late 80s.

For 32-year-old Fred, the visit was a first. ‘Australia at that time was an unknown and undiscovered continent for me – symbolised aptly by the fifth and lowest Olympic ring’, he says. ‘I found myself in an unknown country amongst happy, festive foreigners. My only luggage at that time was my high expectations of my visit, and a certain degree of confidence.’ (We can only hope he was speaking metaphorically and his luggage also included a change of boxer shorts.)

According to media assessments, the Danes were second only to the Dutch as the party people of the Olympics. Jet lagged but hyped, Fred and Joachim enjoyed the usual city sightseeing and posed for the obligatory photograph in front of the Sydney Opera House. They cheered as the Danish Olympic team entered the stadium during the opening ceremony and bemoaned the absence of a competition for dog sledding.

On their third day in town – Saturday, September 16 – they watched the home team compete in triathlons, table tennis and the Olympic pool. Then it was time to party.

Gossip about this Saturday night, the night our heroine and hero first met, has been rife:

Totally Unsubstantiated Rumour No 1: Kanga and Pingo meet after being introduced by the Crown Prince of Spain, Felipe de Borbon, at a party to honour the Danish women’s handball team. Quite the matchmaker, Crown Prince Felipe. Quite the matchmaker and quite the women’s handball fan.

Totally Unsubstantiated Rumour No 2: Kanga and Pingo meet after Kanga pulls some strings to score an invite to an Olympics corporate hospitality marquee run by United Airlines. One deep throat who swears he witnessed this meeting tells the press he can’t possibly reveal what went on under the party lights. ‘You could make the assumption, and you’d be right’, he says. ‘But she deserves a little protection.’ Of course she does. Particularly if you’re making the whole thing up.

Totally Unsubstantiated Rumour No 3: Kanga and Pingo meet after Kanga finds out a friend of a friend knows some visiting royalty and begs to be introduced.

Totally Unsubstantiated Rumour No 4: Kanga and Pingo meet after Kanga tries and fails to sleaze onto the aforementioned Crown Prince Felipe at a bar. The source of this particular rumour – who also uses zero evidence to back up her claim – reckons that if Fred had rejected Mary, she would have continued trying her luck with some more minor European princes. As you do.

Most of these rumours are circulating in the bitchy and anonymous realms of cyberspace and should therefore be viewed as the work of frustrated (and rather unimaginative) fiction writers. Happily there are some more reliable accounts of the big night.

According to a translation of the book Mary – Crown Princess of Denmark by Danish writers Karin Palshøj and Gitte Redder, Fred and Joachim arranged to spend Saturday night with a Spanish friend, Bruno Alejandro Gomez-Acebo. Fortunately for the foreign contingent, Bruno had a local connection. He’d met an Australian woman called Katya Tarnawski in London and had kept in touch. When the Spaniard rocked up for the Olympics, Katya and her sister, Beatrice, promised to show him the cream of Sydney’s nightlife.

Beatrice rang an old design school friend and asked if he’d like to join them, suggesting he bring some female companions to balance out the lads in Bruno’s group. As luck would have it, this friend was Andrew Miles, Mary’s flatmate. Beatrice met with Bruno, Frederik and Joachim at the Regent Hotel on George Street in the Rocks district. According to Karin and Gitte’s book, the mood was euphoric and Fred was ‘high to the roof, like a puppy’. The group then caught cabs to the Slip Inn – an upmarket pick-up joint on Sussex Street in the Sydney CBD.

Team Beatrice and Team Andrew got on brilliantly when they joined forces at The Slip Inn at 9pm. Though Mary almost didn’t make it. ‘I nearly didn’t go that evening’, she says. ‘The taxi arrived, and I said "Oh, all right" at the last minute and just got in.’

When the 28-year-old account director – reportedly wearing jeans and a sleeveless crop top in shimmery metallic green – was introduced to the boyish-looking Dane with the spiky, brown hair, his opening line was apparently ‘Hi, I’m Fred.’ It was half an hour before Andrew pulled Mary aside to fill in the gaps. ‘Do you know who these people are?’ her flatmate said. ‘These are actually European royalty that we’re with.’ He explained that their new friend was Crown Prince Frederik André Henrik Christian of Denmark. (You could see why the young man usually found it easier to introduce himself as Fred.)

Prince Pingo, meanwhile, couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. As he pointed out later, it wasn’t as if he was the only blue blood drinking beer that night. There was also Joachim (Danish prince No 2), Märtha Louise (Norwegian princess), Nikolaos (Greek prince) and Bruno (nephew of the Spanish King Juan Carlos).

The first the Slip Inn management knew of its regal guests was the appearance of Fred’s Black American Express Card. New Idea notes there was also a giveaway security tag around the Prince’s neck which read ‘HRH Frederik of Denmark’. Why he felt the need to wear this during a night on the town is anyone’s guess.

After a bunch more beers and margaritas, the group is said to have moved downstairs where Fred helped push three tables together. Mary found herself sitting between Fred and Joachim, as pizza, beer and wine were ordered, and the pub filled. Friends recall the pair looking cosy in a corner, though Mary says she didn’t really start talking to Frederik until later in the evening.

Like all good conversationalists, he didn’t spend too much time yakking about his day job. ‘He never really told me that much about his other life in the beginning’, she recalls. ‘It was more just about who we were and what we were about. It wasn’t about [him living]in a place with high ceilings or anything.’

Fred concurs. ‘That’s not the punch-line that I usually kick off with’, he told interviewer Andrew Denton on Enough Rope, revealing that he also avoided ‘here’s a picture of my mum with a crown on’ and ‘wanna see some pictures?’ (presumably the Danish version of ‘come up and see my etchings’).

According to the women’s mags, the drinkers began discussing the topic of swimmer Ian Thorpe’s friction-free body. Mary wasn’t a fan of the pec rug sported by poor old Bruno, and said she much preferred the hairless version attached to Fred. The word on the street is she even reached out and copped a feel – a delightfully forward gesture for a nascent princess. ‘All the girls around the table were discussing what is best: the man with a hairy chest or a man without hair’, Beatrice says. ‘The princes were wearing open shirts. We were allowed to touch Prince Frederik and Prince Nikolaos. I liked Prince Frederik best because he was so smooth. Prince Nikolaos had a lot of hair and that really wasn’t my type.’

Despite this light, first-night groping, Mary goes to great lengths to assure the media the affair was a slow burn. She says there was no ‘bang’ of love at first sight (an interesting choice of word), though she did find Fred charming, easy to chat to and funny. ‘Frederik and I started to talk and we simply didn’t stop talking’, she says. ‘And that was that. A very long talk …’ No broom cupboards or backs of farm vehicles, there. Though she does concede she found the prince remarkable: ‘I felt that right from the beginning. Not because he was crown prince, but because he is the person he is.’

Frederik has been far more enthusiastic about this first meeting. He says he was overwhelmed by Mary’s radiance from the moment they met, and ‘blinded and totally dependent on it’ ever since. Though he is a little hazy about details. Pressed about exactly what he saw in Mary, he struggles to answer because the evening was ‘a bit blurry’: ‘Seen from my perspective, but I think it also goes for the inhabitants of Sydney, the whole thing was bubbling of expectations, of excitement. And suddenly you’re just put in together with a group of locals that you don’t know but who are in for a good time as well. And so … We had a sort of handshake around. "Hello, my name is …" And we sat differently at a table and it wasn’t until later in that evening that we actually started talking.’

Mary’s old school friend, Peter, suspects Pingo found Mary exotic. ‘I think he was used to girls falling all over themselves to have relationships with him, and that Mary was undaunted by the fact that he was a prince’, he says. ‘I don’t think she would have thought about how special this guy was in the big scheme of things. I suspect they would have talked about horses and money and real estate and things like that.’ Melbourne socialite Lillian Frank reckons Mary’s dark hair colour also worked in her favour. ‘All the royals are blonde in that age group’, she says. ‘She really stands out.’

After leaving The Slip Inn, the Royals ‘R’ Us gang headed off to what was then the Star Bar on top of the Imax Theatre in Darling Harbour for more drinking, dancing and body hair comparisons. According to The Daily Telegraph, the bar opened specially for Fred and his entourage. The paper quotes the then-operator of the venue, Gavan Evans, saying: ‘It was a quiet night. But they had a bloody great time.’ Gavan watched the group drinking champagne and grooving to the beats of Sydney house music DJ Scott Pullen, noting they were unstoppable on the dance floor.

After the Star Bar, the party of 12 walked down George Street to another trendy city drinking hole, the Establishment. By this time, Beatrice noticed Mary and Frederik were standing very close together, deep in conversation. ‘Their body language was very open’, she says. ‘But we were all having fun and talking. Nobody could have predicted all this would happen.’ (The next day, she rang Andrew to deconstruct the night before and concluded there was definitely something going on between Mary and Frederik.)

At 3.30am, New Idea has Mary suggesting to Frederik and Bruno that they head off to another bar in Oxford Street. And here, the trail goes cold.

Given the huge amount of hysteria and gossip about Kanga and Pingo’s romance, it’s intriguing there hasn’t been more speculation about whether they got it on the night they met. It’s none of our business, but when has that stopped us from wondering? Despite feminism, Sex and the City and this being the 21st century, many women still experience high anxiety about when it’s OK to put out. As a role model for countless numbers of young sheilas, Mary’s position on this matter would be most interesting.

‘Pre-marital sex in general is not really a big deal any more, but picking up roots in bars is still very stigmatised, for women at least’, says Kath Albury, a media researcher at the University of Sydney and the author of Yes Means Yes: Getting Explicit About Heterosex. ‘Men still do divide chicks into [sexual playthings and potential wives]. Not all of them, of course, but a sizable amount.’ Her bet is that Mary and Fred didn’t do it.

Catharine Lumby, an associate professor of media studies at the University of Sydney and the author of Bad Girls and Gotcha, says many women feign ambivalence about sex because they’re afraid men think girls who jump into bed on the first date are sluts. ‘Amazingly there’s plenty of evidence that plenty of men still think this way’, she says. ‘If Frederik is one of them I sincerely hope Mary discovers her inner lesbian soon.’ Catharine suspects the media has been squeamish about poring over the sexual possibilities of the night Mary and Frederik met because the couple don’t exude sexuality: ‘They both seem so nice and respectable. Do we really want to picture them having sex? Whereas Michael Hutchence and Kylie Minogue “ now there’s a couple whose sex life interested the masses.’

As with so many of the juiciest When Mary Met Frederik details, it’s unlikely anyone will ever know how far things went that night. Was there a meaningful look? Dirty dancing? A goodnight pash? The palace isn’t about to comment any time soon.

Mary, however, has confirmed there was an exchange of digits. Asked whether there was a moment when something clicked or went boom, she says: ‘Well, there was enough of a click that I gave Frederik my telephone number and he rang me the next day. So you could say something clicked. It wasn’t the fireworks in the sky or anything like that but there was a sense of excitement.’

Frederik agrees. ‘There was definitely that sense that I’ve met somebody special that was definitely worth another call’, he says. ‘At least one call.’ In the extreme sport of the modern mating game, this one call was a big deal and Mary knew it.

As she puts it: ‘I got to the second round.’


This is an edited extract from Something About Mary: from girl about town to Crown Princess by Emma Tom. Published by Pluto Press

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.