IN PICS: Key moments in the life of King Juan Carlos

Spain's former king Juan Carlos, who turns 80 on January 5th, has taken a secondary role since his son Felipe 300ascended the throne in 2014, putting an end to his nearly four decades-long reign.

IN PICS: Key moments in the life of King Juan Carlos
Photos: AFP

To mark this momentous birthday, here's a look at five key moments in the life of King Juan Carlos.

1948: Moves to Spain

Born in Rome on January 5, 1938, “Juanito” spent his childhood in Italy and Switzerland. His grandfather King Alfonso XIII had fled Madrid seven years earlier and the family was kept in exile by Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, whose side won Spain's 1936-39 Civil War.

Photo taken in January 1953 shows young Prince of Asturias Juan Carlos on bike. Photo: AFP Archive

At the age of eight he was sent to a Swiss boarding school and two years later his father, Juan de Borbon, agreed to send him alone to Spain where Franco wanted to take charge of his upbringing.

Perhaps the darkest episode in Juan Carlos's life happened at 18 when he accidentally shot dead his younger brother Alfonso at the family's home in Portugal.

Photo taken on June 4, 1962 at the Vatican shows Prince Juan Carlos of Spain and his wife Princess Sofia of Greece after a private audience with Pope Saint John XXIII. Photo: AFP Archive

1975: King after Franco

Married since 1962 to Princess Sofia of Greece, Juan Carlos was named by Franco in 1969 as his successor. But the dictator, who behaved like a king, maintained tight watch over Juan Carlos and controlled key aspects of his life.   

Pictured with their children (R-L) Princess Elena, Prince Felipe and Princess Cristina in Madrid in September 1972.Photo: AFP Archive

Juan Carlos was proclaimed King of Spain on November 22, 1975, two days after the death of Franco put an end to 36 years of dictatorship.    

King Juan Carlos of Spain and Queen Sofia wave to the crowds on November 27, 1975 during the religious ceremony of his enthronement at the Jeronimo church in Madrid. Photo: AFP Archive

The following year he picked a former minister from Franco's administration, centrist Adolfo Suarez, to head the government and guide Spain's transition to democracy, upsetting Franco supporters who had hoped he would continue in the dictator's footsteps.

Suarez swiftly legalised the Communist Party of Spain that was so hated by Franco and issued an amnesty for political crimes.   

After Spain in 1977 held its first democratic elections in four decades, Juan Carlos was hailed as the king of a new democratic country. 

1981: Quells a coup

Army leader Lieutenant Colonel Tejero burst into the Spanish parliament on February 23, 1981, brandishing a pistol as his followers fired over the heads of terrified lawmakers in an attempted coup carried out “in the name of the king”.


King Juan Carlos was instrumental in ending the rebellion by announcing on national TV that such action would not be tolerated.    
King Juan Carlos addressing the nation in a televised broadcast. Archive photo

The king, then aged 43, remained in contact throughout the night with army officers to ensure the coup ended. Realising they had little support, the rebels finally surrendered and let go their captives.

2012: Africa hunt apology


@WWF elimina el cargo de presidente honorífico del Rey por 226 votos a favor y 13 en contra. ¡Lo tumbó el elefante!

— Rafael Trujillo (@SI_legman) July 21, 2012


In April 2012, the monarch at 74 fell and broke his hip during a private hunting trip to Botswana he took with a divorced German aristocrat, with whom he was reportedly having an affair.

The luxury trip — paid for by a close friend of the future king of Saudi Arabia — sparked outrage in recession-hit Spain and the king issued an unprecedented apology.

“I am very sorry. I made a mistake and it won't happen again. Thank you for your interest,” he said during his televised departure from a Madrid hospital.    

The Spanish royal family had long been sheltered from news media and public criticism, but after the incident the press began to question the king's alleged romantic ties, the source of his fortune and his close ties to Gulf monarchies.

2014: Abdication

King Felipe VI (C) hugging his father former King Juan Carlos as Spanish Princess Sofia waves on the balcony of the Palacio de Oriente or Royal Palace in Madrid on June 19, 2014 following a swearing in ceremony of Spain's new King. Photo: AFP

.In June 2014 the 76-year-old king tearfully signed the bill on his abdication in favour of his son Felipe, aged 46.    

Juan Carlos maintains the honorific title of king and in 2014 parliament awarded him legal immunity.

READ MORE: King Juan Carlos to stage comeback for birthday celebrations


‘Alone and bored’: A year after exile, legal woes haunt Spain’s ex-king

A year after Spain's former King Juan Carlos went into self-imposed exile in the face of mounting questions over his finances, he remains under a cloud of suspicion that complicates his return home.

'Alone and bored': A year after exile, legal woes haunt Spain's ex-king
Juan Carlos I's close ties with Gulf leaders have allowed him to live in opulent exile in Abu Dhabi for a year. Photo: KARIM SAHIB / AFP

He announced on August 3, 2020 he was moving abroad to prevent his personal affairs from undermining his son King Felipe VI’s reign and sullying the monarchy.

But his choice of new home — the United Arab Emirates, where some of his business affairs triggered the scandals that tainted his reputation in the first place — only raised Spaniards’ eyebrows further.

Juan Carlos has told his son that he would like to return to Spain “but he won’t come back without the approval” of the royal household, said Jose Apezarena, the author of several books on Felipe.

And the position of the royals is that “until his legal problems end, he should not return”, Apezarena told AFP.

The 83-year-old former king is the target of three separate investigations over his financial dealings, including those linked to a high-speed rail contract in Saudi Arabia that was awarded to a Spanish consortium.

Prosecutors in Spain and Switzerland are looking into suspicions he received kickbacks for facilitating the deal.

The suspicions centre on $100 million (€85 million) that Saudi Arabia’s late King Abdullah allegedly deposited in 2008 into a Swiss bank account to which Juan Carlos had access.

The other two investigations concern the alleged existence of a trust fund in Jersey linked to Juan Carlos and the undeclared use of credit cards linked to accounts not registered in his name, a possible money-laundering offence.

‘Very bored’

Spanish monarchs have immunity during their reign but Juan Carlos abdicated in 2014 following a series of health problems and embarrassing revelations about his personal life, leaving himself vulnerable to prosecution.

While he has not been charged with any crime, the probes have tainted his reputation as a leader of Spain’s democratic transition following the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.

Outside of the Royal Palace in central Madrid, opinions were divided.

“He is being judged without any evidence, he should be able to come home if that’s what he wants,” said Pura Fernandez, 46, a bank worker.

But delivery rider Angel Galan, 27, was less sympathetic.

“He may have done some great things for Spain but if he committed irregularities I am not sad that he is gone,” he said.

While in exile, Juan Carlos has twice settled tax debts with Spanish authorities for a total of more than €5 million.

But he has otherwise kept a low profile at the villa on the island of Nurai off the coast of Abu Dhabi where he now lives.

“He is alone and very bored,” said Apezarena.


‘Not normal’

When reports emerged in February that Juan Carlos was in poor heath, the former monarch told online Spanish daily OKDiario he was “well, exercising two hours daily” in his only comments to the media since moving abroad.

Abel Hernández, a journalist and expert on the monarchy, said he believes Juan Carlos will return to Spain by the end of the year.

“He has not been charged with anything and has regularised his situation with the tax office. It does not seem normal that he remains outside of the country,” Hernández told AFP.

The scandals swirling around Juan Carlos have provided ammunition for those wanting to abolish the monarchy.

The far-left party Podemos, which is the junior partner in Spain’s coalition government, has called for a parliamentary investigation into Juan Carlos’s wealth.

Felipe, meanwhile, has sought to distance himself from his father.

Last year the king renounced his inheritance from Juan Carlos, and stripped the ex-monarch of his palace allowance after new details of his allegedly shady dealings emerged.

Polls show support for the monarchy has inched up since Juan Carlos moved abroad although a survey published Sunday in conservative daily La Razon found 42.9 percent of Spaniards feel Juan Carlos’s legal woes were hurting Felipe’s reign.