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Thai TV pool via Reuters
King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida at their wedding ceremony.
FROM ROYAL GUARD TO QUEEN

Photos: A surprise wedding precedes Thai king’s coronation

By Mary Hui

This weekend’s coronation of king Maha Vajiralongkorn, Thailand’s first in almost seven decades, is an elaborate, 1 billion baht ($31 million) undertaking that will span three days, beginning May 4.

But on Wednesday (May 1), just days before the 66-year-old Vajiralongkorn formally ascends the throne, he made a surprise announcement: he has married the deputy head of his personal guard force, Suthida Vajiralongkorn Na Ayudhya, and gave her the title Queen Suthida.

Vajiralongkorn, also known by his title King Rama X, assumed the role of constitutional monarch after his father, king Bhumibol Adulyadej, passed away in October 2016. That was followed by a year of mourning and elaborate funeral ceremonies a year later. The formal coronation was delayed until after a suitable period of mourning.

Suthida, a former flight attendant for Thai Airways, joined the palace guard in 2013, and in 2014 Vajiralongkorn appointed her deputy commander of his bodyguard unit. He also made her a full general in the Royal Thai Army in December 2016, and the deputy commander of his personal guard in 2017.

Through it all, rumors swirled that the two were romantically involved. She had been seen, for example, in royal footage accompanying the king at royal rites, and also played a prominent role in the 2017 funeral ceremonies. but the royal palace never acknowledged a relationship between them—until an official statement (link in Thai) on Wednesday (May 1) announcing their marriage.

It is unclear whether the presence of a new queen will require changing the arrangements of the coronation ceremony. A large-scale dress rehearsal of the royal procession, which will take place the day after the coronation, took place this past weekend.

Roads near the Grand Palace in the old quarter of Bangkok were closed for much of Sunday (April 28), as military officers in colorful hats carried a gilded palanquin, on which king Vajiralongkorn will be elevated. A band kept the beat with a flourish of trumpets and drums, while soldiers carrying embroidered tiered umbrellas marched in lockstep—a taste of the pomp, flair, and tradition that will be broadcast live to millions of Thais on television.

Last month, senior Thai officials collected sacred waters from more than 100 sources across 76 provinces for purification rites before Saturday’s crowning ritual.

In the days leading up to the ceremony, which will feature a mix of Buddhist religious ceremonies and Hindu Brahmin rituals, new portraits of the king, some several meters high, have been put up in every state office across the country.

Here are some photos from the wedding ceremony and this past weekend’s dress rehearsals.

Thai TV Pool/REUTERS
Queen Suthida prostrates herself before the king during the marriage ceremony.
REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
An honor guard pays respect during the rehearsal coronation procession.
REUTERS/Jorge Silva
Thai soldiers rehearsing for the coronation procession.
REUTERS/Jorge Silva
Thai soldiers along the route of the coronation procession.
REUTERS/Jorge Silva
Thai royal guards with traditional drums march during the rehearsal of the coronation procession.
REUTERS/Jorge Silva
People walk in front of a portrait of king Vajiralongkorn during a rehearsal.
Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha
A billboard shows Thai king Maha Vajiralongkorn’s regalia to be used during his three-day coronation ceremony.