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Exiled Balkan monarchs

It was the attempts of the exiled kings, or heirs to the throne, of Albania, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania to return to their countries that first gave me the idea for my novel Quixotic Ambitions. Indeed, although the self-styled King Leka of Albania in no way resembles Katy Brennan, his situation was similar to hers in that he took part in a referendum for the restoration of the monarchy but only achieved 30% of the vote.

Leka I Zogu was the son of Zog, a tribal chieftain who seized power in 1924 and crowned himself King of Albania in 1928. When Mussolini occupied the country in 1939, King Zog and his Hungarian aristocrat wife, Queen Geraldine, had to escape, taking with them their baby son, Leka, who was only two days old. The family lived at the Ritz Hotel in London during the Second World War and afterwards in Egypt, Switzerland and France. Leka was sent to the military academy at Sandhurst and afterwards studied Economics and Political Science at the Sorbonne in Paris. On Zog's death in 1961 Leka was formally proclaimed King of Albania in a ceremony at the Hotel Bristol in Paris. He moved to Spain where he became a commodities broker in Madrid until in 1979 it was discovered that he had a large stock of arms in his house and he was asked to leave. With his Australian wife, he went to Rhodesia and when he was thrown out by Robert Mugabe he settled in South Africa. In 1993 Leka made one unsuccessful attempt to return to Albania but in 1997 he returned a second time and a referendum was held for the re-establishment of the monarchy. However, only 30% of the population voted in favour. Brandishing a submachine gun and a pistol, Leka led a crowd of protesters outside the main election building claiming that the results had been manipulated. There was a shootout with the police in which several people were wounded and one was killed. Leka fled the country in a private jet and was sentenced in absentia by a Tirana court to three years in prison. In 2002 he was pardoned by the Albanian President and allowed to return to Albania where he lived quietly until his death of a heart attack at the age of 72 in 2011.

Crown Prince Alexander Karadjordjevic II of Serbia was born in 1945 in Claridge's Hotel, London, and is the son of King Peter II who fled when the Nazis invaded Yugoslavia in 1941. A former British soldier and a businessman, he travelled widely before returning to Serbia in 2001. He has lived there ever since in the Royal Palace in Belgrade and has lobbied for the restoration of a constitutional monarchy. However, he accepts that Serbia must become fully democratic before it is ready for a King and he is known for his democratic views and tolerance and his emphasis on human rights. He and his wife, Crown Princess Katherine, are actively engaged in humanitarian work.

Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha became Simeon II, Tsar of Bulgaria, in 1943 on the mysterious death of his father, Tsar Boris III, who had just returned from a visit to Hitler. As Simeon was only 6 years old, a regency ruled on his behalf but in 1944 the Soviet Army invaded Bulgaria and the three regents were executed and replaced by Communists. In 1946 the monarchy was abolished after a referendum which was probably rigged and the royal family was exiled. They settled in Spain where Simeon II studied law and business administration and became a businessman. He married a Spanish aristocrat and they have 5 children. When Communism collapsed, Simeon II was given a Bulgarian passport and his royal estates were restored to him. In 2001 he returned to the country and formed a political party, the National Movement Simeon II (NSMII) dedicated to 'reforms and political integrity' and it won a landslide victory in the election held that year. Simeon II became Prime Minister, took an oath to protect the country's republican constitution and called himself simply Simeon Saxe-Coburgotsky. His government initiated a number of much needed reforms but in the 2005 election the NSMII only came second and participated in a coalition led by the Bulgarian Socialist Party. In the 2009 election the NSMII only got 3.01% of the vote and Simeon II resigned as its leader.

Michael I, King of the Romanians, was born in 1921 and reigned briefly from 1927 to 1930 because his father, Carol II, had 'temporarily' renounced his rights to the throne and eloped with his mistress, Magda Lupescu. However, in 1930 Carol returned and was proclaimed king. He reigned until 1940 when the Fascist Prime Minister, Ion Antonescu, said that Carol was anti-German and reinstalled the 18 year-old Michael as King. In 1944 the Soviet Army occupied Romania and Michael joined the Allies and the Communists in staging a coup against Antonescu who was arrested and sentenced to death. Michael remained King until December1947 in the hands of a Communist government but was then forced to abdicate. The monarchy was abolished and he settled in Switzerland and became a commercial pilot, working for an aircraft equipment company. He married Princess Anne of Bourbon-Parma and they have five daughters. After the collapse of Communism his Romanian citizenship was restored to him and he now lives partly in Switzerland and partly in Romania where he has become a very popular and trusted figure. In October 2012, to celebrate his 91st birthday, a square in Bucharest was renamed after him.

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