It started with a discussion about chest hair. Twenty-three years later, in what has been called a “real-life fairytale”, Mary Donaldson, a former real estate manager from Tasmania, is poised to become the queen of Denmark.
Her unconventional journey from Australia’s middle class to European royalty began in an unremarkable bar in Sydney in 2000. At the Slip Inn that night, amid Olympic fever, two young women met a group of young men.
A report from the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper described the group as Prince Frederik of Denmark, his cousin, Prince Nikolaos of Greece, his brother, Prince Joachim, and Princess Martha of Norway.
It quoted a friend of Mary’s, Beatrice Tarnawski, who said: “All the girls around the table were discussing what is best – the man with a hairy chest or a man without hair and 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.”
Mary, then 28, apparently had no idea who she was talking to.
“The first time we met, we shook hands and I didn’t know he was the crown prince of Denmark. An hour or so later someone came up to me and said, ‘Do you know who these people are?’” she said in 2003.
“From the very first moment that we started talking, we never really stopped talking,” she told Australia’s 60 Minutes. “[Due to] our geographical distance, everything was through words, so we really established a strong relationship to begin with.”
Born in Hobart in 1972 to Scottish parents, Mary’s father was a mathematics professor and her mother an executive assistant at the University of Tasmania. The youngest of four, she went to local schools and later studied commerce and law in Tasmania. She moved to Melbourne and Sydney to work in advertising and then worked in real estate, not long before the unlikely meeting in a pub changed everything.
After meeting at the Slip Inn, the pair began a secret, long-distance romance. Frederik travelled to Australia several times over the next year. Then in 2001, a Danish royal magazine Billed Bladet followed the prince to Sydney to find out about his “secret Australian girlfriend”. According to the ABC, the magazine broke the news that it was Mary, a “pretty, outgoing, gifted and perhaps future crown princess”.
Frederik soon invited her to move to Copenhagen. Ahead of the move, she hired a style consultant, to begin her transformation from commoner to future queen. The couple became officially engaged on 8 October 2003.
Denmark’s Queen Margrethe, whose surprise abdication has opened the way for Frederik to take the throne this month, had advised Mary to learn Danish ahead of their marriage in 2004. At the time, Australia media was awash with the story of a real-life fairytale princess. The Slip Inn screened the wedding, offering free Carlsberg to anyone with a Danish passport.
The prince and princess have four children. Alongside motherhood, the 51-year-old has taken on humanitarian work on a number of causes including women’s and LGBTQ+ rights.
“I’ve always had a strong sense of justice: that everyone should have the same opportunities, no matter where you come from,” she told the Financial Times in 2022.
The crown princess’s own mother, Henrietta, died in 1997, before she met her future husband.
“I’m sure she would be very happy to see me where I am, not only happy in my family life and as a mother, but also to see that I’ve used my new situation and the resources and skills I have to form a platform to make a difference where I can,” the crown princess told the Australian Women’s Weekly in 2013.
“And I think she’s probably smiling.”