12 December, 2011
Interview with HRH Crown Princess Katherine
Humanity is the meaning of my life
Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Katherine is overwhelming at first sight with her charm, kindness and honest smile, which is her distinctive sign. As a very hospitable and communicative person, this elegant lady was born in Athens, and now she speaks with special emotions about her ten year humanitarian work, which is the meaning of her life.
She was studying business in the United Sates, and in 2007 she was awarded with the special title of Honorary Doctor of Science by Sheffield University in the United Kingdom.
The Princess met her husband, HRH Crown Prince Alexander, in 1984 in Washington DC, and they married one year later in London. She has two children from her previous marriage, David and Alison, while Princes Peter, Philip and Alexander she raised as like own children. The Princess is also very close to her five grandchildren Alexander, Amanda, Stephanie, Nicholas and Michael, with whom she likes to spend an interesting time together, frequently visiting them abroad.
- I feel very privileged I have the opportunity to help the country of my husband, which is my country as well. There is no bigger happiness than helping the ones who need help the most. My mother Ana taught me this, and nothing inspires me as much as helping others. - stated Princess Katherine at the beginning of a sincere conversation for Hello Magazine. She explained she leads the Foundation which carries her name, and that she is a patron other Foundations such as “Lifeline”, "SOS – Appeal for life“ and "United Orthodox Aid“.
In which countries have you organised your humanitarian missions so far?
- I want to emphasize that my humanitarian offices exist in Toronto, New York, Athens, Chicago, London and Belgrade. So there we had the most of our activities. In Canada we have less activity than we wanted, but our work in other countries is very productive. Also we organise activities in countries and cities where there none of our offices, such as Paris. I would like to extend the work of my humanitarian organisation to Australia and Germany. It is very important for me to provide help for the Serbian people from the Serbs in Diaspora. But sometimes they are not able to help us so much because they are already helping their families which remain and live in Serbia. That is why lobbying, which is not too developed in Serbia, is basically our greatest preoccupation at this moment. No one can expect help when donors do not know the situation of the people they are trying to help.
What are your favorite humanitarian activities?
- I need to have a project so I could do my humanitarian work. I have to know what the priority is at that moment. I have a Royal Medical Board, formed by prominent doctors from lots of medical areas. They suggest to me in which area should help. I want to be fair to everyone, because Serbia is not only Belgrade. There are villages and towns that have their own needs.
One of the projects I was preoccupied the most with at this moment is building kindergartens. We have a very difficult situation here. Mothers have to work a lot, but they cannot do it because they do not have a place where they can leave their children. The Government gives us the location and infrastructure, and my Foundation built kindergartens, with capacity for more than a hundred children. Also we are very focused on breast cancer and lung cancer, as well as the heart diseases. One of the bigger assignments that our organisation has is sending Serbian doctors abroad for further education — to learn something new and keep up with world standards. We are very active in that and we also plan conferences for the New Year. One will gather doctors from the Diaspora, from the whole world and we will have support of the Ministry of Health.
The second important conference will be regarding breast and lung cancer. The goal will be to raise awareness about this problem. My husband and I visited all the hospitals in the country. We donated necessary equipment, helped the training of doctors from various specialties which is an important part of our work. It is also very important to improve the situation in the country for people with disabilities, because helping everyone and anyone who is threatened in any way is our priority. Now we are trying to provide cars for our hospitals in that are very important in helping the ill and the old, as well as transporting patients to the hospitals.
For your birthday, which was in November, your husband gave you a trip to Asia. What memories will you carry from that trip?
- It was a very difficult journey for me since it was the first birthday I spent without my parents, my mother Ana and father Robert. I never knew how it was to spend a birthday without them and their best wishes. It was painful, but my husband tried very much to distract me from those thoughts so he took me to interesting and amazing places. I saw many beautiful places, but also saw poverty. The amazing journey was mixed with tears for my parents who passed away last year. My advice to those who have parents is to try and spend as much time as possible with them because one day they will no longer be here. I am very thankful to my parents and for all they taught me.
How often do you see your grandchildren from your two children, David and Alison?
- I have to correct you; I have five children, because my husband’s sons I consider my children, too. I feel so because Peter was only three and a half years old when he came to live with us. Philip and Alexander were eighteen months old, still wearing diapers, and I helped raised them. That is the most difficult task in life — to raise children. I have five children and five grandchildren. I would like to see them more often, but my obligations don’t allow it. I feel like being a mother for the whole country. I cannot visit them frequently because they are far away. My grandson Nicholas graduated in Connecticut, as well as Stephanie and Amanda before that. Amanda got a scholarship for Masters Studies. Michael has two more years to graduate, while Alexander, who is only three, lives in Greece. I do not see them as much as I would like to, but they respect my obligations towards my country.
You lived in many places all over the world. Can you compare living in these places?
- Each period of my living somewhere was for a purpose. For example, Alexander and I spent many years in England, when the three boys were very young. I was very devoted to them, and I am very proud that I brought them up the right way, and that they have become so successful and decent young men. It is not a country that make your life different, but love you give and receive.
What are your husband’s characteristics that you appreciate the most, and do you mark each wedding anniversary?
- I respect the most his honesty, persistence, and his great love for his family and his country. He is a very devoted person. My ultimate desire is that the Serbian people get to know the real him. I am proud that he brought democracy here. I respect him as a person, and love him as a husband. He is my King, as well. We try to make special our wedding anniversaries. I always pray and thank God to have a husband who loves me and takes care of me. I am blessed with wonderful family more than I could dream of. He is very gentle and takes care of my needs, and I adore him. I could not imagine anyone better than him near me.
You came from a philanthropic family. What was your parents influence in you becoming a prominent humanitarian activist?
- My father was eighty-four when he was awarded by the Greek government as one of biggest philanthropists in that nation, and my mother was also great humanitarian. My family felt that helping others was as necessary as oxygen. We cannot live without that, it is our purpose in life. We help ourselves with one hand, and help others with the other.
What is a Home for you today?
- My home today is Serbia. We are very happy in our home, and we look with happiness over last ten years of our life here. My husband wasn’t fulfilled until he came to Serbia. He was borne to be with his people. Now I have the whole man with me, thanks to coming to the capital of Serbia. Our home is where our people are. My husband always dreamt of living with his people. By coming here, my husband fulfilled his father’s wish, to be with the Serbian people. My husband promised him to put him at rest here, when he comes back to live with his people.
Where in Belgrade do you like to take your foreign friends when they come to visit you?
- In Knez Mihailova Street, and Saint Sava Temple, because my husband gave a donation for reconstruction…
We love Oplenac, because my husband’s family is connected with that place. We love the Republic Square and the rivers. We enjoy all cities’ parks.
I would like to realise plans connected to the city: to build a children’s museum, new concert hall, and to help our Zoo. I inquired in Asia recently how to get an elephant for our Zoo, so that we could have a couple, a male and a female, and possibly little ones. At the moment we unfortunately have just one elephant in our Zoo. Our children went through such destructive times in the past; it is time to show them nice things in life. Christmas is coming, and the 4th of January is approaching and it is the day we will welcome 1200 orphans. It is hard to gather toys and clothes, and Greece, as you know, is no longer able to donate help as it was. Now I call companies and ask for help for our orphans and I am doing really well.
You speak Greek, English and French and some Spanish. You were learning Serbian, have you learnt it?
- I do not speak Serbian well because I have no time to study it. What is more important for me is the deed not the words in the language. I ask people to forgive me for not knowing the language as much as I should. I think that the love I carry in my heart is more important. I speak the language of love. I hope that I will focus on learning and the lessons of Serbian.
You like skiing. What are your favorite winter destinations?
- I love Switzerland to which I am connected with great childhood memories because I used to ski there. I was in school in the same time my husband was in that country but it wasn't meant for us to meet then. I believe in destiny, that there is a right time for everything. My husband was skiing champion as well as diving instructor. He was very committed to sport, more than people know. Now we have less time for all of that.
Do you enjoy cooking?
- Yes I love to cook. Serbian and Greek food are similar in preparations. Still my husband is better cook than me. He has a 'Serbian' touch in preparing the specialties. We do not have as much time for that as we'd like. For now we have to put our culinary skills aside. There was a lot of sacrificing from our part when we came to Serbia. When we came in the nineties there was a war going on. We spent years travelling to Bosnia to help people. My husband then said if we were ever going to live in Serbia, he would be so glad because he was here when he was needed the most. That commitment is a great sacrifice because you have to leave aside the interests you had until then.
What are your wishes for the future?
- My wish is to see my husband as King, because he was born for that. When his father passed away, he said that he would be the King when he could become one to his country, for his people. It wasn't his wish to become that while he was living abroad. He deserves to be the one. He is a person who this country needs for unity. Politicians come and go, but the king stays. As a father who he never stops to be, my husband also never stopped being a father for his nation. That unifying factor, which does not belong to any political party, is what this country needs. It is also his wish. It would have a positive effect on our sons, because they feel how much he is trying to bring prosperity and stability to this country and do not understand why he is not it that position already.