After the 50th anniversary of King Carl XVI. Gustaf (77) and Prince Daniel’s 50th birthday, there is another day of honor in the Swedish royal family one day before Christmas: Queen Silvia is turning 80 today, December 23rd. As a bourgeois foreigner, she managed to become a well-respected queen and take on a strong role within the monarchy. Her recipe for success: She brought with her a sense of family and organizational talent and found fulfillment, among other things, in tackling difficult social issues.

It was anything but foreseeable when she was born on December 23, 1943 that she would one day become Queen of Sweden. Silvia Renate Sommerlath was born in Heidelberg as the fourth child of the businessman Walther Sommerlath (1901-1990) and his Brazilian wife Alice Soares de Toledo (1906-1997). But already in her childhood she had experiences that would later benefit her as queen. She had three older brothers and therefore had to learn early on to assert herself: “Because I was the youngest, I always had to fight to get attention, to get people to see and hear me,” said the queen once the Swedish newspaper “Aftonbladet”.

She was further influenced by her childhood in Brazil. Because when she was four years old, the family moved from Heidelberg to São Paulo. Silvia grew up there for ten years. Although she had a happy childhood, she experienced a lot of misery in the city. These impressions of poor, begging people were an initial motivation to later work for charitable causes.

When Silvia was 14 years old, she went back to Germany. She completed her high school diploma at the Luisen-Gymnasium in Düsseldorf and then trained as an interpreter in Munich. She has a talent for languages, speaks six languages ​​fluently and is also proficient in Swedish sign language. After completing her training, she initially worked in the Argentine consulate in Munich. At the Olympic Games in Munich in 1972, she served as head hostess – and met a very special man.

Because among the people she looked after was the then Swedish Crown Prince. An encounter that would change her life completely. The unlikely couple fell in love – contrary to all the conventions of the time. She was three years older, a commoner and not Swedish, so she wasn’t actually the perfect candidate. That’s why the two kept their relationship secret at first. Only after Carl Gustaf became king in 1973 was he allowed to marry a non-noble woman.

With her wedding on June 19, 1976 in Storkyrka in Stockholm, Silvia Sommerlath became the Swedish queen and thus took on a role in the public eye. She has been Sweden’s longest-reigning queen since 2011. And Silvia knew how to fulfill her role and win the hearts of the Swedish people. With her friendly, charming nature, but also with her commitment to family and charity.

During the first years of marriage, Silvia focused on her growing family: Crown Princess Victoria (46) was born in 1977, followed by Prince Carl Philip (44) in 1979, and Princess Madeleine (41) in 1982. The royals became the country’s model family and regularly appeared at Christmas, for example, baking together or in the snow.

It was important to Silvia that her children grow up as normally as possible despite the royal status, which is why she broke with many traditions at court. The royal children attended public schools. She also never made any secret about her problems – for example, she was open about Victoria and Carl Philip’s reading and spelling difficulties and also spoke about her eldest daughter’s anorexia.

Her decision to take the young Crown Princess out of the focus and pressure of the public and send her to America may have even saved the future of the monarchy: Victoria returned healthy and happy and now has the best conditions to take on the demanding task to take over her father’s office at some point.

As a family person, Silvia now particularly enjoys her eight grandchildren. “The grandchildren are the dessert in life that you can’t help but enjoy,” she said, trying to spend as much time with them as possible. She likes to pick up the little ones from school, for example. And just a few days before her birthday, the queen was seen decorating a tree with her grandchildren.

Silvia interpreted her role as the king’s wife by supporting her husband. Although the public’s eyes were usually on her when she performed, she never stole the king’s show. Even during the Carl Gustaf scandal after the publication of the book “The Reluctant Monarch” (2010), she officially kept her composure and thus probably prevented the royal family from coming into serious danger. “I don’t regret marrying him – marrying the person I love,” she emphasized, keeping quiet about his alleged wild past.

But she also managed to develop her own profile and get involved in projects that are important to her. Silvia brought topics to the fore that had previously received little attention among royals. In 1999 she founded the “World Childhood Foundation”, which is primarily committed to protecting children from sexual abuse. In 2019 she opened the “Childhood House” in her hometown of Heidelberg, where abused children are cared for.

She is also dedicated to the topic of dementia: after her mother fell ill with it, she founded the “Silviahemmet” (German “Silvia’s House”) foundation in 1996. She is internationally valued as an expert on these topics and is happy to be heard. She is also the patron of more than 60 organizations and has received several awards for her commitment.

As one of the most recent honors, she received honorary citizenship in her hometown in May 2023. The mayor of Heidelberg, Eckart Würzner, praised her as a “great ambassador for the city and the region.” In June, Silvia also received an honorary doctorate from Stirling University in Scotland for her decades of work for people with dementia.

By the way, there is no big party planned for her big birthday. As in the past, the Queen will probably enjoy her special day in the private circle of her family. And she’s probably looking forward to next year, when Madeleine and her family will finally move from Florida to Sweden again. Then all their loved ones are reunited.

On the occasion of the day of honor, the SWR is showing the documentary “Silvia – Born to Be a Queen” by Leontine von Schmettow (on December 25th, 8:15 p.m.). The documentary “Silvia. Sweden’s German Queen” by Julia Melchior can also be seen in the ZDF media library.