Felipe de Borbon, a Modern Prince for 21st Century Spain

Felipe de Borbon, a Modern Prince for 21st Century Spain

A file photo taken on December 27, 2011 shows Spanish Prince Felipe of Borbon (L) and Spanish King Juan Carlos adjusting their ties during the first Parliament session with the new right-wing majority government in Madrid

Madrid:  Spain's Crown Prince Felipe de Borbon, a tall former Olympic yachtsman, will take the throne largely unscathed by scandals that have battered the royal family.

Frequently smiling but more reserved than his father, the 1.98-metre (six foot six inch) Felipe, 46, had long suffered from comparisons with the easygoing Juan Carlos, who played a historic role in Spain's post-dictatorship transition.

His father Juan Carlos decided Monday to abdicate in favour of Felipe after nearly 40 years on the throne, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said.

Juan Carlos's image took a blow after he took a luxury elephant-hunting safari to Botswana in April 2012 as his subjects struggled in a recession, with one in four people unemployed.

Further damaging the royal family's standing, a judge opened a corruption investigation in 2010 centred on Inaki Urdangarin, husband of the prince's sister Cristina, who has also been linked to the affair.

At the same time, Felipe's approval rating has risen.

"The king's image has suffered some deterioration while Felipe's standing has consolidated as that of someone who is well prepared, who can take the reins of state at any time," said constitutional law expert Antonio Torres del Moral of UNED university.

The number of people wanting the king to abdicate in favour of Felipe surged by 17 per cent over 2013 to 62 per cent, according to the study by pollster Sigma Dos carried out in late December 2013.

Sixty-six perc ent had a positive view of the prince and 56 per cent thought he could improve the royals' image if he took over.

General support for the monarchy as an institution, however, fell below half to 49.9 percent, according to the poll, published in daily newspaper El Mundo.

'The country's servant'

Felipe was schooled for his future role as monarch in the three branches of the armed forces and during studies abroad, and he comes across as a solid, studious personality.

"His goal, his only goal, is to serve Spain. It has been deeply ingrained in him that he must be the country's main servant," his mother Queen Sofia once said.

His mission is to guarantee the continuation of the monarchy, which was restored in 1975 on the death of dictator General Francisco Franco.

Once considered Europe's most eligible bachelor, Felipe wed former television presenter Letizia Ortiz in a glittering ceremony in Madrid's Almudena Cathedral in 2004 after several previous romantic dalliances, including one with a Norwegian lingerie model.

Ortiz, a 41-year-old divorcee, was the first commoner to come in line for the Spanish throne.

The couple have two blond daughters - Leonor, born in October 2005 and Sofia, born in April 2007.

The family's lifestyle has at times appeared relatively modest for a pair of royals, with Felipe and his wife spotted at movie theatres in the centre of Madrid or in shopping malls.

Born in Madrid on January 30, 1968, he is the only son of Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia.

He has two older sisters, Elena and Cristina, but under the 1978 constitution Felipe enjoys direct right of ascendency to the crown as the sole male heir.

In 1977, when he was nine years old, he was named Prince of Asturias, the title given to the heir to the Spanish throne.

His father kept him at his side on the night of February 23, 1981 when soldiers seized parliament, firing shots over the heads of lawmakers, in a bid to establish another military regime.

Juan Carlos appeared on live television in full military regalia and ordered the coup plotters back to their barracks, a move that cemented his image as the guarantor of Spain's young democracy.

"I wanted him to see what one has to do when one is king," Juan Carlos explained later, referring to his son.

Juan Carlos called Felipe "the best prepared Prince of Asturias in Spanish history" during a televised interview in January 2013.

Felipe completed one year of studies in Canada prior to three years' military training at the academies of Spain's army, navy and air force, when he learned to fly a helicopter.

After his military training, Felipe studied for a law degree at the Autonomous University of Madrid before following a two-year master's programme in international relations at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

Like his father, he is also keen sailor and appeared in Spain's Olympic squad at the 1992 Games in Barcelona, carrying the country's team flag.

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