Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn: Who is Thailand's heir apparent?

The Crown Prince has courted controversy and does not enjoy his late father's popularity

Thai Prince
(Image credit: Chumsak Kanoknan/Getty)

Following the death of Thailand's much-loved King Bhumibol Adulyadej yesterday, the country's prime minister has officially confirmed his government will recommend the monarch's only son, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, ascends the throne.

It is a role that has been a long time in coming. Vajiralongkorn, 64, was named crown prince by his father in 1972, at the age of 20.

The Thai public accept that his ascension is inevitable, but the Crown Prince has courted controversy over his life and does not attract the same level of adulation as his late father.

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He has also requested a delay to the crowning process, saying he "needs time to prepare before being claimed as the new king".

So while we wait, here are five things you might not know about the future king.

He is a qualified military pilot

In the early 1970s, Vajiralongkorn graduated from the Royal Military College in Duntroon, Australia, and is a qualified military jet and helicopter pilot, having trained with the UK, US and Australian armed forces.

Nor is his status as an officer of the Thai military merely ceremonial. The Prince took an active part in military operations against the Communist Party of Thailand during the 1970s, also leading combat operations against a Vietnamese military incursion across the border from Cambodia," reports the Sydney Morning Herald.

His name took a month to compose

Despite most people knowing him as Maha Vajiralongkorn, the Crown Prince's full name is almost 70 words long, owing to an ancient Thai naming ceremony for certain royals, and took a religious leader around four weeks to compose.

He is officially Vajiralongkorn Borommachakkrayadisonsantatiwong Thewetthamrongsuboriban Aphikhunuprakanmahittaladunladet Phumiphonnaretwarangkun Kittisirisombunsawangkhawat Borommakhattiyaratchakuman.

He has been linked to various scandals

While Bhumibol's later life was defined by his almost total reclusiveness, the same cannot be said of Vajiralongkorn, who has been the subject of intense scrutiny and suspicion, damaging his image in the public eye.

From what The Guardian describes as “embarrassing financial transactions” through videos of his then-wife dancing naked with him to bestowing the title of "Air Chief Marshal" upon his pet poodle Foo, the Crown Prince's eccentricities have been a consistent source of concern over his inevitable ascension to the throne of the world's richest royal family.

He has been married three times

Though not as widely condemned as other activities in his private life, Vajiralongkorn's string of failed marriages has cautiously raised eyebrows in Thailand - outspoken criticism of the royal family comes with a minimum three-year stint in prison.

His longest marriage, from 1979 to 1993, was with his cousin, Princess Soamsawali Kitiyakara. However, most of the time he lived with actress Yuvadhida Polpraserth, with whom he has five children and later married.

Vajiralongkorn is currently single, having divorced his third wife, Srirasmi Suwadee, in 2014 following a major corruption scandal involving her family, who had powerful business ties. Seven of her relatives were arrested and the family was stripped of their royally bestowed name at Vajiralongkorn's request.

He is in the middle of a PR campaign to address these issues

In recent years, his father's health failing and knowing he would soon be called to the throne, the Prince has been on a PR campaign to help reverse his reputation as an ostentatious socialite.

The New York Times says he has "been shown in Thai media and YouTube videos as youthful, athletic and a doting father, a contrast to the 'Don Juan' the queen once called him".

Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej dies aged 88

13 October

King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand has died at the age of 88, ending seven decades of stability in a country that has weathered several coups and more than 20 prime ministers since his ascent to the throne in 1946.

The royal household bureau issued a statement saying the king "passed away peacefully" at Siriraj hospital in Bangkok this afternoon.

The king made few public appearances in recent years due to ill health. At the time of his death, he was the longest-reigning monarch in the world.

Despite being mostly out of the public eye, towards the end of his life the king remained a highly popular figure in the country. He "was seen as a unifying and calming influence through numerous coups and 20 constitutions," according to the BBC.

At the time of his death, Thailand was still under military rule after a coup d'etat in May 2014.

Bhumibol Adulyadej was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1927, and ascended to the throne of Thailand after the death of his older brother, King Ananda Mahidol, in 1946.

During his lengthy reign, the king received praise for halting several coup attempts, and for dedicating himself to social and economic progression in Thailand.

After being warned by the palace on Sunday that the king's health was "not stable", members of the public camped outside the hospital offering prayers for his recovery.

According to the New York Times, his only son and heir-apparent – Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn – "is seen by many as a jet-setting playboy and not held in the same regard as his father."

However, strict lese-majeste laws prohibit public discussion regarding his ascension of the throne. These laws were in place during Bhumibol's reign and violators face up to 15 years in prison, helping cement the late king's status as an almost divine figure amongst Thais.

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