In 2001, Thai Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn’s third wife, Princess Srirasm, celebrated her 30th birthday party by laying scantily-clad on a floor, surrounded by several royal attendants. Beside her were a birthday cake and Air Chief Marshal Foo Foo, the crown prince’s miniature white poodle that had mysteriously earned a senior ranking in the Thai Royal Air Force.
Few individuals knew about her somewhat strange and scandalous party until 2007, when the crown prince’s opponents leaked video footage of it in an effort to undermine his eventual takeover of the throne.
According to a cable made public by WikiLeaks, U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Ralph “Skip” Boyce invited the royal couple to a gala at his residence a few months after the video leak, and the poodle came along.
“Foo Foo was present at the event, dressed in formal evening attire complete with paw mitts,” Boyce wrote. “And at one point during the band’s second number, he jumped up onto the head table and began lapping from the guests’ water glasses, including my own.”
Foo Foo died in February 2015, at the age of 17, and was cremated after a traditional Buddhist funeral. By that time, Princess Srirasm was relatively out of the picture: the prince had divorced her in 2014, and the palace had banned her from the property and charged her with corruption. Plus, the prince was already making plans to marry his fourth wife — a Thai Airlines flight attendant.
Now, the Foo Foo video leak and the three divorces are just a handful of scandals that have many Thais hesitant to celebrate the prince’s Thursday appointment to take over the country’s monarchy after his father’s death. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died on Thursday at the age of 88, took over the throne at 18. He was revered by Thais, who would not even watch a movie in theaters without standing to salute him and sing the national anthem before the show would begin. Born in Cambridge, Mass. while his father studied medicine at Harvard and his mother studied nursing at Simmons College, King Bhumibol was later raised in Switzerland.
He certainly never intended to take over the throne, but he was given no choice after an unknown gunman shot and killed his elder brother in 1946.
Once in power, he solidified his reputation as a monarch who, while quiet and artsy, believed he could effect change and push Thailand into a decades-long makeover that would see a boom in its urban development and the emergence of a true middle class. He also purposely kept himself out of Thai politics unless necessary, at time criticizing elected officials for their pettiness and at one point housing a prime minister in order to avoid having him overthrown in a coup.
Many Thais would prefer that he be replaced by his daughter, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. Unlike her playboy brother, the crown prince, she has never married. And while she aided her in father in some of his ambitious undertakings, she also kept herself out of Thailand’s political scene.
Thais fear that the crown prince lacks interest in living up to his father’s reputation — especially when it comes to staying out of politics. Thailand has been ruled by a military junta since a 2014 coup d’etat, and the prince’s erratic behavior — though slightly covered up by Thai censorship laws — might not prove a good match alongside the strict military rulers.
In 2001, for example, he accepted a lavish sports car from then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. He once used his own private jet to physically prevent Japanese officials from taking off on a tarmac in Bangkok. And this year, he got off an airplane in Munich wearing a crop top and tight jeans, covered in temporary tattoos and saluting the crowd while he posed for photographs.
Now, he is the apparent heir to the throne, although he has asked to delay his appointment until he is finished mourning. For some Thais, a brief period with no king might be better than having Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn take over at all.
Another WikiLeaks cable, this one from 2010, showed that U.S. diplomats were well aware of Thai fears of what would come after the king’s death.
“[T]he consensus view among many Thai was that the crown prince could not stop either, nor would he be able, at age 57, to rectify his behaviour,” the cable read. He’s now 64.
Photo credit: PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images