A few years later, Willem-Alexander became a serious U.N. expert on water and environmental protection. His princess - Maxima, 41, from Argentina - and his three daughters - Amalia, 9; Alexia, 7; and Ariane, 5 - have made the 45-year-old crown prince envied among many of Europe's royals.
Willem-Alexander in past years has represented the Dutch monarchy in and outside the country on behalf of his mother, Queen Beatrix, who on Monday said she would abdicate, clearing the way for Willem-Alexander to become the first male monarch in the country in more than 120 years.
Willem-Alexander has been the queen's stand-in so frequently that some in the Netherlands had asked whether Willem-Alexander might become a sort of Prince Charles behind the dikes, a reference to the 65-year-old British crown prince whose mother, 86-year-old Queen Elizabeth II, has been on the thrown for more than 60 years. But unlike Britain, where monarchs mostly reign until death, abdication is more common in the Netherlands.
Although it sometimes has been rumored that he is impatient, Willem-Alexander has always appeared outwardly as his mother's most important supporter. Friendly and demure, he has appeared as though he has appreciated the duties of a king in waiting.
He took the advice of his father, German-born Prince Claus, and took an interest in water management - fitting for a country that has reclaimed 20 percent of its land from the sea, runs a huge system of canals and pump stations and is vulnerable to climate change. His father died in 2002.
For many years, the prince worked as an adviser to the United Nations on water management. A sports enthusiast, he also was a member of the International Olympic Committee.
Like his mother, Willem-Alexander studied at the University of Leiden and graduated in 1993 with a degree in history. One of his professors called him "not intellectual, but intelligent," which was well-received by the Dutch public.
As prince of Orange, he served in the Dutch Royal Navy from August 1985 to January 1987.
He also received much public praise for marrying a commoner equally as attractive as she is down-to-earth, which helped strengthen the family's reputation for solidarity with the people.
The couple brought a breath of fresh air into the royal household and have been groomed for years to take on their new roles.
Public opinion polls showed that the future king, who will be crowned April 30 as Willem IV, ranks behind his spirited spouse in popularity. It's no surprise then that the Dutch enthusiastically accept the idea that Princess Maxima would be allowed to bear the title of queen.
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