Danish royal family

Margrethe II of Denmark, the 'Ashtray Queen': from her first cigarette at 17 to quitting completely at 83

Crown-princess Margrethe and Henri de Monpezat lighting a cigarette in 1966.
Margrethe II and her late husband Prince Henrik in 1966.ALLAN MOE

Regardless of her royal status, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark always marched to the beat of her own drum. During her 52 years on the throne, she proved to be an independent spirit who did not shy away from her vices and passions. As a queen, she never betrayed her image, primarily out of respect and devotion to her father, King Frederick IX of Denmark, whom she paid homage to by abdicating on the same day he did in 1972. But as a woman, far from the pomp, her public image remains akin to that of any commoner.

One of her preferred vices was smoking. When she was just 17 years old, she lit her first cigarette and, until undergoing back surgery in February 2023, she never stopped. Unapologetic about it in public, Margrethe II wrote in a 1990 memoir, "My father and mother had smoked throughout my childhood, and one day they asked if I wanted a cigarette." Her first drag dates back to 1957.

She started by holding English Virginia cigarettes between her fingers and ended up with filterless Karelia. Nicknamed the Ashtray Queen, Margrethe II always boasted of being an unrepented chain smoker who ignored her family's advice. For decades it was commonplace to be photographed indulging in her favorite habit, but shortly before Denmark's 2007 indoor smoking ban came into force, she decided she would never again do so in public. Her second cousin, King Harald V of Norway (86), also shares the nicotine addiction.

Following back surgery last year, Margrethe began to realize that she had to take care of herself. Having spent over six decades addicted to cigarettes, she gradually began to quit so that she ensure an optimal recovery. In an interview with Weekendavisen at the time, she expressed, "The wonderful thing about Karelia is that they make everything else taste like nothing," and regarding English Virginia, she concluded that after her father's passing, "I realized they were stronger than good."

She distinguished herself from other crowned contemporaries through her artistic hobbies. Remaining an atypical woman, she unleashed her imagination as a watercolor painter in 1969, and has even participated in exhibitions. As a Tolkien enthusiast, she sent drawings to the British author under the pseudonym Ingahild Grathmer to illustrate certain adventures. Tolkien was enchanted by the talent of this 'unknown' woman and approved their publication in the Danish edition of 1977.

Inherently restless, the monarch continued her artistic pursuits, creating costumes and scenography for plays and film adaptations, including several by Hans Christian Andersen like The Snow Queen (2000) and The Wild Swans (2009). In fact, she is a double nominee for the Robert Awards for Best Costume Design and Best Scenography in the Netflix film Ehrengard: The Art of Seduction released last year.

She is also a skilled embroiderer, having designed some of her country's Christmas seals, translated works from English, French, German, and Swedish authors into Danish, and has a deep passion for archaeology.