How did you decide to open your home to the public? Whose idea was it?Opening the palace was a decision my husband made, since he's the one who makes important decisions, and this is a very important decision. I'm just his wife [laughs]. You see, when we arrived here, the palace was like the Forbidden City, closed for about 50 years. The people of Serbia consider it a monument, yet they could only see it from the outside. My husband found this unacceptable, because these are our people, without our people we have no country, and we are here for the people. So he decided to open it, and we invited the government, all the mayors and the people, several hundred. It was going on for weeks and weeks. We would take pictures with them, and we made sure they all got the pictures before they left, to have as souvenirs.
How did you feel when you came back to Serbia?We came to live here in 2001, actually, we were invited to come back on my husband's birthday 17 July. But that was not the first time that we'd been here; the first time was in 1991. It was a very emotional time for us, especially for my husband. He would sit on a chair and say 'Maybe my grandfather was sitting on this chair'. He was dreaming about coming home all his life. I remember when we first came here, my husband had just celebrated his 60th birthday, and coming here had been his wish on his 50th birthday. We celebrated it at Claridge's, where he was born, and just about every king and queen on this planet came to his birthday, including his godmother her majesty the Queen. Just as he was about to blow out the candles, he was asked what his wish was for his 60th birthday, since that was his 50th. He said 'My wish is to be home'. People's eyes filled with tears, because they all knew he had never been home. Finally, when he turned 60 his wish came true and he was home. He was very proud that the entire government of Serbia was present for the dinner. There were 1000 guests, we had friends from all over the world, everyone wanted to witness this moment of my husband having his wish come true.
What part of the castle and tour do tourists like the most, in your opinion?Well, every room has its own personality in a way, and its own history. Every room is designated for what it's meant to be. They are all incredible, the office, the library. Our church is beautiful. The grounds are wonderful; we have planted more than 3000 roses and are waiting for them to bloom this summer. This is our little Versailles. Nobody has a basement like the one in this palace, it's so incredibly beautiful. It is the home my husband's grandfather built so we feel responsible to keep it intact. The view from the balcony is amazing, the sunsets are the most incredible that you've ever seen, and the full moon as well, it's really magical.
What part of the palace is your favourite?Well, I like the basement a lot, because it's fascinating and very interesting. I also like the Palma Vecchio very much, mostly because we use it when we have smaller dinners with guests. It's a nice place to use since it is small and comfortable, just charming, with the big window overlooking the yard. Of course, I like the first floor, where our private rooms are. I like the open veranda that we have, that is where we eat our breakfast, and lunch when it's just the two of us. I love spending time there, it's my favourite place. We just don't have enough time to enjoy it often. I also like when we take our walks, the grounds are very nice and walking is healthy anyway.
Can you tell us something about the palace life?We have very tight schedules every day, and there are many things to do each day. We aren't forced to do them, but we want to. Today we are having guests from abroad who have come to help us with tomorrow's charity event. Tomorrow 1000 orphans will arrive for the traditional Easter event at the White Palace. These people who came to help us brought all kinds of gifts, such as stuffed animals, blankets, clothes… I was with them this morning, and after this interview I have to make sure that everything is ready for tomorrow. This event brings me great joy, to see all those kids egg hunting in the gardens.
Do you ever find it exhausting?I don't have time to be exhausted. When you have the privilege to make a difference in the lives of people, this doesn't allow you to be tired. It makes you want to thank God for the opportunity. I was very lucky to have parents who taught me the joy of giving, not the joy of taking. My mother used to say 'happy people are those who give'. My father was one of the biggest philanthropists in Greece. I prayed and God has given me my king and a whole country. I was very lucky to be granted a chance to improve lives and help others feel more secure and loved.
It is said that you even cook. Is that true?Yes, of course I do. We can't afford to have a cook, we already have people who clean the palaces and those who receive people and all that. See, my husband also needs to be taken care of, and so this is something I do. I enjoy it, but I'm not doing it just because I enjoy it, [laughs] I'm doing it because I have to, although I am happy to do it.
What's your favourite meal to cook?Well, yesterday we had sarma, and I like that very much. We love fresh vegetables and all kinds of salads, we also like shrimps and fish, but when it comes to meat, we like lamb. When I was in Greece we had a lot of lamb, in Greece they would roast a whole lamb, so this is also why I like lamb. Of course, it's Easter time and we think of lamb more.
Can you give some advice for our readers about the sights they should see?Well, we, the Karađorđević family, are from Šumadija, and I like Oplenac and Topola and our church there. We have some projects there too. For example, I'm doing a new dental clinic, refurnishing it. I like it very much there, the church is on the high ground, surrounded by beautiful trees, it's a truly lovely sight to see. There are vineyards at the family grounds as well, we get very nice wine from them. I'm very proud of that place and it's not too far from Belgrade, actually.
I'm very happy to see that we have so many tourists in Serbia. People come here from all parts of the world. And it is very important that tourists see for themselves that the situation in our country is not as most believe, due to the conflicts, that what they read or have heard isn’t true. And the real people we have here, just how kind and clever they are.