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HM The Queen Mother Turning 86

Phnom Penh: Her Majesty The Queen Mother, Norodom Monineath Sihanouk, celebrates her 86th birthday on Friday. Born in 1936, in the western tradition, it would be her 85th birthday, but in the Khmer tradition, Her Majesty is seen as starting her 86th year.

Either way, the day is, of course, a public holiday in Cambodia, a special tribute for a woman dubbed the “mother of the nation”. Her Majesty is the widow of King Father Norodom Sihanouk and the mother of Cambodia’s reigning monarch, His Majesty Norodom Sihamoni. Once known as “Princess Monique”, the former beauty queen has helped steer Cambodia through its most troubled times to earn a place in the hearts of a grateful nation.

It was the 18th of June 1936 when Paule-Monique Izzi was born in what was then Saigon. Her father was a French-Italian banker. Her mother was from the capital of the country she would soon call home. As a child, she went to Phnom Penh’s Primary School Norodom and then Sisowath High School, before attending the Lycée René Descartes. She was to meet her future husband, King Norodom Sihanouk in 1951 when he awarded her the first prize in a beauty pageant.

It was love at first sight. They were living together a year later and were married in 1955. That was the same year that her husband abdicated in favor of his father, but continued to rule the country as premier. Norodom Sihanouk would become head of state again in 1960, but carry the title of prince. “Princess Monique”, as she was known, was as popular then as she is now, serving as President of the Cambodian Red Cross. Today she serves as its Honorary President.

During the civil war, the Queen Mother would spend years in exile with the King in China and North Korea, before returning to Phnom Penh, only to be placed under house arrest during the long years of the Khmer Rouge. As the regime collapsed, it allowed the royal couple to be evacuated to China, along with the surviving members of the royal family.
The role she would play alongside her husband in the peace negotiations and the gracious presence she has brought to Cambodia through good times and bad have cemented her place in the affections of the Cambodian people. A regal and revered figure who is much respected admired and loved.

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