New Thai Queen Suthida Vajiralongkorn na Ayudhya with King Vajiralongkorn in a file photo. Image: YouTube

In a surprise announcement, Suthida Vajiralongkorn na Ayudhya, a former Thai Airways flight attendant and current commander of an elite royal security department, became Thailand’s new queen on Wednesday.

The announcement was made by royal command, indicating that King Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun married his long presumed consort only days before his formal coronation ceremony to be held in Bangkok from May 4-6.

The coronation ceremony will complete the royal succession from deceased King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who passed away after seven decades on the throne in October 2016, to his only son Vajiralongkorn.

Vajiralongkorn, 67, will be the 10th and oldest king to be coronated in the centuries-old Chakri dynasty. His mother, Sirikit, 86, served as queen under Bhumibol since 1950. She has suffered from ill-health caused by a stroke in recent years that has limited her activities and public appearances.

Suthida, 42, is a full military general and former commander of the Special Operations Unit of the elite King’s Guard. She is commander of the Royal Security Command’s Thai Aide-de-Camp Department.

Suthida, also known by her nickname “Nui”, has been seen for years in royal household authorized footage escorting Vajiralongkorn at royal rites and sacred ceremonies. She played a notably prominent role in the elaborate and sacred October 2017 funeral ceremony for the widely revered Bhumibol, who many Thais considered semi-divine.

Vajiralongkorn and Suthida have also been seen together in more casual wear in Europe, including at a Germany shopping mall and air strip, in photos and film footage that have subsequently gone viral in Thailand.

With her accession to queen, Suthida will be protected by Thailand’s strict lese majeste laws, which allow for 15-year prison sentences for any criticism of the king, queen, heir and regent. Little is known about Suthida’s personal background before she joined the Thai military in May 2010 as a second lieutenant.

Suthida will be the new king’s fourth wife after three previous divorces. Vajiralongkorn most recently separated in 2014 from Srirasmi Suwadee, with whom he had a son, Prince Dipangkorn Ramijoti, 14, seen until now as the most likely heir to the throne.

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