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Sun, December 17, 2006 : Last updated 21:03 pm (Thai local time)

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Home > Headlines > A down-to-earth student prince

A down-to-earth student prince

What most caught my attention during my brief encounter with Crown Prince Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck was his modest and unassuming nature.

It was a chilly evening in 2001 at an Oxford pub when I was introduced to His Royal Highness. A fellow Oxonian from Thailand who introduced me to him was a fellow Chevening Scholar who studied in the Diplomatic Training Programme with him.

The Thai woman from the Foreign Ministry told me the prince, or Jigme, had been trying hard to pass himself off as a commoner with considerable success, that is until some of his friends chanced upon his photo on a Bhutanese website.

That was the end of the prince's brief tenure as a common man, and yet he continued to insist his classmates and friends call him Jigme.

The Jigme I met that evening was cordial and dressed in black, and I don't remember much of the conversation, perhaps due to the influence of English ale. I do remember he was wearing a pink-and-gold Omega Speedmaster chronograph, the same hefty watch I recognised on his wrist when he visited Thailand twice this year. He could afford any watch he wanted, but apparently His Royal Highness sticks to his one and only watch, with its black alligator strap.

Given his friendly and relaxed attitude and his good looks, it was no surprise he won the hearts of Thai women, and his charm won over men, too.

His brief visits this year led to "Jigmemania", perhaps little wonder given that the Korean wave and the Korean look are popular in Thailand at the moment.

Although I was told he kept a nice house while up at Oxford, he more or less went about without security details. He was not shy about making cross-cultural contact.

That smart Thai diplomat is still a good friend of Jigme's, and I learnt she had met him while he was in Bangkok earlier this year.

That is a positive sign of the good nature of the Crown Prince, and it is to be hoped he will rule as a benign king dispensing peace, prosperity and justice to the people of Bhutan and beyond.

Pravit Rojanaphruk

The Nation

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