King Leka of Albania and his Australian Queen

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Last week, the self-styled King of Albania, Leka Zogu, died. His wife Susan was an Australian who was all but disowned by the Australian Government. Senior correspondent Barry Everingham knew them well.

The death in Tirana, Albania of Leka Zogu – King Leka I of Albania – was the end of the life of a man whose destiny was totally unfulfilled.

He was a royal pretender, an arms dealer, a warrior, patriot husband and father.

A royal nomad without a country, who depended upon the generosity and patronage of the Shah of Iran, a gaggle of Gulf States “royals”, the late Spanish dictator General Francisco Franco and the likes of Rhodesia’s Ian Smith.

I first met him in in Madrid in the late 1980’s, while researching a series of articles for The Australian newspaper on the lives and styles of Europe’s former royal families.

The paper was particularly interested in Leka because of his marriage to the Cumnock, NSW, born Susan Cullen-Ward — Queen Susan of Albania.

Many scoffed at Leka’s so called” pretentions”, however he was taken seriously by his royal peers and one of the congratulatory telegrams read out at the couple’s wedding reception in Toledo, Spain was signed from “your cousin”, Elizabeth II.

And the editor of that Bible of all things royal and aristocratic, Debrett’s Peerage, described Queen Susan as “the only Australian born queen of anywhere”!

King Leka and Queen Susan were living in a huge bungalow in a wealthy suburb of Madrid and I spent two days with them, hearing incredible stories of their lives together.

They lived a royal life — their household was made up of ADC’s, ladies in waiting and a plethora of domestic staff.

Leka’s derring-do Boys Own Annual style was tempered by Queen Susan’s natural dignity; she was extremely popular in Madrid society was close to the Spanish King and Queen – Carlos and Sophia of Greece – and was a regular visitor at the Palacio de la Zarzuela.

In spite of that, The Australian Embassy in Madrid was forbidden by Canberra to have any contact with Queen Susan, although her mother-in-law, Her Majesty Queen Geraldine, as the wife of a former monarch, King Zog, was considered okay and was a regular at the Embassy’s bridge nights!

I became a friend of the couple’s and when Queen Susan came home, twice she visited Melbourne and was our house guest.

Soon after leaving Madrid and back at the paper’s London bureau, my telephone rang one a day as voice asked me to “hold on please – I have Her Majesty for you”!

Oh my God I thought — this has to be a first!

It sure was Her Majesty — of Albania, not Great Britain.

Queen Susan had a dilemma.

She wanted to visit her parents Alan and Phyllis Cullen-Ward, but her Australian passport had expired and her “royal court of Albania passport” – accepted by the US and all non- Communist European countries – was not recognised by the Australian immigration authorities.

And there was a further hitch.

Canberra would issue a replacement passport but only in the name of Madam Susan Zogu — a situation totally unacceptable to the Queen.

I was asked if I could help.

I contacted Andrew Peacock, the then foreign minister, who although sympathetic to Queen Susan’s plight, reminded me that, as we had diplomatic relations with the hardline Communist government in Tirana, there was little he could do.

Well, after several telexes and emails we did compromise - Queen Susan’s passport was renewed as follows:  Susan Cullen Ward — Known as Queen Susan.

Years later, when the couple’s exile had moved to South Africa, she applied for a passport and visa for her the 4 year old son, Crown Prince Leka, to accompany her to Australia to see for the time the boy’s dying grandfather.

Queen Susan told me that, before the documents could be issued, she and the King would need to sign a declaration promising that the four year old boy would not address any Albanian dissident groups while in Australia.

She didn’t pursue the matter and the boy never did get to see his grandfather.

The couple were expelled from Spain because of Leka’s arms dealings and they took refuge in Ian Smith’s Rhodesia.

When that fell apart Mugabe kicked them out and they were given diplomatic sanctuary in South Africa, where they lived until they eventually were permitted to take up residence in Albania —where both Queens, Geraldine and Susan died.

Leka followed his wife and mother last month.

He is survived by Crown Prince Leka, an Albanian diplomat and his wife.

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