How a petite Australian sheep farmer’s daughter married a giant gun-toting European king to become ‘Queen of Albania’

Source: Daily Mail

Crown Princess Mary of Denmark may be set to become the first Australian-born queen but a grazier’s daughter from rural New South Wales tried for years to claim that title.

Susan Cullen-Ward is largely forgotten now but for the second half of her life she sought to be recognised as Albanian royalty through her 1975 marriage to that country’s exiled King Leka I.

Three decades before Tasmanian advertising account manager Mary Donaldson married Denmark’s Crown Prince Frederik, Cullen-Ward became consort to the pretender to another European throne.

She claimed to be descended from England’s King Edward I – known as Edward Longshanks – and he was a ninth cousin once removed of Queen Elizabeth II.

But the petite country girl’s marriage to the giant, gun-toting Leka I was never quite the full fairytale romance between a prince and commoner.

arlier this month Denmark’s Queen Margrethe made Princess Mary a regent, allowing her to perform duties as head of state when the 79-year-old monarch is otherwise engaged.

Mary, 47, will become Queen of Denmark when 51-year-old Frederik ascends to the throne upon the death or abdication of his mother.

‘Queen’ Susan’s path to royalty would never be as smooth.

Susan Barbara Cullen-Ward was born in Sydney’s Waverley in 1941 and raised near Cumnock, a tiny town of 200 houses 57km north-west of Orange in the central west of New South Wales.

She was the third of five children from a local wheat, wool and cattle clan.

Young Susan helped on her parents Phyllis and Alan’s 2023 hectare property Mani,  went to primary school at nearby Baldry and high school at Presbyterian Ladies College (PLC) in Orange.

After graduating, she returned to PLC as an art teacher, studied design at East Sydney Technical College and dabbled in interior decorating as she fell in with the city’s social set.

Susan Barbara Cullen-Ward was born in Sydney’s Waverley in 1941 and raised near Cumnock, a tiny town of 200 houses 57km north-west of Orange in the central west of New South Wales.

She was the third of five children from a local wheat, wool and cattle clan.

Young Susan helped on her parents Phyllis and Alan’s 2023 hectare property Mani,  went to primary school at nearby Baldry and high school at Presbyterian Ladies College (PLC) in Orange.

After graduating, she returned to PLC as an art teacher, studied design at East Sydney Technical College and dabbled in interior decorating as she fell in with the city’s social set.

But the pair became friends and would catch up each time Leka visited Australia.

Cullen-Ward moved to Paris in 1971 to study fine arts at the Sorbonne but gave that away to paint in northern Spain. She later moved to Madrid and met up with Leka again.

‘It was during my training as a tourist guide that we fell in love,’  she once said. ‘He requested I not continue with this work and later we married.’

The guest list at the wedding in Biarritz, France included exiled royalty from across Europe as well as members of Cullen-Ward’s family.

Leka, who was just days old when he fled Albania with his father, declared Susan his queen, although she had never seen the country whose people she supposedly ruled.

He affectionately called her Roo; she referred to him in public as ‘His Majesty’.

After the wedding, Queen Susan told reporters: ‘I don’t feel like a queen. I feel a happy bride.’

‘Nothing has changed except I have the responsibility of helping His Majesty back on to the throne of his country.’

The couple set up home in Madrid but in 1979 was later told to leave Spain, after authorities objected to his large personal cache of weapons.

This was not the first or last time Leka’s fascination with guns would get him trouble.

Leka described himself as an international commodities broker and later as an importer/exporter of heavy machinery but spent decades denying he was an arms dealer.

Often heavily armed, even when travelling abroad, Leka had been arrested in Bangkok in 1977 for hoarding military firearms including M16 rifles and hand grenades.

Once, upon flying into Gabon on the west coast of Central Africa, Leka’s plane was surrounded by local troops he feared had been paid to kidnap him.

Leka removed the threat when he appeared at the plane’s door carrying a rocket launcher.

A courtier once observed of the ‘king’: ‘From the moment he was born, there was a gun under his pillow and he has worn it all his life.’

How Leka supported himself was a mystery. It was long rumoured that over the years he had received assistance from friends including the Shah of Iran, United States President Richard Nixon, who was a distant cousin, and the CIA.

He was partial to a safari suit and was sometimes seen wearing ivory-inlaid pistols in his belt.

After their problems in Spain Leka and Susan were forced out of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) when Robert Mugabe came to power, before settling in South Africa.

The couple and the king’s mother Queen Geraldine moved into a secure compound near Johannesburg, where their son Crown Prince Leka was born in 1982.

While in South Africa the family was protected by guard dogs and armed bodyguards.

In 1999 Leki was charged by South African authorities with possession of AK-47 rifles, grenade launchers and anti-personnel mines.

Successive Australian governments refused to recognise Cullen-Ward as Albanian royalty which made it difficult for her to return to Australia, a situation she described as ‘personally very, very hurtful.’

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