A BRISBANE Catholic deacon and former military chaplain has defended Thailand’s new King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who is under fire for his lavish lifestyle and quirky behaviour.
Tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of Bangkok to speak out against their ruler – the richest monarch in the world – who’s accused of funding his wild ways at the expense of Thai taxpayers.
But Deacon Gary Stone, who was assigned to be the future king’s mentor when he arrived as a 19-year-old at Duntroon for military training in 1972, says the Thai monarch (pictured) is being too harshly judged.
“He’s been waiting in the wings for the last 48 years and it’s only in the last year that he took over the kingship in a formal sense,” Deacon Stone, who trained for four years alongside the king at Duntroon Military College in Canberra, said.
“By nature he is a quiet, reserved, polite and respectful person, who likes his own privacy.
“That’s the sort of person he is and we can’t expect him to be any different.”
The Nine Network’s 60 Minutes estimated King Vajiralongkorn’s fortune at $70 billion and reported on his bizarre playboy lifestyle that has angered many Thais and turned them away from their once-revered royal family.
Photos taken in Germany, where he has holidayed in recent years, show the king walking through shopping malls wearing crop tops and fake tattoos.
He hired out an entire hotel to live in with his harem of lovers.
The king adored his miniature poodle Foo Foo so much, he crowned it as an Air Chief Marshall in Thailand’s Air Force, allowed it to appear in public in a uniform, and when the poodle died he ordered a four-day state funeral.
“He has this immensely lavish lifestyle,” investigative journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall told 60 Minutes.
“He has three Boeing 737 planes … he’s spending a huge amount of money and it’s Thai taxpayers that are fitting all the bills for this.”
When Vajiralongkorn was Crown Prince, his quirks and extravagance were tolerated, but since his $40 million coronation in 2016, Thais have expected a change in behaviour.
Deacon Stone does not defend his old classmate’s extravagance, but he also said the 60 Minutes story did not tell “the whole story”, including his accomplishments as a military officer and decades of public service to the Thai people.
“Life in Thailand is very different to life in Australia – the culture is very different,” he said.
“He’s quite a clever and capable person … who has done a good job in carrying out his public duties.”
Deacon Stone said the king had built on resilience learnt during his training at Duntroon.
“He did an outstanding job really. To come in from being a member of a royal family to come in a frantic life at Duntroon where we were up from six o’clock in the morning until 10.30 at night – for four years, six days a week – he did a marvellous job,” he said.
“And that was the strength of the character that I saw in him.
“He never complained, he did everything the Australian cadets had to do.
“After living in the shadows of his highly respected father, his hour has now come.
“I pray and hope the values he learned from us will support him in navigating this crisis peacefully, and the relationship between our two countries remains strong.”