The king of Thailand has married the deputy head of his personal security detail and given her the title of Queen, a royal statement has said.
The surprise announcement about his long-time consort comes before his elaborate coronation ceremonies begin on Saturday.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn, 66, became the constitutional monarch after the death of his much-loved father in 2016.
He has been married and divorced three times before and has seven children.
A royal statement said: King Vajiralongkorn “has decided to promote General Suthida Vajiralongkorn Na Ayudhya, his royal consort, to become Queen Suthida and she will hold royal title and status as part of the royal family”.
Queen Suthida is King Vajiralongkorn’s long-term partner and has been seen with him in public for many years, though their relationship has never before been officially acknowledged.
Footage from the wedding ceremony was shown on Thai TV channels late Wednesday, showing other members of the royal family and palace advisers in attendance.
The king is seen pouring sacred water on the head of Queen Suthida. The couple then sign a marriage registry.
She and others are prostrated before the monarch, as is customary in Thailand.
In 2014 Vajiralongkorn appointed Suthida Tidjai, a former flight attendant for Thai Airways, as the deputy commander of his bodyguard unit. He made her a full general in the army in December 2016.
The previous king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, ruled for 70 years, making him the longest-reigning monarch in the world when he died in 2016.
Here are some facts about the new queen from the palace’s household bureau, past royal decrees and media.
She was born June 3, 1978, as Suthida Tidjai.
She graduated from Assumption University, a private university in Bangkok, with a bachelor’s degree in communication arts in 2000, according to the Thai Rath newspaper.
She worked as a flight attendant at Thai Airways before joining the protection unit of then-Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn.
Criticising or insulting her is a crime under Thailand’s lese majeste laws, which carry punishment of up to 15 years in prison.
The king, queen, heir to the throne and regent are covered under the law.
She already held the rank of general in the Royal Thai Army before her marriage, having been promoted to the position in December 2016 by King Vajiralongkorn by royal decree.
That was shortly after he took the throne following the death of his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
Before the wedding, she was deputy commander of the King’s Own Bodyguard Regiment.
The king himself is commander of the unit, and he first designated her to the special officer unit of Crown Prince’s Bodyguard Regiment in 2013.
She made her debut on Royal News, a nightly segment about the king and his family aired on all Thai television channels, hours after her wedding.
The wedding came as a surprise to many Thais because the palace had never previously acknowledged any personal relationship between her and King Vajiralongkorn, who has previously been married and divorced three times.
She has been awarded royal honours in 20 royal decrees, the first in 2012 when King Bhumibol awarded her the Order of the White Elephant for her “honesty, loyalty and responsibility, dedication and sacrifice’’ in service to then Prince Vajiralongkorn.
The royal decree named her as Lt. Col. Suthida Vajiralongkorn.
During the upcoming coronation, the king is likely to bestow his new bride with new royal titles.
It is a tradition for a new monarch to grant new titles to family members.