To ease the panic about the succession, a marriage was arranged for Prince Vajiralongkorn. The chosen bride was his first cousin, SoamsawaliKitiyakara. However, Prince Vajiralongkorn didn’t like her, and he considered her plain and dull. Nevertheless, they married on 3 January 1977 and began touring the country. Soamsawali gave birth to a daughter named Bajrakitiyabha, but by then, he had moved out of their shared home. He was introduced to an actress named Sucharinee Vivatcharavong who became his girlfriend. She gave birth to a son named Chudhavajra who received the princely but noncelestial title of Mom Chao. For Sirikit, this threatened her own dynastic ambitions, unless her niece Soamsawali gave birth to a celestial prince. A second son for Sucharinee named Vajaresra followed in 1981. Soamsawali became depressed. When Sirikit visited the United States to see her Ubol Ratana’s first child with Peter Jensen, she told the press, “My son the crown prince is a little bit of Don Juan. He is a good student, a good boy, but women find him interesting, and he finds women even more interesting. If the people of Thailand do not approve of the behaviour of my son, then he would either have to change his behaviour or resign from the royal family.” It was a risky move for Sirikit, and Thai newspapers were warned not to print the comments. Sucharinee gave birth to a third son in 1983, followed by a fourth son in 1985.
Sirikit had been a celebrated Queen for the first 20 years, but she began to fight the ageing process. She began taking diet and energy pills, and she said, “My husband says he hates me to be fat.” When she became smitten by a Colonel Narongdej, people presumed they had an intimate relationship, and it became a scandal. When he died in 1985, her mourning for him was ridiculed. Her image suffered further damage when a rumoured account of a trip to the United States detailed how she had plastic surgery, collected money supposedly for her charities and how she stashed money just in case the monarchy went belly up. Sirikit wanted to be known as the incarnation of the legendary Queen Suriyothai who died in battle to save her husband. Her husband was only too willing to go along with this interpretation, and a massive statue of the legendary Queen was erected in Sirikit’s own park.
Soon Ubol Ratana wanted back into the family, and she prostrated herself at her father’s feet while pregnant with her first child. However, she and her husband returned home to the United States after just four days – she was not forgiven after all. She remained popular with the people, and the people demanded that her title was restored, but Bhumibol refused to do it. Her family eventually counted three children, and despite their problems, they visited Thailand often. Sirikit’s youngest daughter Chulabhorn married Virayuth Tishyasarin with her father’s permission, and she kept her royal title, and their two daughters were given titles.
Sirikit remained preoccupied with her rogue son and at the end of 1985 – after Sucharinee gave birth to a fourth son – she suffered a breakdown and disappeared from the public view for six months. Princess Chulabhorn came to her mother’s defence, “If the people are going to get angry because of her disappearance from the public view, it is us (her children) who should be blamed since we always insist that she rests instead of making appearances… Normally everybody has holidays, but her majesty never had one.” Sucharinee gave birth to a daughter in 1987 named Busyanampetch, and now Vajiralongkorn wanted official recognition for his girlfriend. But for that, he would have to divorce Soamsawali. In 1991, her title was reduced from royal consort to “mother of the King’s grandchild.” In the meantime, he was given more royal duties as was his only unmarried sister Sirindhorn, who was considered the workhorse of the family. Chulabhorn was considered the family’s scientist, but when Bhumibol and Sirikit tried to get the King of Sweden to award her the Nobel Prize, they were surprised to learn he had no such power. Chulabhornm spoke out against the growing AIDS problem in Thailand, but then she refused to embrace an AIDS patient.
In 1992, Vajiralongkorn finally sued Soamsawali for a divorce, but she rejected an offer of several million dollars. After a court case where Soamsawali could say nothing against the prince due to the strict lèse-majesté laws, the divorce became final in 1993. Vajiralongkorn and Sucharinee married in 1994, but the marriage soon turned sour. Sucharinee took their children to England and threatened to kill them and herself if he didn’t get rid of his other woman. He eventually publically expelled her from the palace and held onto their daughter. The palace insisted that their marriage had never been official. It could have been a victory for Sirikit to see her niece back in her rightful place, but Vajiralongkorn refused to return to her. He would marry twice more, fathering another son who is now first in the line of succession.
In a further attempt for Sirikit to establish her legacy, she pushed for the production of an epic movie about the legendary Queen Suriyothai and even selected the leading actress herself. The film cost over 10 million dollars and was at the time the most expensive Thai film ever made.
For Sirikit, this last decade has been difficult. In 2012, she suffered a stroke, and she has since refrained from public appearances. Bhumibol passed away on 13 October 2016, leaving the throne to their controversial son Vajiralongkorn.1