Carmen Diez de Rivera was an influential yet enigmatic figure whose life was outwardly successful but also deeply tragic. She was born the fourth child of an aristocratic family in post-civil war Madrid. Despite the hardship of the times she had a privileged upbringing which allowed her to study Philosophy and Political Science in Madrid, Paris and Oxford. At the age of nineteen she fell in love with a nephew of the dictator Francisco Franco and the couple were making plans to get married. It was then that she discovered a terrible secret which haunted her for the rest of her life, that she was in fact the natural child of her fiancé’s father, and was therefore in love with her half-brother. To make matters worse, the father, Ramón Serrano Suñer, was a prominent politician and close family member of the dictator, which meant that the long-standing extra-marital affair he had had with Carmen’s mother was a carefully guarded secret in that time of strict Catholic morality.
The engagement was immediately called off and Carmen was devastated. She was condemned to live with the secret, which gave her an overwhelming sense of displacement and isolation. At first she retreated to a convent and seriously considered taking vows. This was followed by a period of time in Ivory Coast working as an aid volunteer.
On her return to Spain she forged a friendship with Juan Carlos and Sofia, then Princes of Spain and heirs to Franco, and also worked closely with Adolfo Suarez, the future first democratically elected Prime Minister of Spain who was then head of Spanish Television and Radio. During the period now referred to as the Transition, when Spain moved to a democracy after Franco’s death, Carmen worked closely with King Juan Carlos and with Adolfo Suarez, and served as leader of the cabinet, a highly unusual role for a woman during a time when men were still firmly in control of public life.
Carmen Diez was an unusually beautiful and charismatic woman, and consequently was dubbed the “Muse” of the Transition. She was rumoured to be the lover of both the King and Adolfo Suarez. However, it is more likely that these affairs did not occur and she herself felt she was a victim of sexist attitudes.
Her political career eventually led her to join the PSOE (Spanish Socialist party) for which she was a Euro-deputy for five years. In the early nineties her mother passed away thus finally allowing Carmen to talk openly about her tragic past. However, this freedom was short-lived as she was diagnosed with cancer and died in Madrid in 1999 at the age of 57.