Like the ridiculously great number of men who’ve gone on to leave their mark on the world, Bernhard was born sickly. The doctors who cared for him throughout his youth told him he wouldn’t have a long life. So much for prophecy: he died at age 93, having lived, without hyperbole, one of the most remarkable lives ever lived.
And he lived relentlessly.
When Hitler’s army invaded the Netherlands, he was there, rallying the guards at the Royal Palace and firing at the German planes. Forced to flee to England with his wife, Juliana, he continued the fight, first in the war-planning councils and then in fighters and bombers over occupied territory. Before the war was over, he had been appointed Supreme-Commander in the Dutch Armed Forces without having ever received any formal military training. And during the rebuilding of the Netherlands, he stood in the spotlight as the orchestrator of the new economy.
It didn’t end there. He founded Rotary International. He began the World Wildlife Fund. He would sit at the board of directors of over three hundred corporations. Ian Fleming took note that Bernhard drank his martinis shaken, not stirred.
Because such a life would have been incomplete without scandal, Bernhard found himself at the center of more than a few, including such messy topics as illegitimate children, bribe-taking, and international assassinations.
But there remains one event that ensured his eternal notoriety.
On May 31, 1953, Bernhard stood up from behind a long table in the conference room of a new hotel in Arnhem, the Netherlands, and pronounced the meeting closed. Before each guest departed, they personally shook his hand and promised to meet again the following year. This annual gathering brought about by Prince Bernhard of Lippe-Biesterfeld would come to be known as The Bilderberger Group.