Crown princess tries to shield her son

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Norway’s Crown Princess Mette-Marit has set tongues wagging after using the royal family’s official website to publish an unusual “open letter” on the occasion of her older son’s 20th birthday. In it, she complains about unwanted media attention that he has attracted over the years and that he’s now heading off to college in California, not least to escape the spotlight.

Marius Borg Høiby (center) posing for a family portrait in 2014 with his younger half-sister Princess Ingrid Alexandra, Crown Prince Haakon, his half-brother Prince Sverre Magnus and his mother Crown Princess Mette-Marit. Høiby has never had a royal title. PHOTO: Kongehuset/Sølve Sundsbø

The royal palace itself reported that Marius Borg Høiby, born when Mette-Marit herself was 23 and before she met Crown Prince Haakon, would be studying economics and administration at an unidentified California school on January 17. The palace reported that Høiby would not carry out any official duties for the royal family and “only be present at events when it would be natural because of family reasons.”

The short statement ended by reporting that “because of Marius Borg Høiby’s desire to live a life outside the public glare, he no longer wanted his own pages” on the royal website. His portrait and biography had already been removed from the official portrayal of the royal family as of Thursday night, leaving only his two younger half-siblings Princess Ingrid Alexandra, who will turn 13 on January 21, and Prince Sverre Magnus, age 11. Both of them are heirs to the throne, while Høiby was not born royal and has never had a royal title.

“Marius Borg Høiby asks that his desire to live outside the public spotlight be respected by the media,” the royal statement concluded. There was speculation that he’ll be joined in California by his girlfriend, Linn Helena Nilsen, of Drammen. The palace declined comment.

Høiby has been considered a “full-fledged” member of Norway’s royal family after Crown Prince Haakon married Høiby’s young single mother from Kristiansand. “Little Marius” played an immediate role in King Harald’s and Queen Sonja’s official photos and Christmas video for media use even before the crown couple’s royal wedding in August 2001.

This is the photo that the royal website used to accompany Crown Pricess Mette-Marit’s written plea for her son on his 20th birthday. PHOTO: kongehuset.no/Scanpix(Lise Åserud

Crown Princess Mette-Marit nonetheless wrote that “Marius has always had a role that has been very difficult to define among the public. He is and will continue to be an unusually important part of our family. Marius became a symbol for the unusual choice we (she and Haakon) made when we married, at the same time that he has no official duties like his siblings. He shall not have a public role and is not a public person.”

Anyone thrust into the life of royal privilege, however, must expect public attention, according to media researcher and former palace official Carl-Erik Grimstad. “When they (the royals themselves) have always called him a full-fledged member of the royal family, attention follows,” Grimstad told newspaper VG. He and many others pointed out Thursday night that “Norway’s most public family can’t demand a private life in the same manner as most others.”

Commentators therefore found it surprising that the crown princess lashed out once again at the media, even state broadcaster NRK, which has always been deferential towards the royals, for having paid, in her opinion, too much attention to her son. “NRK Dagsrevyen followed us when we played in the Frogner Park,” Mette-Marit wrote. “Marius was three years old. Not even (celebrity tabloid) Se og Hør would do that to a child today. Fortunately.” NRK’s news editor seemed taken aback by the only concrete criticism of a media outlet in the crown princess’ letter.

Crown Princess Mette-Marit’s son Marius played a cameo role in an episode of the hit series Skam (Shame), so has sought at least some of the public spotlight himself. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

“It’s a reference to a 17-year-old report on the same day that it became known that Crown Prince Haakon had become the partner of Mette Marit Høiby,” said Alexandra Beverfjord of NRK. “We have never had any interest in exposing the crown couple’s children against their will and have experienced the dialogue (with the royals) as good.”

The crown princess, who drew lots of media coverage herself when she paired up with the crown prince because of her house-party past, also criticized coverage by media she did not identify for writing about her son’s “youthful thoughtlessness” but offered no specific examples. “I’m glad my own youthful rebellion wasn’t followed with argus eyes,” she wrote. “It would have been much worse.”

Reidun Kjelling Nybø of the national editors’ organization (Norsk Redaktørforening) was also surprised by the royal criticism. “My impression is that the Norwegian press has been careful about covering Marius Borg Høiby and has respected (the family’s) desire to shield him,” Nybo said. She added, though that “he is part of Norway’s most public family, and must expect some interest and attention.” She said Mette-Marit’s criticism was “not very concrete” but that the editors’ organization would once again be willing to go into new dialogue with the royals if necessary.

Marianne Hagen, in charge of communications at the Royal Palace, initially responded to questions about Mette-Marit’s complaints from the media with a characterisic “no comment” but later saw a need to elaborate a bit. “Now that he’s turned 20, we wanted to clarify his future role,” Hagen told NRK. “He will be a member of the royal family his whole life … but he will not travel on official assignment on behalf of the family.”

She stressed that the crown princess thanked some media for having shown restraint, but that she was concerned that the extent of media coverage had recently increased. “Some parts of the celebrity press write pages up and down about Marius Borg Høiby, in defiance of his explicit desire that he does not want media coverage,” Hagen told NRK.

Some commentators questioned why Høiby didn’t tackle the issue himself, with his mother pleading for privacy on his behalf instead. She explained that “my obligation to him as his mother is to take the responsibility given me at Aker Sykehus (the Oslo hospital where he was born) seriously. Therefore I choose to ask parts of the Norwegian media to let him avoid a focus he doesn’t want, when he now in part because of that, chooses to travel abroad to study.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund