Princess wins support for her title

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Norway’s unconventional Princess Martha Louise, best known recently for her books on angels and alternative therapy, has won new support among Norwegians. A fresh public opinion poll indicates that only 20 percent think she should give up her title because she uses it when selling her books and conducting other commercial ventures.

Debate has gone on for years, ever since the daughter of King Harald and Queen Sonja started making money by singing, reading fairytales aloud, arranging cultural events and, two years ago, starting up a school that aims to help people get in touch with the angels she thinks everyone has. Martha Louise’s latest book, which advises its readers to “meet your own guardian angel,” sold well during the Christmas holiday season.

It’s been argued that Martha Louise’s habit of using her royal title in her commercial ventures has given her an unfair advantage, and commercializes the monarchy. Now it seems an albeit slim majority of Norwegians don’t object to her use of the title, according to the public opinion poll conducted by research firm Respons for newspaper Aftenposten .

Poll results showed that 50 percent of those questioned agreed with the statement that “Martha Louise should keep her princess title even after starting up private business ventures.” Only 20 percent said her title should be taken away from her, while 30 percent responded that they had no opinion.

Hedvig Skonhoft Johansen, a sociologist and doctoral candidate who’s studied the royal family for years, offered this explanation for the poll results:”King Harald and Queen Sonja and Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit carry out the serious and important work from the Royal Palace and Skaugum (the royal estate where Haakon and Mette-Marit live),” Skonhoft Johansen told Aftenposten . “Martha, for her part, has clearly won acceptance for being a business-princess, and people have gotten used to all the spectacle and excess coming from Lommedalen (where Martha Louise lives with her author husband Ari Behn).”

Debate over Princess Martha Louise’s role flared up again this past autumn, when she attracted huge attention for her new book, appeared as a guest on several talkshows and took part in an annual exhibition of alternative therapy and healing. The Royal Palace’s own website shows she has carried out few royal duties during the past year.

Martha Louise earlier claimed she would make a sharp distinction between her work as a princess and her work as a businesswoman. “She’s not doing that any longer,” said Skonhoft Johansen, who’s a PhD candidate at the College of Akershus. “My impression is that she’s now a princess only in name, not in purpose.”

King Harald and Queen Sonja have generally declined comment on their daughter’s activities or criticism of her commercial exploitation of her title. They said on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) earlier this week, though, that they hadn’t read her new angel book. Queen Sonja said she thinks its popularity illustrates rising public interest in alternative ways of thinking and healing.

Asked whether it’s worthy of criticism that the princess promotes auras and angel-power while her father is official head of Norway’s state church, Skonhoft Johansen said “it’s at the very least interesting.”

Asked why fully 30 percent of those questioned in the poll had no opinion on Princess Martha Louise’s commercial use of her royal title, Skonhoft Johansen said.:

“The Royal Family is under a very strict information regime. All members are available to the media only when they themselves want to communicate something they can benefit from, be it a state visit or a book. That doesn’t really engage the public.

“Moreover, I think only a very few reflect very much on constitutional issues.”