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Friday, May 20, 2022

King Harald: 20 years on the throne

Norway’s King Harald could mark 20 years on the throne on Monday, but there were no major public celebrations. Instead it seemed to be pretty much business as usual at the Royal Palace in Oslo.

The official portrait of King Harald V. PHOTO: Det Kongelige Slottet/Cathrine Wessel

According to his official program, King Harald would have a normal round of brief, largely ceremonial meetings during the middle of the day on Monday. He was to meet with the inspector general of the Air Force, then have two 15-minute sessions with departing ambassadors, one from Sudan, the other from the Philippines. Other than that, no special events were on the public agenda.

But it was on January 17, 1991 that his father, the popular King Olav V, died on a night that also was dramatic because of the start of the Gulf War. Harald immediately became king, as heir to the throne, and his wife became Queen Sonja.

Today the 73-year-old monarch (he’ll turn 74 next month) enjoys his own degree of popularity but arguably not to the same extent as that bestowed upon his father, who also had played a major part in keeping Norwegians’ spirits up during World War II. Harald was just a boy when the war broke out and spent five important childhood years in exile in the US. He didn’t have the same attachment to the country at the time that his father did, nor were the people as attached to him.

But he was the first heir to the throne born in Norway in 600 years, noted  Aftenposten commentator Knut Olav Åmås over the weekend, and today’s monarch generally seems respected and well-liked. While Queen Sonja can be viewed as the “managing director” at the Royal Palace, the king is perhaps the chairman of the board, Åmås wrote. King Harald has tried to continue the Norwegian royal family’s “folksey” image, despite all their privileges, and earlier this month he won an award for his promotion of athletics.

January is traditionally a fairly quiet month for the royals, but the king will likely be glad to have his top aide, his son Crown Prince Haakon, back in the country to help take over official duties. Haakon and his family have been off on a global holiday, sightseeing and having some free time before the day comes when Haakon succeeds Harald.

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