Royal tent party raised eyebrows

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UPDATED: Crown Prince Haakon, who turned 40 on Saturday by parachuting into his own party at the royal estate west of Oslo, spent the weekend mingling and even sleeping outdoors with more than 200 guests.  Instead of hosting a formal dinner or elegant ball, Crown Princess Mette-Marit literally raised eyebrows by inviting friends and associates to a private outdoor music festival in Haakon’s honour on the grounds of their estate – and the show went on despite financial challenges revealed earlier in the week.

Crown Prince Haakon (in shorts) performing onstage with the Norwegian band Seigmen. PHOTO: Sven Gjeruldsen/Det kongelige hoff

Crown Prince Haakon (in shorts) performing onstage with the Norwegian band Seigmen. PHOTO: Sven Gjeruldsen/Det kongelige hoff

The invited guests, it turned out, were all asked to help pay for the artists performing. That put the Royal Palace in a royally awkward position, with the event itself highly unconventional in royal circles.

It appeared to be an effort on the young Norwegian royals’ part to recreate their own sort of mini-Roskilde or Woodstock festival. Both the crown prince and his wife, a former waitress and young single mother, are interested in music and among the first published photos of them together back in the late 1990s were those taken at the Kvart Festival in Kristiansand, Mette-Marit’s hometown. They’d met at that festival a few years earlier.

Norwegian media had speculated over how Haakon planned to celebrate his 40th birthday, with reports emerging last week that local police were complaining about the need for a major security operation around the party in the middle of  Norway’s traditional summer holiday period.

Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit on the grounds of their royal estate, where they'll host a music festival on Haakon's 40th birthday July 20. PHOTO: kongehuset.no

Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit on the grounds of their royal estate, where she and a group of friends organized a music festival for the heir-to-the-throne’s 40th birthday on July 20. PHOTO: kongehuset.no

Newspaper FinansAvisen reported that security alone for the party would cost NOK 20 million. That was quickly refuted by police officials themselves, who said it would “only” cost NOK 3 million, and that they’d be reimbursed by the state.

Royal Palace spokeswoman Marianne Hagen, already fending off a media frenzy over the cost of Mette-Marit’s wardrobe and confirmation that the crown princess has been getting some of her gowns and designer clothes for free or at a discount without disclosing the gifts, finally told newspaper VG that “the guests will sleep in tents and sleeping bags.” Some of the royal guests attending would sleep inside Haakon’s and Mette-Marit’s large house, but the hosts wuld join their guests outdoors. Guests included the crown prince and crown princess of Denmark and the new king of the Netherlands, son of recently abdicated Queen Beatrix.

The palace actually published this photo of spare plates and bowls collected from the royal couple's friends, for use at Crown Prince Haakon's 40th birthday party. They'll all be given away after the party. PHOTO: kongehuset.no

The palace actually published this photo of spare plates and bowls collected from the royal couple’s friends, for use at Crown Prince Haakon’s 40th birthday party. They’ll all be given away after the party. PHOTO: kongehuset.no

Hagen wouldn’t reveal in advance which musicians would be performing at the festival, but said they didn’t include major international stars. “What I can say is that performer after performer will be ‘unwrapped’ and handed over to the crown prince from the stage,” she told VG. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that some fairly “big names” are expected, though, given the couple’s interest in music and close ties to many performers.

The performers, according to reports after the party, included Norwegian musicians Lars Lillo-Stenberg, Thomas Dybdahl, Solveig Slettahjell and Anne Grete Preus. The crown prince joined some of them on stage, both singing and playing guitar.

King Harald and Queen Sonja also attended the party, which began Saturday afternoon and continued on Sunday, but the palace said they would stay at their summer mansion on Oslo’s Bygdøy Peninsula, not in tents in “the festival area.”

The palace also noted that meals would be served on plates and with utensils gathered from friends and employees “who have emptied their cabinets and drawers, cellars and attics.” All the tableware was to be given away after the festival.

Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit in a recently released photo taken inside their royal estate at Skaugum. PHOTO: kongehuset.no

Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit in a recently released photo taken inside their royal estate at Skaugum. PHOTO: kongehuset.no

The royal couple, who hosted no large parties when they turned 30, unlike Haakon’s sister Princess Martha Louise who threw a formal bash in Bergen, seemed keen to project a dressed-down, even economical image for the party, despite the large number of guests invited from within Norway and abroad. The palace made a point of noting that “royal birthdays and special occasions are normally celebrated privately. The costs will be covered by the Civil List.” That was before it became known that guests were also asked to contribute towards covering the costs, with one party organizer suggesting that NOK 2,000 (USD 333) per person would be a fitting amount.

Debate continued, meanwhile, over the crown princess’ wardrobe, with some defending her fondness for exclusive designer apparel and others calling her a hypocrite. It’s her long undisclosed practice of accepting free or royally discounted gowns, though, that drew the most criticism, with some commentators claiming it turned the crown princess into a “living advertising poster” for designers.

“You can’t be a royal in clothes from H&M,” intoned newspaper Aftenposten, referring to the discount clothing chain Hennes & Mauritz. “There is a difference, though, in being a model or film star and accepting free gowns, and being a royal. The latter represents the Norwegian state, and hidden promotion is not acceptable.” All royal gifts, commentators seemed to agree, should be registered “so that the public will know which ties the royal family has.”

“Marie Antoinette’s stupidity cost her her head,” wrote commentator Sissel Hoffengh in newspaper Dagsavisen. “Fortunately we’ve stopped doing such things. But maybe something good can come out of Mette-Marit’s headless clothing consumption, like a more intense debate about the Norwegian monarchy’s future.”

Few actually think the future of the monarchy is at stake over the crown princess’ wardrobe or her decision to ask friends to help pay for her husband’s birthday party. Norway’s future queen, meanwhile, will celebrate her own 40th birthday on August 19 with an outdoor church service in Dronningparken, the Queen’s Park in Oslo. Former Oslo Bishop Gunnar Stålsett, who married the couple in 2001, will officiate and around 350 guests from organizations in which Mette-Marit is involved will be invited. The public park won’t be closed during the celebration.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund