Norway’s Crown Prince Haakon remained under unusually harsh criticism Monday, accused of trying to “mumble” his way out of questions over his family’s summer holiday on board one of the world’s most expensive yachts. The royals, who otherwise try to maintain a carefully crafted folksey image, still refuse to say who paid for their holiday on a vessel that leases for more than NOK 2 million a week, and their secrecy has irked both the media and politicians.
“I have seen that there has been great interest in this,” said a visibly nervous crown prince when finally confronted by reporters face to face. The occasion was a public appearance on behalf of a scouting expedition he attended Monday afternoon with his daughter, Princess Ingrid Alexandra. He denied that he hadn’t wanted to talk earlier about his family’s holiday on board the yacht Mia-Elise in the Mediterranean: “This is the first time I’ve been asked directly.”
Palace spokeswoman Marianne Hagen, however, had earlier refused to answer questions about the holiday, claiming that “we don’t comment on (the royals’) private program.” She added only that Crown Prince Haakon and his wife, Crown Princess Mette-Marit, “had not hired any boat this summer.”
That suggested someone else had paid for the holiday spent aboard the yacht, and on Monday the crown prince confirmed that it came on an “invitation from a friend of ours. We visited for some days. There has been much speculation about this. It’s as simple as that.”
Questions remain about influence peddling
He refused to identify the friend, though, saying he didn’t want “to go into detail” about who footed the bill. He then launched into a relatively incoherent embellishment of sorts, mumbling and stammering in a manner that some commentators later described as “embarrassing” to hear. His message, however, seemed to be that when the royals are with friends, they don’t think that “he owes us something, or that we owe him something. That’s not how it functions.”
In Norway, however, all public officials otherwise are legally required to disclose all gifts, sponsorships or other relations that may have a bearing on their roles as public officials. Openness is expected, but the royals clearly feel they’re above such requirements. Several editors and commentators pointed out that especially Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit have earlier refused to reveal, for example, who has given Mette-Marit expensive gifts, clothing and fashion accessories. “That amounted to a form of product placement,” noted Kjetil B Alstadheim, Norway’s award-winning political editor and commentator at newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) during a live radio debate Monday evening on state broadcaster NRK P2. The royals’ refusal to be open “just shows how the palace isn’t following along with Norwegian society.” Attempts at influence peddling around the royals are under wraps.
The crown prince’s silence on who paid for his family’s holiday prompted Harald Stanghelle, political editor at newspaper Aftenposten, to claim that both Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit “have placed themselves in a political and commercial grey zone” that should be enlightened. Stanghelle also wrote in Aftenposten over the weekend that while all people have the right to a private life, Norway’s king- and queen-to-be need to be open “when we see that inside their sheltered world, commercial ties, political interests and controversial symbolic acts increasingly pop up.”
Suffering the consequences
Norwegian politicians are always hesitant to comment on royal controversy but on Monday, Prime Minister Erna Solberg joined the debate that’s flown since the royals’ holiday and secret benefactor was first revealed in magazine Se og Hør. She said that the royals “must decide for themselves what they think is correct,” and that they then “must take the consequences” if they don’t reveal who pays for them. “Some will believe that such secrecy damages the monarchy,” Solberg said, but claimed that she “had no opinion on that.”
Media researcher Carl-Erik Grimstad, who once worked at the Royal Palace, said he can’t understand why the so-called “crown couple” won’t identify their benefactor, other than to say he is a “friend” with little or no connection to Norway. “This just gets more interesting with every passing day,” Grimstad said. “And that’s the problem for the crown couple. All experience says they need to bring this to an end. The questions won’t go away, and it doesn’t help to behave like an ostrich.”
Even Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre, known as a personal friend of the royals himself, made some careful comments about the royal secrecy. “I believe in general that openness is good,” Støre said. “The crown couple and the royal family are often open about their dealings, but I would hesitate to judge what they say about their travels. It can be a matter of security that they need to evaluate.”