Stein Erik “Rimi” Hagen, who made his fortune establishing the Rimi grocery store chain in Norway, has long been one of Norway’s wealthiest and most high-profile businessmen. Now he’s also emerging as a champion of gay rights, and has confirmed publicly that it took him years to realize he was gay himself.
Hagen, the chairman of industrial firm Orkla whose marriage to forestry heiress Mille-Marie Treschow in 2004 attracted as much publicity as a royal wedding, used an appearance on state broadcaster NRK’s Friday evening talkshow Skavlan to confirm his homosexuality.
It had been rumoured for years, even before his second marriage to a woman and not least when he spoke in favour of tolerance and gay rights during Sunday services at Vålerenga Church in Oslo in March 2000. Hagen also has four children, with one of his grown daughters especially active in his business empire and investment firm Canica.
Hagen, 59, said he finally realized he was gay when he was at a “quite, quite, well-grown” age. “When I was in my 20s, I didn’t know what it (homosexuality) was,” Hagen told talk show host Fredrik Skavlan when Friday evening’s program was taped on Thursday.
He said he and his friends at the time “had heard about it, but it wasn’t something we associated with us.” He noted that Norway’s law against homosexuality wasn’t repealed until he was 16, in 1972. “Until then, it was illegal to be homosexual, or to practice it,” he recalled.
Earlier calls for diversity and tolerance
Hagen said a lot has changed since he first spoke publicly in Vålerenga Church about what he saw as a need “to create a society where tolerance and diversity must be fundamental values and the norm,” where “everyone must feel worthy regardless of sex, skin color, religion, health, age and sexual orientation.” He said he missed tolerance for individuality and creativity in Norway, denouncing what’s called bygdedyret (literally, a “community monster” that invisibly exists through suspicions around anyone or anything deemed as different from the norm). Hagen claimed that the bydgedyr is found just as easily in his affluent neighbourhood at Holmenkollen in Oslo as it is in small towns around the country, fed by envy, gossip and narrow-mindedness.
Now, 15 years later (although he told Skavlan it was closer to 20), Hagen continues to fight prejudice and finally seems confident enough to publicly declare his own homosexuality. His confirmation comes just after he’d campaigned vigorously to boost voter participation in recent elections that also selected delegates to the governing body of The Norwegian Church, which has loosened its ties to the state but remains largely state-funded. The goal was to elect a majority to the annual church meeting who would favour church marriages for homosexuals, and it was successful.
Fresh from that victory, Hagen told Skavlan that he now feels there’s far greater acceptance for homosexuality in Norway than there was just 20 years ago. He apparently remained in denial of his own sexual orientation, though, when he married a woman for the second time amidst much fanfare 11 years ago. Hagen and Treschow separated, though, in 2012, and he told newspaper Aftenposten at the time that they should have parted ways earlier. He only cited differences between them that were related, however, to her wealthy background dating back to Danish nobility in Norway, while he came from a humble background with his fortune self-made.
“We have had our own things to do and our own homes and then you can drift apart,” Hagen told Aftenposten. “And we were raised differently.” He joked that “it was easier before, when women were housewives and stayed at home, I can say that to be provocative. So many relationships dissolve now … we’ll likely see folks having several relationships during their lives.” He said he and Treschow had agreed to separate a year before they confirmed it publicly, but they delayed it because Hagen was diagnosed with prostate cancer and opted to undergo treatment for it in the US instead of at home in Norway. The treatments were successful.
At the time, three years ago, Hagen was ranked as Norway’s sixth-wealthiest Norwegian on the annual list compiled by Kapital magazine, with net worth of NOK 10.9 billion, while Treschow ranked 61st with a fortune of NOK 2.3 billion. In addition to often being in the news because of his business and political engagements, Hagen has also played a major role in Norway’s ongoing tax debate. He was the target of much criticism when he and his children moved much of their fortune to Switzerland to avoid some of Norway’s high taxes. Hagen has, however, also been an active philanthropist, donating millions to the medical school at the University of Oslo, to the national hospital Rikshospitalet and to various projects like the remodelling of Norway’s ski museum at Holmenkollen. The investment company he controls, Canica, has also made major donations and holds a large art collection with pieces lent out to various museums.