SEE THE VIDEO: An estimated 3,000 Norwegians streamed to the Royal Palace in Oslo on Tuesday evening, to pay tribute to King Harald and Queen Sonja as they began official celebrations of their 80th birthdays. Those defying chilly temperatures and the threat of rain on the palace grounds also got a glimpse of royals from all over Europe, who appeared on the palace balcony before heading indoors again for a gala banquet.
The commoners showing up on the palace grounds were treated to free ice cream cones (appropriately called Krone-is, from the days when they only cost one Norwegian krone, or crown) and some warm-up entertainment by the King’s Guards, who have won many a Military Tattoo for their precise marching, music and drill team expertise. Then came the high-energy Oslo Soul Children’s choir who also tried to warm up the crowd, while young trapeze artists performed on the sidelines.
Norway’s royal family is widely acknowledged as an anachronism from days gone by, but the country’s constitutional monarchy has strong support from 81 percent of the population, according to the latest survey conducted when King Harald actually turned 80 in February. Among its supporters is Christina Sedler, who brought her 11-year-old son Sean to take part in the festivities on Tuesday: “I want to hang on to the Palace and the traditions around it,” she told newspaper Aftenposten on Wednesday. “We’re proud of them,” echoed Sean.
King Harald V has also made a good impression on the five prime ministers who have served since he ascended the throne in 1991. From Labour’s Gro Harlem Brundtland at that time to the Conservatives’ Erna Solberg today, all of them noted the monarch’s humour, wisdom, interest in current events and insight as strengths that helped them do their jobs as well. Since 1814, when Norway signed its constitution on the 17th of May, it’s been a firm tradition for the monarch and the prime minister (also when Sweden’s king ruled Norway until 1905) to meet for a private conversation once a month. The contents of their talks are kept strictly confidential, but Brundtland, Thorbjørn Jagland, Kjell Magne Bondevik, Jens Stoltenberg and Solberg all called them “extremely useful” and even comforting. “The conversations were always interesting and inspiring,” Brundtland told Aftenposten, which had asked each prime minister to describe them. Brundtland called King Harald “an important source of support,” while Bondevik said he was “encouraged” by their conversations. Added Solberg: “His warmth, concern and quick replies make our meetings extra valuable. We can talk openly about how it’s going at work.”
Most important is the monarch’s role as a unifying factor in a country that has eight political parties represented in Parliament, sometimes more. The monarch is supposed to stay politically neutral but King Harald and his son, Crown Prince Haakon, have found ways to make it clear that immigrants and refugees, for example, should be welcomed and included into Norwegian society, and that tolerance and diversity are of critical importance. The king made that extremely clear in a speech he held last year in connection with the 25th anniversary of his reign. The speech also attracted international attention, because of how the king described and praised Norway’s new multi-cultural society that includes gender diversity. He feels it all “enriches Norwegian culture,” and his hope is for Norwegian society to be built upon “mutual confidence, fellowship and generosity,” where everyone is included, “where we recognize that we are, despite our differences, one people.”
Canons were roaring from the Akershus Fortress again on Wednesday, when the royal couple and their royal guests set off at 11am on a “mini-cruise” around the Oslo Fjord despite chilly temperatures and steady rain. The weather was not cooperating with the royal birthday celebrations, but most all carried on. Festivities would continue Wednesday evening, with the biggest royal motorcade since the last royal wedding in Oslo, as guests are driven through the city to the Opera House for a government-hosted dinner. It was all set to end with fireworks at 10:30.