British royals turn on the charm

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Oslo was serving as the latest venue on Thursday for what’s widely been called a “charm offensive” by the British government in the midst of difficult Brexit negotiations. An overnight visit by arguably Britain’s most popular royal couple comes “at the request of The Foreign and Commonwealth Office,” according to the British Royal Family’s own website.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, better known asWilliam and Kate, spent the past two days in Stockholm before heading to Oslo. PHOTO: kungahuset.se/Jonas Ekströmer /TT

The couple is consistently referred to on the website as “The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge,” but they’re better known simply as “William and Kate.” They were set to get a warm welcome in a wintry Norwegian capital, with a packed schedule that runs from early Thursday afternoon through late Friday afternoon. The roughly 26 hours they’ll spend in Oslo was timed down to the minute and due to be followed by a large international press corps.

Norway’s own Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit, older than William and Kate but in roughly the same generaion, met them at Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen, where their arrival was 20 minutes delayed because of heavy snow on departure from Stockholm, which they’ve also been visiting. They rode in separate cars into Oslo, though, also separated by security vehicles, as they headed for lunch with King Harald and Queen Sonja at the Royal Palace, where they’ll also be spending the night.

While Oslo often attracts royals from around Europe for special birthday celebrations and other occasions, it’s seldom that high-ranking British royals attend. Queen Elizabeth visited Norway during her first tour abroad as monarch in 1955, sailing across the North Sea on the royal yacht Britannia, but has only officially been in Norway three times since. Her son Prince Charles attended the funeral of Norway’s King Olav V in 1991 but British royal representation has otherwise often come in the form of Prince Edward or his wife, and only at major events such as royal weddings or jubilees.

Norway and Britain, personified here by former Foreign Minister Børge Brende with his British counterpart Boris Johnson in London last year, will need to strike their own bilateral trade deal when the UK leaves the European Union. Efforts remain underway to mount a new referendum on the issue in hopes of halting the whole process, but that’s unlikely. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet

Thursday marks the first “official visit” by Prince William and his wife to Norway,  according to the detailed plans for the visit unveiled by Buckingham Palace earlier this month (external link). They traveled directly from Sweden, where they also made their first visit on Tuesday and Wednesday. The visits follow trips last year to France, Poland and Germany, where newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung called the couple “Her Majesty’s secret weapon” in alleged efforts to boost the UK’s image and soothe tensions over its pending exit from the European Union. Brexit is causing great anxiety not only within the EU but also in Scandinavia, where Sweden and Denmark are members of the EU but Norway is not.

Norwegian officials have been working hard to monitor Brexit negotiations and what they will mean not only for Norway’s own trade agreement with the EU but also for the new trade agreement Norway will need to draft with the UK. Britain, meanwhile, has also been interested in how Norway has come to terms with the EU as a non-member. “The whole point (with the visit by William and Kate) is tied to Brexit,” Richard Fitzwilliams, a longtime commentator on the British royal family, told Oslo newspaper Aftenposten last weekend.

Britain has been sending its “strongest cards” (Kate and William, at far left) to several European countries lately, says a Norwegian British scholar, as a form of “nation building” for Britain after it leaves the EU. Here with the Swedish royals in Stockholm before traveling on to Norway. PHOTO: kungehuset.se/Jonas Ekströmer/TT

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) also has reported that the British government thus is “sending out its strongest cards” (William and Kate) to charm fellow royals, government leaders and others in countries like Germany, Poland, Sweden and Norway. “When countries face an uncertain future, they need to pull out the strongest cards they have,” Jan Erik Mustad, a British scholar at the University of Agder in southern Norway, told NRK this week. “In Great Britain, that’s the royal family, and William and Kate are decidedly the most popular (among the British royals).”

Mustad believes Great Britain “wants to show interest for and cement ties to other countries,” through a form of “nation building” for a post-Brexit age. “William and Kate are extremely popular and a unifying factor both among the British and in relations between Great Britain and other countries,” Mustad told NRK. Their visits to France, Poland and Germany were deemed a PR success, as was Sweden. Now it’s Norway’s turn, and the red carpets were literally rolled out in advance.

There already are historic ties between Norway and Britain going back to Viking times but most importantly between the royal families. When Norway reinstated its own monarchy in 1905, its first queen, Maud, was a granddaughter of England’s Queen Victoria. She was married to Prince Carl of Denmark who became Norway’s King Haakon VII, and their son, who became King Olav V (grandfather of the current Crown Prince Haakon), was born in England and spent much of his childhood there. Norway and Britain remained close allies during World War II, with Haakon and Olav setting up their government in exile in London. Both retained close ties to Great Britain through the years. Now it’s time for the next generations to become better acquainted.

Viewing opportunities
While Norway’s King Harald and Queen Sonja are officials hosts, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will be shown around mostly by Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit, who also have invited them home to their estate in suburban Skaugum for lunch on Friday. There will be a formal dinner at the Royal Palace in Oslo Thursday evening, to be attended by government officials as well, but the British ambassador to Norway, Sarah Gillett, was on NRK’s national radio in Norway Thursday morning, saying that the British royal couple also wanted to meet “as many Norwegians as possible.”

That won’t be easy given all the security required for an heir to the British throne and the 144 accredited members of the press following them, but NRK obligingly offered the following viewing possibilities:

*** 3pm Thursday on the grounds of the Royal Palace, where the couple will be shown Princess Ingrid Alexandra’s Sculpture Park. Norway’s Royal Palace was openly encouraging the public to show up, in support of the royals.

*** 4pm Thursday, possible sightings downtown, when Haakon and William visit the MESH offices for start-up firms on Tordenskiolds Gate. Haakon and William were also due to visit the historic Akershus Fortress after the MESH visit, to inspect new helicopters.

*** 10am Friday, when the royals will visit Hartvig Nissens high school in Oslo, which served as the setting for the hit TV series Skam (Shame).

*** 2pm Friday at the Holmenkollen Ski Jump and Museum, followed quickly by a visit to the frozen lake known as Øvresetertjern close to Frognerseteren, where the royals will meet children “and see how outdoor play and winter sports are a natural part of growing up in Norway,” according to a press release from Norway’s Royal Palace.

At 3:15pm on Friday, the royals were scheduled to bid farewell and be driven directly back to OSL Gardermoen for the flight home to London. Oslo Police were warning of traffic congestion during the Friday afternoon commuter rush hour, because of street and highway closings needed to make way for the royal convoy of automobiles.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund