Tragedy shatters royals’ holidays

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Both Norway’s royal family and many Norwegians as well were stunned on the Christmas Day holiday when the family of Princess Martha Louise’s ex-husband, Ari Behn, announced that Behn had “taken his own life” earlier in the day. The announcement also broke new ground in a country that’s always been reluctant to report or otherwise publicly acknowledge suicide.

Ari Behn and his then-wife, Princess Martha Louise, at a royal wedding in Stockholm in 2010. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

“It’s with great sorrow in our hearts that we, those closest to Ari Behn, must report that he took his own life today,” read the announcement sent on behalf of Behn’s famly to newspaper VG by Geir Håkonsund, who has functioned as Ari Behn’s manager. “We ask for respect for our private lives in the time to come.”

The announcement was issued and quickly reported in Norwegian media Wednesday evening, at around 9pm, on one of the biggest holidays of the year. Earlier in the day, Behn’s three daughters had attended church services in Oslo with their mother, Princess Martha Louise, King Harald and Queen Sonja, and the man whom Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) had reported as “a surprise guest:” Durek Verrett, the controversial shaman who emerged last spring as the princess’ “new flame.”

The Royal Palace had already announced that the king and queen would be celebrating the Christmas holidays with Princess Martha Louise at their timber lodge near Holmenkollen in the hills above Oslo. There had been no mention that Verrett would be included, or her children since the couple had joint custody. Verrett has sparked criticism and been accused of trying to control press coverage. Crown Prince Haakon and his family, meanwhile, were spending the holidays at their private cabin in the mountains at Uvdal.

Ari Behn, shown here at another royal wedding in 2013, took his own life on Christmas Day. He was a member of Norway’s royal family for 14 years, and leaves three young daughters. PHOTO: Wikipedia

Details surrounding Behn’s death were not revealed, but the Royal Palace quickly acknowledged the tragedy, issuing statements by both King Harald and Queen Sonja, who were Behn’s father- and mother-in-law for the 14 years that he was married to their daughter, from 2002 to 2016.

“The Queen and I have received news of Ari Behn’s death with great sorrow,” stated the 82-year-old King Harald, who is recovering from a viral infection that forced him to cancel official duties last week. “Ari was an important member of our family for many years, and we carry with us warm, good memories of him. We are grateful that we got to know him.”

King Harald went on to state that he and Queen Sonja were deeply sorry that three of their granddaughters “have lost their dear pappa, and we have deep sympathy for his (Behn’s) parents and siblings, who have lost their dear son and brother.” King Harald also asked that “Ari’s closest family be allowed to mourn in private during this painful time.”

The Royal Palace also issued a statement Christmas night from Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit, who called Ari Behn “a good friend, a dear member of the family and a fantastic uncle (for their children, including the heir to the throne, Princess Ingrid Alexandra).” The crown couple noted that they had “shared many of life’s small and great moments. We have received news of his death with great sorrow. We were all very fond of Ari. Our thoughts go esepcially to Maud, Leah and Emma (Behn’s daughters with Princess Martha Louise)” and to “Martha Louise and Ari’s closest family.”

There was no statement from Martha Louise herself. She and Behn separated three years ago, leading to the first royal divorce in the Norwegian royal family. The princess, who’s long been criticized for using her royal title in several controversial business ventures over the years, claimed last spring that she had since met “her real flame” in Verrett, and the two have been touring lately to commercially promote spirituality and efforts to communicate with the dead.

Behn, an author and artist, had been controversial as well. He had a spectacular debut in 1999 with his book Trist som faen (Sad as hell) that won good reviews and sold 100,000 copies. He relished in being a modern-day bohemian, became an instant member of Norway’s literary scene and made headlines when he tattooed VG‘s own high rating of “6” for his book on his arm.

He then went on to win the princess and become part of Norway’s royal family. He kept writing and branched into various forms of artistry, from designing glassworks to painting, holding an exhibition as late as this fall with Mikael Persbrandt. He enjoyed meeting the public and won a few prizes in Østfold, his home county south of Oslo. There were several run-ins with the press, however, and he struggled to make a comeback as an author. He had told VG in October, however, that he had a good relationship with Princess Martha Louise and with the king and queen after their divorce. “They’re the grandparents of my children and I love them very much,” he told VG.

Reports of Behn’s death were stunning in themselves, meanwhile, because of their unusual honesty regarding his suicide. Norway has a long tradition of initially hushing up suicides, with media generally reporting only that a suicide victim “was found dead” and omitting the cause of death. Media have recently become a bit more open but remain careful in reporting suicides, generally long after the fact, because of alleged fears they’ll encourage other suicides. Proponents of openness, meanwhile, have advocated changes in reporting policy, with Behn’s family clearly respondng to the call and the royals responding as well. Behn was 47.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund