UPDATED: A special flag was set up on the balcony of Norway’s Royal Palace in Oslo and immediately lowered to half-mast with a black mourning band, on both the day after Queen Elizabeth II died and later for her funeral. Inside the palace, meanwhile, King Harald V has to deal with more controversy around his daughter, Princess Martha Louise, who’s been dumped as a patron for two Norwegian health care organizations.
At issue once again is the princess’ and her fiancé Durek Verrett’s alleged use of her royal title to attract attention and commercial gain, along with their promotion of alternative health care methods that’s alarming several health-related organizations. Verrett sells products and courses while also referring frequently to Princess Martha Louise on social media and taking part in events as part of the expanded royal family.
When they marry, he’ll become part of the royal family “and that’s not a role you can just go in and out of,” notes historian and author Trond Norén Isaksen, who specializes in issues related to the royal family. “If you see or do things that put a burden on the royal family, you can weaken its integrity,” Isaksen told newspaper Aftenposten this week when the princess was once again making headlines.
“The turbulence around Princess Martha Louise and Durek Verrett became part of the discussion (around her partronage of the epilepsy foundation), because we are based on a medicinal approach,” Bente Nordahl Langsø, leader of Norway’s national epilepsy federation (Norsk Epilepsiforbund), told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) this week. Langsø confirmed that it had decided to end its cooperation with Princess Martha Louise in 2020 because “as a patient organization we work closely with professionals and promote (treatments) that are scientifically proven. What Durek Verrett presents is against our ethics.”
The princess had been a beskytter (patron) of the epilepsy foundation for several years, reported NRK, in a system of terms that generally extend for five years at a time. When a term expires, organizations can apply to extend the patronage, but when the princess’ term ended in 2020 there was no desire to renew it.
While stressing that board members of the foundation separated the princess from Verrett, to whom she became engaged earlier this year, they had already criticized Verrett’s alternative treatment methods and warned publicly against them.
“Many of our members have serious epilepsy, and some have to live with side-effects (of medicine to control seizures) that can reduce their quality of life,” Jørn Sibeko, deputy secretary general of the epilepsy foundation, told NRK. “Of course an offer that this can be solved with a crystal or a medallion or homeopathic means can be tempting, but it’s also an offer that can enganger their lives. There are many examples of people who have died after they’ve stopped taking medicines on their own, without the consent of doctors.”
The princess may lose other patronage posts as well. NRK reports that the Norwegian rheumatism federation (Norsk Revmatikerforbund) may drop her, while newspaper Dagbladet reports that a national association for muscle illness (Foreningen for Muskelsyke, FFM) was considering ending its cooperation, too. On Friday FFM sent out a press release that it had indeed decided to drop Martha Louise as a patron because “steadily more members are reacting to Durek Verret’s speculative claims about his own form of alternative medicine and abilities as a shaman,” according to FFM leader Patricia Melsom.
Most organizations are otherwise keen to secure royal patronage, because of the attention it can attract, but the attention Princess Martha Louise generates has become unwelcome.
That’s because the organizations are also based on professional medical knowledge and studies, while the princess and her partner Verrett promote healing with Verrett also calling himself a shaman. He has earlier suggested that cancer is self-inflicted, a position he later regretted, and he recently claimed that his own recovery from Corona virus infection was tied to a medallion he’s been selling on his own website for more than NOK 2,000. He has refused hospital care, but told newspaper VG this week that he never meant to challenge the medical community. In his own video he has said that he just objected to the use of lots of “chemicals” or a respirator.
Verrett claimed on TV2 last weekend that everything revolves around medical treatment in Norway, while in the US there’s a more holistic approach. Not everyone agrees with that, with biology professor Kristian Gundersen at the University of Oslo among those who claim Verrett is serving up “sheer nonsense” that can’t be clarified on the basis of cultural differences. Dr Ole Henrik Krat Bjørkholt, a state secretary in the health ministry who’s also a former primary physician, fears that some people won’t seek medical help when needed.
“There’s no doubt this is a challenge for us,” Bo Gleditsch, secretary general of the Norway’s rheumatism federation, told NRK. He said the organization is also based on medical knowledge and that having the princess as a patron poses a challenge to its integrity. The federation is currently evaluating whether to break off its cooperation with the princess, or simply decline to renew its patronge agreement when it expires.
The princess refused to comment on the concerns lodged against her and Verrett when she appeared at a promotional event this week for Norway’s federation for the blind (Blindeforbundet). It remains satisfied with the attention she attracts, and none of the four other organizations who have her as royal patron plan to end their cooperation. The princess’ personal press contact, Carina Scheele Carlsen, referred futher questions from NRK to Durek Verrett’s press contact, who declined to answer.
Guri Varpe, communications chief at the Royal Palace, told NRK simply that during a “routine” review of royal patronage, “we registered that the epilepsy federation did not seek extension of Princess Martha Louise’s patronage.”
It remains up to King Harald V to deal with the fuss that often surrounds his daughter. He and Queen Sonja responded for the first time to criticism of their future son-in-law while on a visit to Møre og Romsdal last week:
“We’re getting better acquainted and we’ll be speaking more with him, like we do in a family,” King Harald told reporters. His daughter agreed under pressure in 2019 to stop using her princess-title in connection with commercial ventures, but that still seems to be a problem. The king blamed the controversy on a “culture collision,” even though others have dismissed that. The monarch added that “a process” was still underway to deal with all the controversy his daughter stirs up. He also made a point of praising Norway’s health care system.
“I’ve been so lucky, or unlucky, that I have had recent experience with being sick,” the monarch said, “and in this country we have an excellent healthcare system that I had to use again. I can only say that it’s very good to have such a healthcare system as we have in Norway.”