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Thursday, May 30, 2024

Crown Prince Haakon turns 50

Norway’s next heir to the throne says he now feels like he’s definitely come of age. Crown Prince Haakon celebrated his 50th birthday on Thursday, while on what’s been called a “private” summer holiday in Norway with friends and family.

Norway’s Crown Prince Haakon turned 50 on July 20, 2023. PHOTO: Det kongelige hoff

It’s no secret that the royal yacht Norge has been spotted in Northern Norway this week, nor that the crown prince’s father, King Harald V (age 86), has been fishing for wild salmon in the Alta River. The monarch even caught a salmon that weighed over 10 kilos (22 lbs), reports news bureau NTB.

Then came some new family photos (external link to the Royal Palace’s own website) showing Crown Prince Haakon and his family posing along the Neiden River in Sør-Varanger, not far from Alta. The royal yacht could be glimpsed in the background of the photos that featured a more relaxed crown prince with his wife, Crown Princess Mette-Marit, their daughter Princess Ingrid Alexandra (heir to the throne after Haakon) and their son, Prince Sverre Magnus.

Both Crown Prince Haakon and his wife are turning 50 this summer, but there won’t be any official celebration until August 25, which is also their wedding anniversary. Then they’ve invited guests to what’s been billed as a “backyard party” at the palace in Oslo.

In the meantime it was an official flag day in Norway to mark the occasion, along with a 21-gun salute at noon, and there’s also been a splash of media coverage, with state broadcaster NRK running a documentary on the crown prince’s life so far and newspaper Aftenposten’s A-magasinet running a lengthy story on the prince extending over 34 pages. In it he admits to a “50-year crisis” of sorts.

Crown Prince Haakon and his father, King Harald V, meeting Ukrainian refugees in Oslo last year. PHOTO: Det kongelige hoff/Sara Svanemyr

“I’m afraid of giving up any thought of having fun and playing,” Crown Prince Haakon told A-magasinet. “For example, when people our age get together, we don’t listen to music anymore. I think that’s stupid.”

He was only 13 when his own father turned 50, and remembers thinking that was quite old. Now it’s his turn, “but there are good things about being 50,” he added. “I think I’ve entered a phase in which I can reflect more over how life has been until now, and how it will be. Maybe be a bit more relaxed.”

That’s unlikely when one becomes head of state, but he’s already been taking on more and more of this father’s duties, especially when the king has been sick and in hospital during the past few years. Crown Prince Haakon is also known for his own public projects, like hiking the route to Sweden that Norwegian refugees took when fleeing Nazi German invaders during World War II, making a point of meeting youngsters of all social classes and ethnicity around the country, promoting new business innovation and especially inclusion of minorities in Norwegian society.

“There must be room in Norway to be who you are,” Haakon told A-magasinet. “The people who live here in Norway must feel included in a common project. I like that thought.” His father and grandfather have believed much the same, with the late King Olav referring to immigrants as “our new fellow citizens” and his father King Harald making a famous speech a few years ago about how Norwegians can be from various regions around the country but also from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Poland, representing a wide range of ethnic and gender diversity.

Asked what he would have like to do if he hadn’t been born into the royal family, destined to become Norway monarch, Haakon said he wasn’t sure, but “maybe a journalist, writing about international politics.” He has a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of California at Berkeley and a master’s degree from the London School of Economics, with an emphasis on international trade and Africa.

Crown Prince Haakon meeting youngsters in Oslo. PHOTO: Det kongelige hoff/Sven Gj Gjeruldsen

He has also worked at the UN, followed the internship program for budding diplomats at the Foreign Ministry and carries the rank of general in the Army, admiral in the Navy and general in the Air Force.

He admits that he struggled a bit with his future role as king, and spoke a lot about it with his parents, but claims he takes on the role as a royal willingly. “I can’t be forced into this,” he told A-magasinet. “Yes, it’s in the constitution that it’s the law, but no one would fine me or put me in prison if I refused to do this. There’s a choice there, both for me and for Ingrid (his daughter).”

Meanwhile, he can be assured that Norwegians still overwhelmingly support the monarchy, despite the paradox of the inherited privilege it entails in a country otherwise built on a foundation of equality among all. It’s a jarring, even absurd, exception to the rule in Norway, but Norwegians voted in favour of a constitutional monarchy in 1905 and still adhere to it.

A few royal scandals have tarnished the monarchy over the years, such as when large amounts of taxpayer money were spent on a major refurbishment of the Royal Palace, when his father married a commoner (Sonja Haraldsen), when the crown prince himself married a single mother known for partying, and, most recently, when his sister has exploited her royal title for business gains, not least when her business has involved controversial health cures and her own personal partnership with an African-American shaman who has claimed the Norwegian people don’t want to see a black man in the royal family. He also tried selling a medallion for USD 2,000 that he claimed helped him when he was infected with the Corona virus.

That clearly upset the royal couple and palace staff. After King Harald blamed a “cultural collision” and said he understood negative public reaction to all the controversy around his daughter Princess Martha Louise and Durek Verrett, the family launched a “process” that resulted in the princess retaining her title but relinquishing all royal duties.

Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit with their daughter Princess Ingrid, on the occasion of her graduation from high school in June. PHOTO: Det kongelige hoff/Liv Anette Luane

“I don’t think we’re immune to how people view us,” Haakon told A-magasinet. “At the same time, I think people understand what the king, queen, the crown princess and I stand for, and what are others’ activities. We are responsible for how we manage our roles.”

He insists he doesn’t take it personally when some Norwegians criticize the monarchy as an institution. “No, I really don’t,” he said. “It’s part of a democratic society to believe we should have another system.” Nor did it bother him when newspapers Dagbladet and Dagens Næringsliv (DN) published investigative pieces about how the royals spent money from the palace budget for their own personal homes or holiday homes: “It’s the press’ job to monitor how society’s money is spent. They followed the flow of funds and I think that’s fine. We learned a lot from that.”

His role is supposed to be non-political, but it’s easy to see what issues he’s most concerned about by seeing what he agrees to take part in. That’s often programs involving climate challenges, food shortages, anti-bullying and equality issues, melting ice and cleaner seas. He was among the first in Norway to get an electric car, way back when only small, short-distance vehicles were on the market.

In his free time, he’s an active skier and surfer who also loves music. On NRK’s documentary about him Thursday, he could quickly say who his favourites are, also in the hip-hop genre. He and his wife actually met at a music festival in her home town of Kristiansand back in the 1990s. And when it comes to 50th birthday celebrations, he said that if it was entirely up to him, he’d prefer inviting just a few friends and family to go surfing somewhere.

NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

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