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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Norway’s crown princess has grown up

Her transformation from rebellious T-shirt-clad single mother to taking on a major role in Norway’s royal family has been tough. Crown Princess Mette-Marit could mark her recent 50th birthday, though, with a new sense of security at a huge joint celebration with her husband on their own wedding anniversary.

This is the latest official portrait of Norway’s Crown Princess Mette-Marit, released on the occasion of her 50th birthday on August 19. PHOTO: Det kongelige hoff/Liv Anette Luane

“When you turn 50, you realize that life isn’t endless,” Mette-Marit told magazine D2 in a rare interview earlier this month. “But there’s something very good about this age, too. There’s a sense of security. I’m much less concerned about what people think about me. There are other things that are more important now.”

Her husband, Crown Prince Haakon, turned 50 this summer, too, but they celebrated his birthday on July 20 and hers on August 19 privately, opting for an official celebration that coincided with their 22nd wedding anniversary on August 25. The so-called “backyard party” at the Royal Palace in Oslo assembled all representatives of the “official Norway,” from top politicians to the Supreme Court justice, leaders of national organizations and Norwegian celebrities from the arts and athletics, but also “ordinary people” the crown couple have met during their work and travels. No other royals from abroad were invited, marking a break from tradition as the crown couple made a point of “celebrating the Norway we together have created over these past 50 years” instead of just themselves.

The last formal portrait of Crown Princess Mette-Marit released by the Royal Palace is from 2016. PHOTO: Det kongelige hoff/Jørgen Gomnæs

Norway’s relatively open and informal royals have tightened control of their media exposure in recent years. The last formal photo of the crown couple that’s available for press use was released in 2016, as was the last portrait of Mette-Marit alone in her royal regalia. They’ve both changed since then, and a new informal photo of the crown princess was released earlier this month.

The crown couple have also been fiercely protective of their children, even though they’re mostly all grown up now, too. Television coverage of Princess Ingrid Alexandra and her brother Prince Sverre Magnus hosting a quiz during the party Friday night was not allowed, for example, and Mette-Marit’s son from an earlier relationship, Marius Borg Høiby, mostly stays out of the spotlight.

He and Mette-Marit’s earlier life as a waitress and part of the 1990s’ house party milieu made her an unlikely candidate as crown princess. Crown Prince Haakon met her at a rock festival in her hometown of Kristiansand in the summer of 1999. By December of that year, newspaper Dagbladet was reporting that Haakon was “in love with a single mother.” He publicly acknowledged their relationship in May 2000, they were first photographed together at the same rock festival the following summer, they started living together and their engagement was announced on December 1, 2000 despite months of controversy, much of it at the highest levels of government.

Mette-Marit was widely viewed as unsuitable to take on the role of queen one day. Haakon refused to break up with her, however, and his parents King Harald and Queen Sonja, accepted his choice of spouse. Four months before their engagement, Mette-Marit offered a tearful account of how her youthful rebellion had been “quite a lot stronger than many others'” and admitted she’d “gone over the line” while living a wild life. She all but asked to be forgiven, and the couple married on August 25, 2001.

“It all seems so long ago, when I married and made the decisions I made,” Mette-Marit told D2. “I was in a completely different place.” Now, she said, “I think it’s uninteresting to talk about,” apart from adding that “I think my children and their friends are much wiser than I ever was at that age.”

Now, years later, she’s been widely accepted as Norway’s crown princess and is popular at home. Her activities have been restricted in recent years by health problems including a chronic lung disease, but she promotes literature, entrepreneurship, sustainability and a variety of other causes, not least psychiatric health issues for youth, “both because I have experienced challenges when I was young myself, when I struggled to find a foothold in my own life.”

Crown Princess Mette-Marit and Crown Prince Haakon with the daughter Princess Ingrid Alexandra when she graduated from high school in June. Ingrid Alexandra is next in line to inherit the throne after her father. PHOTO: Det kongelige hoff/Liv Anette Luane

She said she’s wanted her own children to have “a great feeling of freedom” in their lives, despite their ties to the royal family and Princess Ingrid Alexandra being born as heir to the throne. “The most important thing is to tell them ‘you can choose, this is your choice. If you want me to help you evaluate that choice, I of course will, but you must be allowed to make your own choices.’ I think that’s important.”

Crown Princess Mette Marit told D2 that she’s “never been afraid” of taking on big projects she knows nothing about. She recently took up weaving, working with and learning from new friends who are mostly in their 80s. Her biggest project, however, was simply “marrying Haakon,” she said. “There was so much I didn’t know or couldn’t do. I can be afraid of completely other things, but I’m quite good at casting myself out in things I can’t do. I think it’s important to continue doing so, when we get older, to remain open and curious and don’t stiffen up in your life.”

Asked whether she thinks the monarchy is important, she laughed and said that’s not for her to evaluate. She does think, however, that it’s important to have “common arenas where we’re reminded of our values.” That was also the theme of the crown couple’s birthday party, to celebrate “who we are and what has formed us as a nation.” They wanted to celebrate Norway, not themselves or the monarchy.

Another major part of their 50th birthday year has been a program of five trips around Norway, one for each decade of their lives. The traveled to Stord to concentrate on Norway’s industrial history and community, to Setesdal and Telemark to study Norwegian handwork and tradition, to Finnmark to experience “our Sami heritage” and they’ve visited many spots in the capital of Oslo to study Norwegian urban life. This week they’ll travel on the royal yacht Norge out to Træna south of Bodø to study Norway’s coastal and maritime culture, visiting the islands of Husøya and Selvær.

Asked whether she’s wondered what her now-privileged life would have been like if she hadn’t met the crown prince, she smiled and told D2 she’d “entertained the thought a few times. I have no idea what I would have done. I think it was very good that I met Haakon.”

NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

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