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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Grateful royals finally comment

King Harald V and Queen Sonja issued a statement through the Royal Palace on Wednesday, in which they expressed an “urgent need” to issue thanks “for all the care, help and support” they’ve received after the king became ill during a private holiday trip to Malaysia’s Lankawi islands. It’s the first, if indirect, communication from the royal couple themselves after more than a week of brief statements from palace officials who refused interviews.

One of the most recent official portraits of King Harald and Queen Sonja, from 2021. PHOTO: Det kongelige hoff/Jørgen Gomnæs

Norwegian media have noted how King Harald, age 87, has usually been open about his various ailments over the years, including a serious bout with bladder cancer more than 20 years ago and heart surgery. The traditional openness is aimed at  warding off uninformed speculation.

This time, however, information was unusually sparse. The palace initially issued only a terse, two-sentence press release on February 27 that the king had fallen ill with an unspecified “infection” during the royal couple’s holiday in Malaysia, that he’d been hospitalized and was being attended by both Malayian and Norwegian medical personnel.

That sparked lots of questions, especially when the government asked the military to organize the king’s transport home at cost of what defense officials reported was NOK 2 million. It involved a specially equipped SAS medevac jet that most recently has been used to transport wounded Ukrainian soldiers. The palace, meanwhile, had continued to respond with only short updates over the next five days despite massive public interest in the monarch’s health. That was followed by confirmation that he was on his way home, that he’d landed back in Oslo, and would be hospitalized at the national hospital (Rikshospitalet).

Crown Prince Haakon and King Harald at the opening of Parliament in 2022. PHOTO: Stortinget/Peter Mydske

The crown prince, who suddenly had to take on the role of regent with his father incapacitated and far away, met briefly with reporters, but was also relatively vague. No one came out to talk to reporters who’d quickly been sent to Langkawi and spent days either outside the local hospital or at the local airport. Even though Norwegian medical teams and ultimately the king’s own primary care physician had also been sent to Langkawi, they didn’t make themselves available to answer questions, not did the queen.

Long-time royal watchers began to suspect that the king was in fact seriously ill, and alarm grew over the well-being of Norway’s head of state. That seemed to be confirmed when some new updates from palace staff noted that the king was suffering from a slow heart beat and had to have a temporary pacemaker installed for the trip home. On Monday, after he’d arrived back home, a slightly longer press release stated that his unspecified infection “has come more under control.” The monarch was also said to still have heart problems, and that a new, permanent pacemaker would be inserted when he’s entirely infection-free. “That can take several more days,” the palace reported, adding that King Harald will likely remain in hospital through the weekend.

Another of the most recent official photos of Norway’s royal couple, taken in 2021. King Harald currently remains hospitalized after their ill-fated holiday trip to Malaysia, with Queen Sonja visiting him frequently. PHOTO: Det kongelige hoff/Jørgen Gomnes

On Wednesday the palace reported that King Harald is “steadily improving,” and then it issued the royal couple’s thank-you message. In it, they stated that they “had felt the warmth that streamed from the Norwegian people.” The public interest and media coverage “touched us and strengthened us. Many thanks to everyone for the conceren and care you have shown us in the family.”

The royal couple also issued “many thanks” to Malaysian authorities and employees at the Sultanah Maliha Hospital on Langakawi. “Together with Norwegian health care personnel they did everything they could so that the king should get through his illness and be ready for the trip home,” they wrote.

We are also extremely grateful to the Norwegian government, the defense department and others who helped make the trip so safe and flexible for us,” the couple stated, adding that “the king is now under skilled care at the national hospital. We thank everyone who has given us care and practical and professional help in a demanding situation.”

Crown Prince Regent Haakon will continue to assume his father’s duties, meeting with Ukrainian soldiers on Monday before a scheduled trip to Bergen on Tuesday and to the Mongstad Technology Center on Wednesday. He answered more questions while in Bergen, saying his father “needs more time to get better” and confirming that “he has been dårlig (seriously ill)” and still needs hospital care. He even acknowledged that the communications around the king’s holiday illness could have been handled better, suggesting “that’s something we’ll address internally.”

The crown prince was also due to step in for the king’s weekly meeting with the foreign minister on Thursday, conduct the weekly Council of State with the government on Friday, and join most of the rest of the royal family at the annual Holmenkollen Ski Festival during the weekend. That’s a sporting event usually attended by the monarch, who also had planned to meet with NATO soldiers taking part in the current Nordic Response exercises going on in Northern Norway.

Now Crown Prince Regent Haakon will meet with them alone in Alta on Monday and Tuesday, and he’ll also conduct next week’s Council of State. The king is first listed back on the palace’s official program on March 18th, for the regularly scheduled meeting with Norway’s chief of defense.

NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

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