Norway’s King Harald V turns 85 today. Here’s how he made the Norwegian royalty as popular as ever

King Harald - Queen SonjaPhoto: Lise Åserud / POOL NTB
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King Harald V celebrates his 85th birthday today. On the throne for more than 30 years, he has had a long and storied life and helped guide the nation through some of its worst crises.

As King Harald V celebrates his 85th birthday today with his family, he can take a small amount of pride knowing that, during his reign, the monarchy remains as popular as it has ever been.

Harald Stanghelle, the former editor of Aftenposten, Dagbladet, and author of the book “The King tells”, attributes this popularity to the performance of the King in his role as monarch of Norway.

Stanghelle told NTB that “All kings must be kings of their own time. King Haakon meant an enormous amount in his time, King Olav in his time, and King Harald has in a very responsive and fine way reflected the time we live in now, and reflected the enormous changes that have been in his time as king.”

During King Harald’s reign, the Norwegian Royal Household has been focused on transparency and understanding the country and its problems. This new openness of the Norwegian Royal household can be understood by a series of speeches that King Harald has given throughout his reign.

Important speeches highlight a new, more modern, caring, and open royalty

For Stanghelle, 3 speeches typify King Harald’s breath of fresh air and the openness of the Norwegian royalty. The first, just a year after he assumed the throne after the death of his father King Olav V, Vardø Municipality in Finnmark in 1992. Dubbed “The Kiberg Speech,” the King regretted the treatment of partisans after the Second World War. In it, he said that “It can be painful to have to see history in a new light. I have a special feeling of this when I stand here in front of a monument to a part of our history that has partly been silenced to death.” Stanghelle felt that this speech, which gathered significant attention in the country and worldwide, set the tone for King Harald’s reign.

The second notable speech by King Harald was at the Oslo Spektrum marking of the 10th anniversary of the July 22 terror attacks. In it, he spoke of the need to understand and learn from such a tragic event. Perhaps his most internationally praised speech, however, was made in the Queen’s Garden in September 2016. Speaking at a Royal Garden Party, the King gave his unexpected and impassioned support to LGBT rights, refugees, cultural and religious toleration. The speech has been viewed 3.7 million times on the NRK Facebook page.

The king gets flowers from Olav Amund Eira and Ellen Inger Gaup, while the director of the Sámi archive, Inga Marja Steinfjell, and national archivist Inga Bolstad, watch. King Harald is present when State Secretary in the Ministry of Culture and Gender Equality Gry Haugsbakken transfers the document Lappekodisillen to outgoing Sámi Parliament President Aili Keskitalo and Sámi archives at Sami University College in Kautokeino on Tuesday night. Photo: Terje Bendiksby / NTB

A modest man and king

These speeches have not only opened up the royalty to broader Norwegian society but also show the inherent modesty of King Harald, according to Stanghelle. Talking with NTB, he explained that King Harald “has been a very compassionate king through his speeches – he has addressed bullying, suicide, children who have had a ruined childhood, and has given a royal pat on the back to very many. I think that has been very important.” He went further to describe King Harald as “something rare…a modest man in a king’s exalted position.”

Trond Norén Isaksen, historian and author, spoke of the modesty of King Harald. “King Harald is a man who is not very happy to celebrate himself and to emphasize himself, but I think the people would have liked to celebrate him if they had the opportunity,” Isaksen noted whilst also explaining that King Harald would be away from Norway for his birthday celebrations.

Warmth and humour, a common touch

King Harald, according to Isaken, helped to reform the Royal House during his reign with warmth and humor unseen in the monarchy prior to his reign. His empathy was present for the whole country to witness during his annual Christmas Eve address. In it, King Harald encouraged people to adopt a selfless attitude and help make life easier for others despite it being a COVID-hit Christmas.

The empathic attitude of King Harald to people, Isaken explained “is an important reason why he is so popular. People show care for him. This has been seen when he has been ill. There have been many (people) who have been concerned about how he is doing.”

King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands and King Harald pass by during the official welcome ceremony at Slottsplassen in Oslo. Photo: Terje Bendiksby / NTB

King Harald’s worth ethic is not slowing down with age

King Harald is, perhaps, the most traveled Norwegian king in history. He has, either as king or crown prince, paid a visit to all 326 of the country’s municipalities and participated in more than 100 state visits. Regardless of his age, his work ethic is as voracious as ever.

He has since 2021 celebrated the 30th anniversary of his assumption to the throne, toured the city of Oslo during the height of the COVID lockdowns in his car, taken a fjord tour on his Royal Ship, and visited several municipalities in Vestland. This year he not only opened the new sessions of both the Norwegian parliament (Storting) and Samí parliament but also hosted the Dutch Royal Couple.

A childhood and sporting passion unusual for royalty

Perhaps part of why King Harald has reformed and made the monarchy more modern is the unusual upbringing he had. Born at Skaugum Estate on February 21, 1939, he was only a baby when the German invasion of Norway forced his family to flee the country.

His father, Crown Prince Olav, and his grandfather, King Haakon VII, decided to split the family up for safety. They headed to London for the remainder of the war whilst Prince Harald, his mother and his sister took refuge in the United States. Spending his childhood as a relative outsider in the United States and Sweden, away from the pomp and ceremony of the Norwegian court no doubt made an impact on the future King Harald.

A keen sportsman, he has represented Norway, in sailing, at the 1964, 1968, and 1972 Olympics whilst later winning a World Championship gold medal with his sailing crew in 1987. He is the current patron of World Sailing. His marriage to Sonja Haraldsen, in 1968, a commoner, was mired in controversy. He had informed his father if he could not marry her, he would not marry – effectively ending his family’s reign and the Norwegian monarchy. He has two children, Crown Prince Haakon and Princess Märtha Louise, and 5 grandchildren.

Source : © NTB Scanpix / #Norway Today / #NorwayTodayTravel

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