Almost 30 years ago, Harald and Sonja became Norway’s royal couple

King Harald - queen SonjaPhoto: Håkon Mosvold Larsen / NTB

On January 17, it will be 30 years since King Olav died and King Harald took over the position as Norway’s head of state. 

The shocking news that the king had died came late in the evening of January 17, 1991. The next morning, King Harald spoke to the Norwegian people in the Norwegian Broadcasting’s (NRK) radio broadcast.

“Dear compatriots. His Majesty King Olav has passed away. A great loss and a deep sorrow have befallen us all. 

“In this difficult time, it gives me and my family strength to know that the entire Norwegian people together with us share the grief of my dear father’s death,” the king said.

That same night, in accordance with the constitution, he had summoned the government to a cabinet meeting at the Palace and given his oath to govern the country in accordance with the laws and the constitution.


In retrospect, the king has suggested that it was frightening to have to take responsibility and show strength of character in the midst of grief over losing his father. He noted that he had big shoes to fill.

“I was slightly terrified. That might describe the situation. To be completely honest, I was pretty sure I was not going to make it. He was incredibly popular,” King Harald told news bureau NTB in 2017.

King Olav died at 10:20 PM on January 17, 1991.

He had a heart attack while following the news coverage of the Gulf War, which had just broken out.

“He was the first victim of that war because he had his heart attack while watching TV. 

“He was convinced that it was World War III that broke out, and he did not want to be part of it,” the king said in an NRK documentary in 2016, which was about the 25th anniversary of the change of throne.

In the days that followed, thousands flocked to Slottsplassen in Oslo to remember the deceased king and show their support for the royal family. The area was full of flowers and candles.

“It only took a few hours, and then there was a sea of light on Slottsplassen that was maintained until after the funeral. It was beautiful, touching, really absolutely breathtaking.”

Round trip in the country

Later that year, on June 23, King Harald and Queen Sonja were signed in Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim. 

There, they received God’s blessing on their royal work. Afterward, they set out on a ten-day signing trip in Southern Norway. 

They went on a 22-day journey in the four northernmost counties the following year.

In October of 1992, the relatively new royal couple also went on their first state visit to Denmark. There, the king showed his humorous side, which Norwegians have become well acquainted with in the meantime:

“Norwegians like to call the union time (with Denmark) the ‘four-hundred-year night,’ but as you know, Norwegians are more used to nights than most nations for geographical reasons, and we know how to make the best of them,” the king told the Danes.

Working as a team

Thirty years later, the royal couple’s heirs, Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit, are already well integrated into the work at the Palace.

That makes King Harald different from his predecessors.

“Both King Haakon and Olav were kings who did things alone. My father did not let me go at all. 

“We operate more from the idea of cooperation. These are different times. I call us a team, with the court, the crown prince couple, and us. 

“It is a strength,” King Harald said in the recently published book “The King Tells (Kongen Forteller)” by Harald Stanghelle.

In the book, the king also says that he thinks it is perfectly fine to continue working even at the age of 83 years. He does not believe that he should have an indefinite holiday as a pensioner.

“No, I won’t do that. I think I’m lucky. It’s good to have something to do, and I hope that what you do is meaningful.”

The king is clear that he will continue until the very end.

“When you have taken an oath to the Parliament, it lasts a lifetime. It’s that easy for me,” he said.

© NTB Scanpix / #Norway Today


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