Three decades on the throne

King Harald and Queen Sonja celebrate 30 years of service

King Harald Queen Sonja

Photo: Jørgen Gomnæs / Det kongelige hoff
Queen Sonja and King Harald have worked as team to serve the Norwegian people for over 30 years.


King Harald took over his position as head of state. “I was slightly terrified,” the king has said about change of throne.

The shocking news that the king was dead came late in the evening on Jan. 17, 1991. The next morning King Harald addressed the Norwegian people in an NRK radio broadcast.

“Dear fellow Norwegians. His Majesty King Olav had passed away. A great loss and a deep sorrow has hit us all. In this heavy moment, it gives me and my family strength that the entire Norwegian people shares the sorrow of my dear father’s death,” said the king.

That same night, in accordance with the Norwegian Constitution, he had convened the government at the palace and given his oath to govern the country in accordance with the laws of the land.


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

“To be quite honest, I was pretty sure I was not going to make it. He was incredibly popular,” King Harald told NTB in 2017.

For Queen Sonja, it was a much bigger transition to appear in public as the future crown princess than to become queen.

“But it was a big transition and a much bigger responsibility, she said, looking back.

– Gulf War’s first victim

King Olav died at 10:20 p.m. Jan, 17, 1991. He had a heart attack, but he followed the news coverage of the Gulf War, which had just broken out.

“He was the war’s first victim, as he had 

his heart attack while he was watching TV. He was totally convinced that the third world war had broken out, and he didn’t want to be part of it,” King Harald said in an NRK documentary marking his first 25 years on the throne.

In the days that followed, thousands flocked to the palace square in Oslo to remember the deceased king and to show their support for the royal family. The square was filled with flowers and candles.

“It took only few hours before the palace square was a sea of candles, which was maintained up until the funeral. It was amazing, moving, simply breathtaking,” said the king.

Travels around the country

Later that year on June 23, the king and queen  were blessed in Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim. Afterward, they went on a 10-day trip in southern Norway, followed by a 22-day journey in the four northernmost counties the following year.

In October 1992, the relatively new royal couple made their first state visit to Denmark. Already there, the king showed his humorous side, which Norwegians have since come to know:

“Norwegians like to call the time of the union (with Denmark) the ‘400-year night,’ but as you know, for geographical reasons, Norwegians are more used to nights than most nations, and we know how to make the best of them,” the king said to the Danes.

Work 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. Here, King Harald differs from his predecessors.

“Both King Haakon and King Olav were kings who did things alone. My father did not let me loose at all. We operated more from an idea of cooperation. It’s a different time now. I call us a team, with the court, the crown prince couple, and us. It is a strength,” says King Harald in the recently published book The King Tells by Harald Stanghelle.

In his speech on New Year’s Eve, the king had said that he and the queen “hope from the bottom of our hearts that we will get a lot back in the New Year” after a 2020 marked by reduced activity because of the pandemic.

“Like other grandparents, the queen and I miss hugging our children and grandchildren,” said the king. 

“This January, we will have been king and queen for 30 years. Throughout this time, traveling around Norway and meeting people has been what has given us the greatest joy. We have sorely missed these meetings this year,” he added.

“Until the bitter end”

The king has often said that he thinks it’s quite OK to keep on working, even at age 83. He doesn’t think that he would be on vacation for an indefinite time if he were retired. 

“No, I’m not going to do that. I think I’m lucky. It’s good to have something to do, and I hope that what you do is meaningful,” he says in the Stanghelle book.

The king has made it clear that he will continue on until the very end.

“When you’ve taken an oath to the Storting, it lasts a lifetime. It’s that simple for me. We’re on until ‘the bitter end.’ There is something about the king is dead, long live the king!”

Translated by Lori Ann Reinhall

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 29, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.

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NTB (Norsk Telegrambyrå), the Norwegian News Agency, is a press agency and wire service that serves most of the largest Norwegian media outlets. The agency is located in Oslo and has bureaus in Brussels, Belgium, and Tromsø in northern Norway