King Harald celebrates 85th birthday 

Compassionate, modest, with a good sense of humor

King Harald V

Photo: Simen L. Sund, Det kongelige hoff / NTB
King Harald V of Norway celebrated his 85th birthday on Feb. 21.


On Feb. 21, flags flew all over Norway, as King Harald turned 85 years old. The monarchy is popular, and experts believe it is because the king fulfills his role so well.

“For the Norwegian monarchy, he has been very important,” said Harald Stanghelle. Stanghelle is the author of the book Kongen forteller (The King Speaks) and is a former editor of Aftenposten and Dagbladet.

For Stanghelle, there is no doubt that the reason why the Norwegian monarchy is so strong is the way King Harald carries out his role.

“All kings must be kings in their own time. King Haakon had an enormous impact  in his time, and he has been a reflection of the time we live in now, in a very responsive and admirable way, a reflection of the enormous changes that have taken place during his time as king,” said Stanghelle.

Important speeches

Stanghelle pointed out that with King Harald, Norway has a much more open royal couple concerned with understanding their own country. During his reign, they have traveled throughout Norway, starting when they were a crown prince couple, systematically visiting the country’s various counties and municipalities.

Stanghelle believes that King Harald also gave some of the most important speeches during this period of time. It began with the Kiberg speech in 1992 in Vardø Municipality in Finnmark, where he expressed regret for the treatment of partisans after World War II.

A modest person

“He has shown himself to be a very compassionate king in his speeches. He has addressed bullying, suicide, children who have had destroyed childhoods, and has given a royal pat on the back to many of them. I think that has been very important,” said Stanghelle. 

“He is something as rare as a modest man in a king’s exalted position. I think that is the key to understanding his position,” he said.

An active 85-year-old

As sovereign, King Harald has a number of duties and has participated in a total of 100 state visits. In November last year, the king and queen hosted the royal couple from the Netherlands, which was the 50th time they had received visiting state royalty or officials. They also marked the 50th time they were out on a state visit abroad, when they traveled to Jordan in 2020.

In Norway, the king has paid official visits to 326 of Norway’s municipalities, either as king or as crown prince.

In more recent years, he and the queen, he has celebrated the 50th anniversary of their marriage in Nidaros Cathedral in 1968. Then on May 17 two years ago, there was a wave from the castle balcony, a new car trip through Oslo during the pandemic lockdown, and a trip on the fjord with the royal ship. This past summer, he and the queen visited several municipalities in Vestland County and gave a keynote speech at the memorial service on the 10th anniversary of the July 22 Utøya attacks.

Do not like to celebrate themselves

But this birthday was a private celebration for the 85-year-old, as he traveled abroad with his family to an unannounced destination. Their trip, however, was broken off early because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Historian and author Trond Norén Isaksen thinks it is a pity that the people of Norway did  not get the opportunity to honor the king on his 85th birthday.

“King Harald is a man who is not very happy to celebrate himself and to place attention on himself, but I think the people would have liked to celebrate him, if they had the opportunity,” he said.

In connection with the king and queen’s 80th birthdays in 2017, there was a big celebration, but also on the 75th anniversary date, the celebration for the king’s  birthday was private.

Humor and empathy

He believes the king’s strongest characteristic in his relationship with the people is his humor and empathy. He shows humor in many contexts. He last showed his empathy in a video clip on Christmas Eve, where he encouraged people to find things to make life easier for others,  when many were disappointed, underlining that it was once again not a normal Christmas.

“I think that the empathy he shows to the people is an important reason why he is so popular. The people also  care about him. This has been evident when he has been ill. There have been many who have been concerned about how he is doing,” said Stanghelle.

The historian believes that King Harald reformed the royal house during his time on the throne. While King Olav was a man of a different time and largely continued King Haakon’s line, King Harald has opened up the royal house. According to the historian, he also manages the monarchy in a different way, more as a team effort than as a solo player.

“He is more modern. He consults and involves both the queen and the crown prince couple in decisions,” the historian concluded.

Translated by Lori Ann Reinhall

This article originally appeared in the March 4, 2022, 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