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Wednesday, 30 May, 2001, 14:34 GMT 15:34 UK
Courting controversy in Norway
Crown Prince Haakon and Queen Elizabeth graphic
Crown Prince Haakon (left) is in the spotlight
By Tony Samstag in Oslo

The arrival of the Queen in Norway has sparked an outbreak of media comment on the close historical ties between the two countries - and the increasingly beleaguered status of their monarchies.

In Norway, public opinion polls are, for the first time in the country's history, showing significant support for scrapping the royal family in favour of a republican head of state.

Like their distant relatives across the North Sea, the Norwegian Royal Family are struggling to adjust to life in the 21st century - and prevent their children from living their own lives.

The Queen's arrival - on her third state visit to the country - has also thrown the spotlight on a Norwegian royal "scandal" which has gripped the country for months.

Royal gossip

The Norwegian press, while far less ruthless than the British, is no less eager to run with a good story surrounding the heir to the throne.

The story - which will no doubt last for years to come - began with the announcement last autumn that 27-year-old Crown Prince Haakon was to move into a flat in the Norwegian capital with his unmarried girlfriend and her three-year-old son.

The tabloids have christened her 'the Cinderella of Kristiansand'

This move has almost certainly made him the first European prince to live openly with a girlfriend.

Soon afterwards, and probably in response to public (and parental) pressure, a royal engagement was announced.

The wedding is now set for August.

The woman in question is Mette-Marit Tjessem Hoiby, a 27-year-old anthropology student and part-time waitress.

The tabloids have christened her "the Cinderella of Kristiansand", the south coast city of her birth, where she and the prince met at a music festival.

Cohabitation in this part of the world is as much the rule as the exception.

By some estimates, roughly half the children in Norway (population 4.5 million) are born to single mothers or unmarried couples - and the move in itself raised relatively few eyebrows.

But the relationship also provoked discussion of some potentially explosive constitutional and religious issues.

Abdication call

There were calls for Haakon, as nominal head of the state Lutheran church, to marry immediately, or abdicate.

Fears were voiced that the conviction of the father of Ms H°iby's child for possessing cocaine made her an unsuitable choice.

Much was made of the "milieu" to which the heir to the throne might be exposed.

In theory, Ms Hoiby could become queen of Norway and her son, Marius, could be a prince, although according to legal experts not even adoption by Haakon could put the toddler in line for the throne.

Haakon's father, the reigning King Harald, himself married a commoner, against the wishes of his own father, the late King Olav V.

The then crown prince pursued a clandestine relationship in the 1960s with his childhood sweetheart, Sonja Haraldsen, who worked in a dress shop, for the better part of 10 years until Olav relented.

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09 Apr 01 | Europe
Norwegians start monarchy debate
21 May 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Norway
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