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A Fiord Fairy Tale Comes True for Single Mom, Crown Prince

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Crown Prince Haakon of Norway married a former wild child and single mother Saturday, elevating Scandinavia’s notoriously liberal lifestyle to the royal palace.

In nationally televised nuptials at Oslo Cathedral that seemed to undermine every mother’s warning about the costs of a bad reputation, Haakon and Mette-Marit Tjessem Hoiby, both 28, held their country spellbound as they exchanged rings and vows, the groom radiant and the bride in tears.

For the record:
12:00 AM, Aug. 31, 2001 FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Friday August 31, 2001 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
Royal wedding--A story Sunday about the marriage of Crown Prince Haakon of Norway to commoner Mette-Marit Tjessem Hoiby incorrectly stated that it marked the first time a European heir to the throne had acquired a stepchild.

“You have not chosen the easiest path, but love has triumphed,” Oslo Bishop Gunnar Staalseth told the couple as 300 guests and millions of TV viewers listened. That brought a glistening to the eyes of the bride, which moments later were gushing as the bishop praised her devotion as a single mother and her courage in “starting a new chapter by turning over a new page.”

The slender, statuesque blond now to be called Crown Princess Mette-Marit wore ivory silk and carried a hanging tapestry of wildflowers and ivy in place of a traditional bouquet. Moody folk ballads and a saxophone solo as wedding hymns also added to the unorthodox atmosphere of the first royal wedding here in 33 years.

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Haakon’s love for the down-dressing commoner and his decision to live with her before marriage inspired both celebration and soul-searching. Many Norwegians have been moved by the modern-day fairy tale of a former waitress who will one day be queen. But they have also been forced to ponder the worth of a monarchy that behaves just as they do. Although half of Norway’s children are born out of wedlock and four out of 10 couples live together without benefit of matrimony, Hoiby’s 4-year-old son from a previous relationship marks the first time a European heir to the throne has acquired a stepchild.

After the wedding, as cannons fired and bands played, the couple appeared on the balcony of the royal palace, holding up little Marius to wave for the cheering crowds and pose for pictures.

Not since England’s Edward VIII abdicated in 1936 to marry divorcee Wallis Simpson has a royal scandal moved a nation like Haakon’s love for Hoiby, and Norwegians seem proud that their royal romance has a happier ending.

At a news conference three days before the wedding, Haakon said he would never have sacrificed a life with his beloved to attain the throne, and he thanked his country and family for not making his bride’s past a succession issue.

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“I never faced that,” he said of the kind of ultimatum that cost Edward VIII his reign. “I think that we together are stronger than I am alone.”

Hoiby’s past life as a fixture on the Oslo techno-music party scene, where drug use and casual sex are common, has been the stuff of tabloid exposes and conservative clucking since the crown prince announced 15 months ago that he had fallen in love. The father of Marius has served time for cocaine possession and been arrested for drunk driving and assault.

Support for the royal family has eroded in the wake of Haakon’s engagement and cohabitation, but the atmosphere on his wedding day was infused with empathy and adoration.

“She’s so nice, and so like everyone else,” Oslo nurse Elin Orre, waiting for a glimpse of the bride and groom, said of the new crown princess. “What is important is what she does in the future, not what she did in the past.”

In pressing against social boundaries, the only son of reigning King Harald V and Queen Sonja is simply building on tradition. His father had to wait nine years to win his own parents’ permission to marry commoner Sonja Haraldsen in 1968, and his grandfather, King Olav V, provoked controversy when he married a Swedish princess in 1929--too soon, his subjects thought, after Norway won independence from Sweden in 1905.

Despite overcast skies and occasional drizzle, more than 100,000 well-wishers flanked the half-mile route from the royal palace to the cathedral along Karl Johan Gata, waving the red, blue and white of the Norwegian flag and paper banners bearing the couple’s pictures and the word “congratulations.”

Though the media here have cast Hoiby as a contemporary Cinderella, she has also been likened to Mary Magdalene for her confessions of past immorality and appeals for forgiveness. After her emotional admission to “quite a wild life” at the Wednesday news conference, Haakon brushed away his fiancee’s tears with one tender finger, provoking a sentimental moan from the usually hard-shelled press.

The ceremony began with the couple meeting at the door of the church and leading the procession to the altar. Three flower girls and Marius, clad in coat and tails, followed. Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark served as Haakon’s best man, and Hoiby’s friend Linda Taanevik, dressed in silvery lilac, was maid of honor.

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The couple left the cathedral in a 1966 convertible Lincoln Continental once owned by Haakon’s grandfather and used by his parents on their wedding day.

Street parties and fireworks followed for the hordes of common revelers, many sporting paper crowns and cheap tiaras, while European royalty and the Scandinavian elite feted the couple at the seaside Akershus fortress.

Among the royals in attendance were Britain’s Prince Charles--without his own controversial love, Camilla Parker Bowles--and the monarchs of Sweden, Denmark, Belgium and Luxembourg. There was also Spanish Crown Prince Felipe, who is dating Norwegian Eva Sannum and rumored to be next in line for the altar.

Polls showed that support for the Norwegian monarchy, which had held steady at about 80% through most of the last century, fell to a record-low 58% earlier this year during the height of misgivings about Haakon’s engagement. But more recent polls have shown some recovery, and a survey released on the wedding day by Verdens Gang newspaper showed that 67% of respondents hailed the new crown princess as an admirable choice.

Hoiby has yet to complete a university degree, but she learned fluent English as an exchange student to Australia in high school and has worked as an apprentice journalist as well as a berry picker and a waitress.

Haakon earned a degree in political science at UC Berkeley in 1999 and has done a three-year stint in Norway’s navy. He has spent the last two years as a diplomat in training with the Foreign Ministry here.

While many Norwegians respect the royals for their casual style and populist behavior, some express ambivalence about royalty without airs.

“It’s a classic paradox,” Oslo journalist Morten Stale Nilsen wrote in the latest issue of Scanorama magazine. “We like our royals informal, accessible and open, but once the royals become too much like the man in the street, the very reason for having them ceases to exist.”

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