Following the successful publication of her children’s fairytale, ‘Why Kings & Queens Don’t Wear Crowns’, Norway’s Princess Martha Louise talked to ‘Royalty’ Editor Marco Houston about why she was inspired to base the story on the childhood of her grandfather, King Olav V, and the universal message it contains – “the transition from being a prince on the outside, wearing your crown as a symbol, to not wearing your crown but still owning your role. I think it’s something we all have to do – to learn to use our qualities to make the world a better place.”
MH: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. It’s something we haven’t had the opportunity to do before. Firstly, we would like to congratulate you on the success of your lovely book, ‘Why Kings & Queens Don’t Wear Crowns’. Princess Märtha Louise (PML): Thank You. R: Let’s start with the book if we may. Can you tell us how it came about, the inspiration behind it?
PML: Part of it came from meeting children. Their parents would point out “the Princess” and the children would say “No it’s not” – “Go on, go on, it’s the Princess” – “But she’s not wearing a crown”. So I thought I have to do something about this because they were all so disappointed, and I thought, “why not write a book about why kings and queens and royalty don’t wear crowns”.
MH: More specifically, to do with the literary side and background of the book, part of the inspiration comes from your interest in traditional folk tales?
PML: I grew up with the traditional tales. My parents used to read Norwegian folk stories to me, and the classic writers like the Norwegian Asbjørnsen and Moe, H.C. Andersen and the Brothers grimm. I grew up every night with somebody reading out loud to me, often in English because my brother and I had an English nanny who didn’t speak any Norwegian. What we had in common were the fairytales and so she acted them out and we learned to speak English. That’s why the fairytale genre is close to me. In recent years I did something similar on Norwegian television, when I read folk tales, partly to focus attention on how important it is for parents to read to their children.
MH: The book tells the story of the childhood of your grandfather, King Olav V. How much of it comes from things he told you when you were younger, or is it mostly from your own imagination?
PML: I grew up with pictures of my grandfather when he was a little boy, skiing or when the family was all out in the woods, Queen Maud with her dress on skiing and everything. It seemed extraordinary to me when I was little that you actually skied with a dress on, how difficult it must have been with the really deep snow and the cold, and all those sorts of childish questions! But the book is not drawn directly from a series of events that I know of, although it is true that when King Haakon and Queen Maud came to Norway in 1905 they didn’t know that much about the country, being Danish and English, and they had to settle in. There was also the political situation to consider, as the country was split about 50-50 between republicans and monarchists at that time and they had a really hard time at the beginning and must have tried hard to become Norwegian – this too is something I assume – and everything, apart from them being crowned, is made up. It is true, however, that all the crowns are up in Trondheim on display, we never wear them.
MH: Do all Norwegians start skiing at a very young age?
PML: We start at about three to three and a half and the saying is ‘Norwegians are born with skis on their feet’. R: Returning to the book, the illustrations are very beautiful. How did you come to work with Svein Nyhus? PML: Svein is one of the best illustrators in Norway. When I spoke to my publishers I said I really wanted him, and so did they. He very kindly took time from his busy schedule to do the drawings for the book, and they were fantastic. I said to him, “I trust you so much, just draw whatever you want,” and he came up with these amazing illustrations, which are really humorous and fun and at the same time portray the family as they were.
MH: The illustrations do have that period feel. PML: Yes, and King Haakon was really tall with a moustache, and Queen Maud was really tiny and skinny. Svein put in touches that were true to the times. Little Olav often wore a sailor’s outfit, and the names of the ships are right. He also did a lot of research on the palace and what it would have looked like at the time, and the big drawing of one of the coronations is actually from a painting in the palace. He has drawn in my family too – when King Haakon comes ashore in Kristiania my husband and I are in the crowd waving. He’s drawn us with three children. At the time we only had one, but Svein said, “You will probably have more, so I drew in three”. So now we have to get another child!
MH: Your husband is also a well-known writer. Did he help with the book in anyway?
PML: Ari helps me as he gives positive advice and will say something if he doesn’t like it; however, we tend not to work together until everything is finished. This particular story was actually written about five years ago. I read it to Ari and he liked it very much, so we included it in a biography that was done for me on my thirtieth birthday. After a while it occurred to me that it could also be turned into a children’s book and I rewrote it a bit for that reason. (Extract from Royalty Magazine Vol. 2001).