Her Majesty, Queen Sonja of Norway, was born on July 4th, 1937 as Sonja Haraldsen. She was the youngest of Karl August and Dagny Haraldsen’s four children. The Haraldsen family, Karl August, Dagny, Haakon (b.1921), Gry (b. 1924) and Sonja, lived on Vindern in Oslo. Sonja’s other brother, Karl Herman (b. 1929), died the year before she was born.
As Gry and Haakon were so much older than Sonja, she was practically raised as an only child and she was perhaps a bit spoiled as a result. She spent much time with the neighbour’s children playing in the sandbox or with dolls. During the German occupation of Norway, Sonja really felt like an only child. Her brother, Haakon, fled to Sweden to avoid the German work-service. Her sister, Gry, was arrested for a minor transgression when she got involved with an illegal business, then she escaped to Sweden when she was released. But Sonja’s mother promised that her older brother and sister would bring back bubble gum for Sonja when they could return, so little Sonja was looking forward to the end of the war.
Sonja started school during the occupation and joined the girl scout movement. Dressed in her uniform, she was part of the crowd that welcomed the Royal family home after their exile. She wanted to see the King and the Crown Princess, like so many others on that day.
The Haraldsen family celebrated Easter in the Norwegian mountains while summers were spent in their cabin at Tjøme, so Sonja developed an early fondness for nature that she has become known for in recent years. She skied and she sailed, but her parents did not give her permission to do more dangerous things. The loss of the brother that Sonja never knew made them more protective of Sonja. But in 1950, she was allowed to go to a sailing camp for youngsters at Hankø. She enjoyed spending time with people her own age, and one day Prince Harald came from behind and pulled her scarf. It was a few years before they met again.
As Sonja grew up, she became fond of knitting and sewing and she began making her own clothes and she also knitted for several of her friends. When she tired of highschool and schoolwork, she applied to Oslo Yrkesskole to learn dress making and tailoring. At the school, she joined sports teams in every discipline, including ski-jumping.
After a year there, 17-year old Sonja went to Switzerland to attend a fashion school. Why Switzerland? «I can ski there, and that’s the best I know, aside from sewing.» She spent two years in Switzerland where she learned French and spent a lot of time on the slopes competing in the Slalom.
Intending to join her father’s clothing store business, she began studying trade and economics in 1957, though she decided to spend the next year in Cambridge to learn English and have some fun. She joined Cambridge Water-Ski Club, being one of the few female members. During the summer, she worked a bit at one of the pubs in town and celebrated her 21st birthday alone in the back room of the pub, reading letters from home. Sonja stayed at Cambridge for a year, before returning to Oslo to work at the family store.
But, as Sonja herself has said: «After a short period of time, I’d cleaned and organised the store several times, and had become antsy. I needed something else to do.» Any plans she might’ve entertained were thwarted by her father’s sudden and unexpected death in 1959. From that point, Sonja spent the next months home as company for her mother, taking care of the garden and the car. She said no to every party invitation she got, except for one, when her mother urged her to get out. At that party, she met Crown Prince Harald
From then on, they met from time to time and Harald invited her to the graduating ball of the military academy he was attending. There, one lucky photographer managed to take the first snapshot of them together. The romance escalated and yet, very little was written in the press. Their circle of friends and some family members knew of the romance, but nobody said a peep. Everyone tried to keep it hidden longer.
There were some stories and the foreign press didn’t have the same discretion as that of the Norwegian press. Foreign press-photographers showed up at Sonja's school and followed her everywhere. After an extremely taxing period, Sonja escaped to France.
During the last year of their secret relationship, Sonja and Harald rarely spent any time together in Norway. But nine years after the initial meeting at the party, on March 19 1968, King Olav finally gave his approval to the match, and the engagement was announced.
There was a great debate on the radio and in the newspapers on the future of the monarchy, how a girl of the people could get approval to marry the Crown Prince. Many called it the end of the monarchy.
But Sonja and Harald persevered. They married in a ceremony in Oslo Cathedral on August 29 1968. The honeymooners went to Brazil, Mexico and Hawaii.
After the fairy tale wedding, the Crown Prince and the new Crown Princess settled into Skaugum and to an everyday life that included journeys all over the world to meet people.
Sonja suffered through a miscarriage before Märtha Louise came into the world in 1971. With the addition of Haakon Magnus in 1973, the family was complete.
Her private role was perhaps easier to adapt to than her public role. As her mother-in-law
had passed away more than a decade before, the role as Norway’s first lady, which had been Princess Astrid's
since then, fell onto the Crown Princess. The Norwegian monarchy was, at the time, dominated by men, and manly men, at that. Sonja began to alter that with her interest in art and languages. She admitted on several occasions that her first years as a Crown Princess weren’t easy and when her son married, she did her best so that her daughter-in-law, would have it easier than she had it.
Sonja also managed to get some studying done between her royal duties and has obtained a degree in French, English and Art History from the University of Oslo.
From 1987 to 1990 she was the vice president of the Norwegian Red Cross. She also worked much with the situation of refugees and immigrants.
In 1991, King Olav
passed away and Harald became King of Norway, with Sonja as his Queen. The official blessing ceremony took place in Nidarosdomen with a following round-trip of Norway, just as their predecessors had done when they ascended to the throne.
In the years since the ascension, the King and Queen have worked hard for Norway, both in and ouside of the country. Sonja played a large part in the cultural aspects of 1994 Olympics at Lillehammer and the Paralympics. The monarchs have gone on numerous state visits and they have received numerous dignitaries in Norway.
Queen Sonja is interested in art and culture, skiing (she is a trained ski-instructor), sports and decorating. She also spends time taking trips, either by foot, or on skis, in the Norwegian mountains, and usually starts her day with a quick run.
Among her protectorates are: The Norwegian Cancer Society, The Norwegian Opera, The Norwegian Sports for the Handicapped Society and The Norwegian Red Cross.
"Sonja - Norges Kronprinsesse"
Haagen Ringnes - "Samtaler med Dronningen"