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Before they were royal: The life of Queen Sonja of Norway

Sonja Haraldsen was born on 4 July 1937 as the youngest child of Karl August and Dagny Haraldsen at the Red Cross Clinic in Oslo. Her elder brothers were Haakon (b. 1921) and Karl (1929-1936), and her elder sister was Gry (b. 1924).

However, her brother Karl died the year before Sonja was born, and as a result, her parents were very protective of their youngest child. Also, due to the age gap between Sonja and her elder siblings, she was raised almost as an only child, and she became good friends with other children in the neighbourhood where she grew up in Oslo.

Her childhood took place while Norway was occupied by Germany during World War II, and throughout that period, both her siblings fled to Sweden because of the regime in Norway. Sonja felt lonely during that time, but her mother promised that her siblings would bring chewing gum to her when they returned from Sweden after the end of the war.

Her primary education took place during the German occupation, and during that time, the future Queen of Norway became a girl scout. As such, she was present, and dressed in her uniform, during the Royal Family’s return from their exile in 1945, when the war ended.

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After finishing her secondary studies in 1954, Sonja enrolled at the Oslo Vocational School, where she focused on dressmaking and tailoring. A year later, Sonja moved to Switzerland to study French and fashion, which was great for her, since in Switzerland she could practice one of her passions in life: skiing.

For a long time, Sonja had intended to work at her father’s clothing store, and so she did in 1958. However, in 1959 her father died suddenly, and after his death Sonja spent a long time at home, keeping her mother company and taking care of the house.

Harald and Sonja during their wedding. By Glorvigen, Bjørn – Arkivet etter Billedbladet Nå i Riksarkivet, CC BY 3.0,

A few months later, in June 1959, Sonja’s mother urged her to go to a party where she ended up meeting the then Crown Prince Harald. They were only photographed together, however, a few months later when Harald invited Sonja to his graduation from the Norwegian Military Academy.

Nonetheless, their relationship had to be kept as a secret as Harald was expected to marry a foreign princess instead of a Norwegian commoner.

It wasn’t until 1968 when King Olav V of Norway, Harald’s father, had been assured by his son that he wouldn’t get married to anyone but Sonja, that consent to their union was given. At the time, Harald was the sole heir to the Norwegian throne, so the King consulted both the Government and Parliament before the engagement was announced on 19 March 1968.

The Norwegian Royal Family in 2015. Photo: Jørgen Gomnæs / The Royal Court

The engagement came with a lot of controversies, as it was the first time a commoner married into the Royal Family, but the union proved to be a happy one, and in 1991 Sonja became Norway’s first Queen in 53 years.

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