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History

The time Bill Clinton forgot King Harald and Queen Sonja


Oskar Aanmoen/Royal Central

This year it is 30 years since King Harald and Queen Sonja became monarchs in Norway after the death of King Olav V. There will be no grand celebration this year due to the pandemic, but the King and Queen have therefore in collaboration with the state TV channel NRK made a documentary series where they talk about the 50 state visits that have been made in the last 30 years. In the first episode of the series, which was broadcast on January 17th 2021, the King and Queen look back at a state visit to the United States that did not go exactly according to plan.

State visits are usually planned down to the smallest detail. Each step is reviewed in advance. However, things do not always go as planned, and things have to be resolved spontaneously. The fact that the hosts themselves are absent is highly unusual. The Olympic Games at Lillehammer in 1994 were a success and led to the American invitation the following year. So in 1995, King Harald and Queen Sonja went on a three-weeks-long tour of the United States.

In the first episode of the new series King Harald and Queen Sonja laughed when they look back on what happened outside the White House in 1995. When they got out of the black car in front of the White House, there was no one there to receive them. The king and queen looked around a little puzzled. The hosts, then-President of the United States Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary, were nowhere to be seen.

“Embarrassing”, US media reported. The minutes passed before the US president finally appeared. Clinton later expressed that he feared the late arrival was perceived as an insult to the royal couple and thus to Norway. However, the king met the president with a smile. King Harald says in the series while laughing hard: “They (Bill and Hillary Clinton) came running towards us, breathless and looking horrible. And then it slipped out of me when I greeted them, and I said, Welcome to the White House! It was not good”.

The reason for President Clinton’s late arrival was that he had been in an important meeting which was delayed. And the reason for King Harald’s “welcome to the White House” was simply that the King had lived in the White House himself. For a brief period during World War II, the then Prince Harald, his two sisters and mother were guests of President Franklin D. Roosevelt for a few months.

About author

Senior Europe Correspondent Oskar Aanmoen has a master in military and political history of the Nordic countries. He has written five books on historical subjects and more than 700 articles for Royal Central. He has also interview both Serbian and Norwegian royals. Aanmoen is based in Oslo, Norway.