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Mette Marit of Norway, the princess on sick leave who is raising the visibility of chronic diseases

Suffering from chronic pulmonary fibrosis, Crown Prince Haakon’s wife extended her absence from public events. She speaks about her illness with a frankness that is unusual for royalty. ‘I can’t just think, offhand, that things are going to work out. It depends on how I feel,’ she said on her 50th birthday.

Mette Marit Noruega
Crown Princess Mette Marit Visits Sisters In Business at Slemmestad on June 07, 2023.Per Ole Hagen (Getty Images)

“The princess will continue with reduced activity and has not planned an official schedule for this week or during the October vacations.” That statement was issued by the Norwegian royal household and refers to Mette Marit, 50, the wife of Crown Prince Haakon. In 2018, she was diagnosed with chronic pulmonary fibrosis, which causes scarring of the lung tissue. The chronic illness sometimes forces the princess to cancel her engagements so she can rest. An official message on September 13 said that her sick leave would last two weeks but might be extended. Indeed, this week, it was announced that the princess will be absent for seven more days.

Mette Marit has always been open about her health and the effect it may have in the future, when her husband accedes to the throne and she becomes queen consort. Her forthrightness is rare among royals.

The princess’s illness, described by the Norwegian royal household as an unusual variant of pulmonary fibrosis, sometimes reduces her ability to work. “She does fewer visits with her husband than before, and they might be shorter,” Caroline Vagle, a reporter specializing in royalty for the Norwegian magazine Se og Hør, explains to EL PAÍS. “Luckily, her condition has been relatively stable for five years, but she has to deal with the situation on a day-to-day basis,” Vagle continues. Her current leave is related to her health condition, which the princess has described as a challenge that is sometimes little understood because it is not seen from the outside. “Her condition varies, and this August, on her 50th birthday, she spoke candidly about it,” adds the journalist.

In an interview with Norwegian public television (NRK), she explained what life is like for someone with a chronic condition. “There are many difficult and painful things about this disease, but at the same time there is something beautiful because you find yourself. It’s an opportunity to live a little more slowly and discover which things give you energy and which things take it away,” she observed in the talk, where she sought to raise the visibility to those who face chronic illness. She explained it this way: “For those who live with something like this, which is not visible, like in my case, it can be hard. Because when people don’t see it, it’s harder to understand. I have learned to respect those who are in this situation and to see the positive side, to find out what I can do within my limitations.”

Pulmonary fibrosis (scarring) “is part of a group of heterogeneous and chronic diseases that are rare and difficult to diagnose,” according to the Hospital Clínic de Barcelona’s website. “The tissue of the lungs becomes thick and hard, and requires complex treatments,” the website says. Symptoms include fatigue and muscle and joint pain, which is why the Norwegian princess is shortening or canceling some of her public appearances. “I can’t just think that things are going to work out. It depends on how I feel,” she said in the aforementioned television interview.

During the first part of her medical leave, she could not attend the festivities for the Golden Jubilee of King Carl Gustaf of Sweden, who was celebrating 50 years on the throne. Along with Queen Margrethe of Denmark, the Swedish sovereign is the longest reigning in Europe, and the party included monarchs and heirs from Norway and Denmark. Norway’s autumn vacation, which typically occurs in the first days of October, is another of Princess Mette Marit’s obligatory rest periods. Thereafter, on the 13th, she is expected at the Art Stable, the former royal stables that were transformed into an art space in 2017. She is also scheduled to attend a Norwegian National Ballet performance with her husband, Prince Haakon, and King Harald and Queen Sonia.

A family photo of the Nordic royal houses during the Golden Jubilee of Carl Gustaf of Sweden, on September 15, 2023. Haakon, Crown Prince of Norway, at right, attended without his wife, Mette Marit, who is on sick leave
A family photo of the Nordic royal houses during the Golden Jubilee of Carl Gustaf of Sweden, on September 15, 2023. Haakon, Crown Prince of Norway, at right, attended without his wife, Mette Marit, who is on sick leavei Ingemar Lindewall

In an interview with NRK, the princess acknowledged that she tries to be herself so that her title does not define her. She has been a member of Norway’s royal family for two decades. She married Prince Haakon on August 25, 2001, and the nuptials were supported and criticized in equal measure in Norway. The couple met in 1999, when she already had a son, Marius Borg, now 26, whose father had been in prison for drug trafficking. For a while, she and the prince lived as a common-law couple, a common status among the Norwegian population but one that is not considered appropriate in royal circles. Since then, things have changed a lot. Before becoming princess, she lamented her “turbulent past.” The couple has two children together: crown princess Ingrid Alejandra, 19, and Prince Sverre Magnus, 17.

Her relationship with her in-laws is excellent. “I have the utmost respect for the monarchs and the work they do for our country, and for the space they give each other in their respective roles,” she said. “I certainly wish I possessed my mother-in-law’s organizational skills, but I haven’t achieved that in 22 years. I guess you can hope,” she concluded with a laugh. Her personal work as a princess stems in part from her past experiences. She has focused on mental health, youth and books and helped create an international support network for poor girls and women. The initiative is called the Maverick Collective, which she co-chairs with Melinda Gates, the American philanthropist and former wife of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

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