CROWN prince marries commoner in Cinderella wedding that has enthralled Norwegians

Saturday, August 25th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OSLO, Norway (AP) _ A single mother and former part-time waitress became Norway's future queen on Saturday, marrying Crown Prince Haakon in a fairy-tale wedding that drew thousands of flag-waving well-wishers into Oslo's streets.

Haakon and Mette-Marit Tjessem Hoiby, both 28, exchanged vows at Oslo Cathedral before hundreds of friends and relatives, including much of Europe's royalty.

Despite cloudy skies, well-wishers lined the half-mile-long Karl Johan thoroughfare from the palace to the cathedral hoping to catch a glimpse of the newlyweds. As many as 120,000 people were expected for Norway's first royal wedding since King Harald V and Queen Sonja married in 1968.

``It's a little strange that a normal girl from Kristiansand is going to be our crown princess,'' said Nina Camilla Endressen, 22, who is from the same small town south of Oslo as the bride.

The event had a Cinderella quality: Hoiby, the mother of a 4-year-old, becomes crown princess by marrying Haakon and will become queen when he ascends to Norway's throne.

``Sometimes I wake up and wonder where I am,'' she said earlier this week.

The Norwegian capital had been preparing for days for what was expected to be one of its biggest street parties ever. About 1,000 police were being deployed, partly because of worries that crowds could be so tightly packed that people might get hurt.

Cooks at a tent outside Oslo City Hall prepared a public feast for 1,000 people that aimed to match the menu at the wedding. The official banquet menu has been kept secret.

Fireworks were to follow the banquets. Outside the ancient Akerhus fortress where the royal banquet was to take place, hundreds of children waved flags as wedding guests walked by earlier Saturday.

Norwegians seem to be warming to Hoiby as their future queen after months of doubt as the news media speculated about her past.

Hoiby seemed to disarm journalists and impress her future subjects when _ fighting back tears at a news conference _ she acknowledged a wild youth and apologized this week.

The father of Hoiby's child was convicted of drug possession. Hoiby admitted having moved in circles where narcotics were common, and although she did not say whether she had used illegal drugs in her younger days, she made it clear that she does not approve of drug abuse.

Haakon's decision to live with and then marry Hoiby stirred heated debate in this liberal nation of 4.5 million. Cohabitation and having children out of wedlock are not uncommon, but Norwegians generally disapprove of drug use.

Haakon said he never faced having to choose between the throne or marrying the one he loved because his family was supportive of his choice.

``I know our choice has not been easy on everyone else. I have to respect that. But I want to assure you that we will do our utmost to fulfill our role to the best of the country and the Norwegian people,'' he said at a pre-wedding banquet Friday.

The couple rode to church in an open Cadillac that belonged to King Olav V. Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark served as best man. Hoiby's maid of honor was her friend Linda Taanevik.

After the hour-long Lutheran ceremony, televised live nationwide, the newlyweds were to return to the palace to greet the crowd from a balcony. Their honeymoon plans have been kept secret.

Among the European royals attending are the British princes Charles and Edward, Spanish Crown Prince Felipe and the monarchs of Sweden, Denmark, Belgium and Luxembourg.

Hoiby was born and raised in the southern town of Kristiansand. She met Haakon in 1996, but they did not become a couple until 1999 after meeting again at an outdoor rock concert.

Although groomed from birth to become king, Haakon went to public schools in Norway and attended the University of California, Berkeley. He served in the Norwegian navy and underwent diplomatic training.

Haakon's father, King Harald, held out for nine years before winning permission from his own father, King Olav V, to marry Sonja Haraldsen, now Queen Sonja. Norway's modern monarchy is relatively new, created upon independence from Sweden in 1905. Olav wanted his son to marry a princess to help establish the royal house.

Harald said he quickly accepted his son's choice of a spouse, even though he knew it would stir debate, especially among older Norwegians.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has called the wedding a triumph for tolerance and respect for single mothers.