I’m no monarchist, but I have to admit that I was moved the other day by the British people’s massive show of affection for their sovereign on her Platinum Jubilee. I was stirred by the flyover of 15 Typhoons in the shape of the number 70, and delighted by the video released by the Royal Palace of the queen’s teatime tête-à-tête with Paddington Bear. But a heartwarming experience turned chilly when, seeing Elizabeth II on the Buckingham Palace balcony with her kith and kin, I darkly imagined, as many others have, the kind of reign that may follow hers. And then my thoughts shifted to the kingdom where I live, Norway, where the monarchy’s prospects, I fear, are no brighter than in Britain. Surprisingly enough, that suspicion was reinforced two days after the end of the Platinum Jubilee weekend by the news that Princess Märtha Louise, daughter of the Norwegian king, had now become engaged to marry her boyfriend, a shaman named Durek Verrett.
More about them in a moment. But first, some background. Twenty-one years ago I wrote a lightsome little feuilleton for the Hudson Review about Norway’s King Harald V, who, I pointed out, isn’t exactly charismatic, has never seemed particularly comfortable in his job, and sometimes comes off as a tad addled. I provided a case in point: on the night of December 31, 1999, I was one of thousands who gathered in Oslo’s City Hall Square to celebrate the new millennium. At about a quarter to midnight, the king stepped out onto the balcony and began reading an unbearably dull speech. He was supposed to be done before 12. He went over. The crowd, though packed with rowdy drunks, was respectful. Midnight came and went as the king droned on. Only after he finished did the cheers go up, the fireworks go off, and a children’s choir launch into the national anthem. I was irked but charmed — this, I reflected, is how a little country does things.
At the time, the royal news was largely about the Crown Prince, Haakon, a graduate of Berkeley and the London School of Economics, and his then-girlfriend, Mette-Marit, who in 2001 became crown princess. Rereading my piece now, I’m struck by how dramatically some things have changed in Norway. Back then, it was widely considered scandalous that these two were shacking up together. As it happens, their flat was near my own, and one Saturday evening, walking downtown for a drink or two, I passed a gabby, tittering gaggle of four or five young women, also obviously headed for the bars. One of them was Mette-Marit. Plainly, she enjoyed a good time. Indeed, that was the thrust of the scandal: not only was she living with Haakon; she was a single mother, raising a small son who’d been fathered by one of her many ex-lovers.
In the Norwegian corridors of power, as became clear after my Hudson piece ran, Mette-Marit’s past indiscretions were viewed as a serious problem that needed to be addressed head-on to avoid damaging the monarchy. So it was that in late 2000, a friend of mine who worked as a simultaneous translator received a call from a Palace official. Her services, she was told, would be needed at a press conference the next morning. Oh, and just one quick question: Was she familiar with the Norwegian word utsvevende, and, if so, how would she translate it? My friend said she would render it as “wild.” She had a good idea of what was going on, and after a moment’s uneasy silence, she added: “Well, I could find a less sensational way of putting it.” “No,” the person on the other side replied. “Go with ‘wild.’” And so early the next day there she was at the Royal Palace, translating into English the couple’s announcement of their engagement, which included an admission by Mette-Marit that before meeting Haakon she’d led a “wild life.”
In the years since their wedding, which took place in August 2001, Haakon and Mette-Marit’s life has, by all accounts, been anything but wild. They’re members of the Davos set, jetting to the Swiss resort every year to hobnob with other World Economic Forum groupies. Both have official UN titles — he’s involved with the United Nations Development Programme, she works with UNAIDS. Every so often, moreover, the couple make the usual inane pronouncements about Islamophobia, climate change, and other such matters. Oh, and they’ve had two children, the older of whom, Princess Ingrid Alexandra, will someday presumably be queen. But these kids are generally kept out of the limelight.
Instead, the center of royal watchers’ attention, ever since Haakon and Mette-Marit’s wedding, has been Haakon’s sister, the highly colorful Märtha Louise. In 2002, she married a pretentious young author named Ari Behn, who’d begun his career by founding a collective of anarchist artists and who, after marrying her, was able to get several of his mediocre novels published by top houses. He also co-starred in a couple of tacky reality TV series with his best friend, an oily, self-promoting celebrity photographer named Per Heimly (who, as it happens, was the very first person ever to hire me as a translator — and blithely ignored my invoices). Once or twice during that period I saw Ari hanging out in gay bars with gay friends. His wife was nowhere in sight.
Where was she? As it turned out, she was busy studying holistic medicine and, she claimed, communicating with angels, with the dead, and with horses. From 2007 to 2019, she ran an “angel school,” where, for $4,500 a year, she taught students to “create miracles” and “harness the powers of their angels.” For a while she and Ari lived in New York; in 2017 they divorced; two years later, Ari committed suicide on Christmas Day, not long after it was reported that Märtha Louise had found a new main squeeze. The man in question was Derek Verrett, a bisexual shaman who is based in Los Angeles, bears something of a resemblance to the late actor Michael Clarke Duncan, says he’s half-reptile, and counts among his fervent admirers the actress Gwyneth Paltrow. Like Behn, he too is a writer, namely of a self-help work entitled, Spirit Hacking: Shamanic Keys to Reclaim Your Personal Power, Transform Yourself, and Light Up the World.
When the major Norwegian publisher Cappelen Damm announced plans to issue a translation of Verrett’s book in October 2019, Dagbladet literary critic Cathrine Krøger read the English-language original. In her review, she summed up Verrett’s account of his all-important road-to-Damascus moment: “When Shaman Durek was fourteen years old, a wizard came into his room. It flew right through him and burned a hole in his body. While he lay in a pool of blood, the room filled up with an army of angels,” etc., etc. Krøger also drew attention to a passage in which Verrett maintained that cancer is self-inflicted by people who no longer want to live — but that, for a fee, Verrett can cure you of your desire to die and thus of your cancer. Shortly after Krøger’s review appeared, and just a week before Verrett’s scheduled publication date, Damm canceled the book.
Now Märtha Louise and her honey are officially betrothed, and will live and love together in — where else? — L.A., the city to which, these days, the younger siblings of European crown princes are wont to repair with their wacky, narcissistic spouses. “I’m overjoyed with tears that I get to spend the rest of my life with the most pure hearted, angelic, wise, powerhouse woman who represents all levels of a goddess in my eyes,” gushed Durek on Instagram. “Together as a soulful spiritual couple, we will use our power to support the people to create a world based in love and acceptance.” What this seems to mean is that they plan to give Harry and Meghan a run for their money — literally. Studying a photo of the princess’s emerald engagement ring, an appraiser estimated its value at somewhere between $30,000 and $50,000. Good start! Imagine the gems, and other loot, these two will be able to afford once they get a sit-down with Oprah, ink a few media deals, and start working their joint scams on the lamebrained La La Land luminaries.