"I've just been taken home in a taxi... by the crown prince," an excited Mette-Marit told her father in the summer of 1996. No royal pageantry or formality. Just two 20-somethings sharing a cab and savouring the first moments of falling in love.
But if scrutinised on a grand scale, as royal actions often are, that decidedly commonplace cab ride can perhaps serve as a metaphor for Norway's mould-breaking future king and queen.
Mette-Marit Tjessem Hoiby was born on August 19, 1973, the youngest child of Marit Tjessem, a bank officer, and Sven Olav Bjarte Hoiby, a journalist. The couple divorced in 1984. Mette-Marit and her three siblings grew up in the southern part of Norway and holidayed on the coast where the princess-to-be cultivated a love of sailing. A natural born leader and sportswoman, she took up volleyball in secondary school and later became a coach in the sport.
Mette-Marit spent six months studying in Australia before completing her final exams at Kristiansand Katedralskole in 1994. She took the preliminary university examination at Agder College, and later attended classes at the University of Oslo. She met the crown prince through mutual friends shortly after he returned from his studies at the University of California at Berkeley and soon the two staggered people by moving in together for months without even announcing an engagement.
Suddenly Mette-Marit, who was known to have moved in circles where drugs were readily available, and who had a three-year-old son, Marius, by a man convicted of drug possession, found her past under fierce scrutiny. And while nearly half of all Norwegian children are born out of wedlock and unmarried cohabitation is rapidly becoming the norm, many questioned the crown prince's choice of partner.
When she and Haakon did get engaged some months after moving in together, Mette-Marit had to make radical adjustments before stepping out into the spotlight. Just on a superficial level, she had to look the part as she began to attend official functions, and one of her first trips was to New York to buy new clothes without the pressure of being photographed out shopping. "Before, I used to love shopping," she said, "but now it's just stressful. Sure, buying clothes is fantastic for most girls, but not so great for me. What has effectively happened is that all of a sudden I need to have a good wardrobe for my new role in life. And I certainly didn't have many ballgowns before I met Haakon," she added wrily.
A picture of the young woman curtseying to Queen Elizabeth showed Mette-Marit adapting gracefully to her new role. Her unassuming demeanour and the royal family's clear support began to swing public opinion, and Mette-Marit won praise for her courage a few days before her August 25, 2001, wedding when she made a public statement at a press conference. Visibly distressed, holding Haakon's hand for support, she confessed to the assembled reporters that she regretted her wild past.
The president of Norway's parliament, Kirsti Kolle Grondahl, suggested the following to the country's four million citizens: "I think it's wise for all of us to put this in the past and not let it tarnish her future." And for the most part the next generation has done just that, having easily fallen under the charm of the future queen of Norway.
On January 21, 2004 Mette-Marit gave birth to daughter Princess Ingrid Alexandra who becomes Norway's first ever female heir to the throne. Her little brother, Prince Sverre Magnus, was born in December 2005.