Promote a penguin? Norway to run army

IT’S an event sure to be full of pomp and ceremony - and the whiff of something fishy.

Nils Olav may not be the most disciplined in the parade, but he can be relied on to stand correctly to attention when the Norwegian Army bestows yet another honour on the much-decorated soldier.

The king penguin, already an Honourable Regimental Sergeant Major, will receive a promotion from officers when they visit the Capital to perform at the Military Tattoo in August.

The story of probably the world’s most unusual army recruit began in 1961 when the Norwegian King’s Guard first performed at the showpiece military event.

The king penguins at Edinburgh Zoo captivated the soldiers so much that when they returned ten years later they adopted one of the creatures as their mascot and named it after lieutenant Nils Egelien and the then-king of Norway, King Olav.

Nils Olav was made a Lance Corporal, and has been promoted during every visit the soldiers have made to the Capital.

The penguin’s decoration ceremony will form part of year-long celebrations in Edinburgh to mark the 100th anniversary of Norwegian independence.

An Edinburgh City Council spokeswoman said: "He is one of our citizens and it’s wonderful an Edinburgh citizen, be he penguin or human, is recognised in this way and can further international relations. We’re very proud of Nils Olav - it’s a very exciting moment for everyone."

She added: "Nils Olav’s new rank is going be top secret until the day - we don’t want any beaks wagging."

David Windmill, chief executive of Edinburgh Zoo, said: "We are very proud of Nils Olav, and are honoured the Norwegian Guard wish to promote him in this special year. Our keepers will make sure Nils is well-rested and eager to accept his new rank in August - and we definitely won’t let the power go to his head."

It is perhaps more correct to say the latest honour will be bestowed on Nils Olav II - the original Nils Olav died in the early 1990s. His replacement is a two-year-old penguin who immediately took on his predecessor’s rank.

A spokesman for the Norway King’s Guard said Nils Olav had risen beyond expectations. He said: "We had planned only to promote him to the highest level of sergeant, but he has already reached that, so we will have to go beyond.

"The highest level in the Norwegian army is general, so one day, who knows? The sky is the limit for Nils Olav."

A programme of events, including concerts, exhibitions, films, sporting events, traditional music and festivals, will also mark Norway’s peaceful separation from Sweden in 1905 and the country’s close links to Scotland.

The council spokeswoman said: "Norway has a number of close links to Scotland and the UK in general.

"In 1266, King Magnus of Norway surrendered the Western Isles to the Scottish Crown, and the first king of Norway after its independence in 1905, King Haakon VII, was married to Edward VII’s daughter, Princess Maude."

A Christmas tree from Norway is donated to the Capital every year as part of Edinburgh’s festive decorations.

An exhibition showcasing the life and work of Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg at the City Art Centre kicks off the programme of events later this month. In April, the city will be treated to a Norwegian Film Festival as well as concerts showcasing Norwegian song and dance.

In May, the Central Library will host a Race for the South Pole exhibition tracing British and Norwegian exploration.

Lord Provost of Edinburgh, Councillor Lesley Hinds, said: "I am thrilled that such an exciting variety of events have been planned to honour the important occasion of 100 years of independence in Norway.

"Scotland and Norway have historic and close connections, and the anniversary programmes allow us to celebrate those links with concerts, sporting events, exhibitions, film, festivals and much more."

Arne Sivertsen, consul general of Norway, said: "I am grateful to the council and delighted with their enthusiasm and co-operation in marking the peaceful dissolution of the union with Sweden in 1905.

"The centennial anniversary programme aims to reflect the diversity of the Norwegian modern society."

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