Penguin wins new feather in his cap with knighthood

FOR the commanding officer of the Norwegian King's Guard, it was a moment as surreal as it was moving.

As Lieutenant-Colonel Ingrid Gjerde surveyed the scene before her in Edinburgh yesterday, she must have wondered whether she was dreaming.

For the King's Guard was about to award a knighthood to what was already the world's most decorated penguin.

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With her army band and drill team forming a guard of honour, before several hundred spectators and a 40-strong media scrum, she said: "I never learned anything about penguins or making speeches in zoos when I was going through training."

Moments later, after a fanfare by the trumpet corps gathered at Edinburgh Zoo, all eyes were on king penguin Nils Olav as he gracefully marched into view.

Perhaps mindful of the importance of the occasion, he displayed all the grace and poise of a royal guardsman.

Only when confronted by a tall man in a smart suit wielding a long sword did the bird flinch. But in seconds he had regained his poise long enough to be knighted – at the behest of King Harald V himself.

The six-year-old penguin is the third at the zoo to have enjoyed publicity during the promotional ceremonies, held by the Norwegian King's Guard when they are in the city to perform at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

A penguin was adopted by the guardsmen at the suggestion of a young lieutenant on a visit to the zoo in 1972 and more honours were conferred on him and his successors in subsequent visits.

The penguin, named after the young soldier, Nils Egelien, and Norway's then King Olav, is so fondly regarded that he even has his own bronze statue near the penguin enclosure, unveiled in 2005 when the penguin was promoted to the rank of honorary colonel-in-chief.

Before Nils had performed his impressive march, Major- General Euan Loudon, chief executive of the Tattoo, who performed the knighting, described him as an "iconic penguin".

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"Scotland and Norway have long historical connections with each other and this is a very important occasion for both the Tattoo and our capital city."

The king's citation, which was read out to the crowd, spoke of "our trusty and well-beloved" Nils Olav.

Mr Egelien, who travelled to Edinburgh for the ceremony, said he had spoken with the king earlier in the day and he had been "heartily entertained" to hear about the planned ceremony.

Norway gave the zoo its first king penguin in 1913, the year of its opening. It now boasts more than 120 and the penguin pool is the biggest in the world.