FOR probably the first and only time in history, Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh slipped into the Capital with virtually zero fanfare. It was 16 October 1962 and the British royals were not the star attraction.
King Olav’s historic visit to Edinburgh in 1962 marked the first time the State visit of a foreign monarch had been conducted outside of London.
And the Scottish capital did not disappoint as a crowd of hundreds of thousands gathered to welcome the Norwegian king along the main parade route.
Scotland and Norway had forged close ties during the Second World War and the latter had not forgotten the warm hospitality offered to her country’s servicemen while stationed here.
We older people are pleased that once again the young folk will have thrill of a Royal visit, and grander than we had sixty to seventy years ago. Flags, bunting, Scots Greys, Highlanders, and wonderful fireworks to end the day. These occasions were part of our city lifeM. Wilson (1962)
Early on 16 October, King Olav arrived by royal yacht at Leith and made his way to Princes Street Station where his carriage was met at a red=carpeted platform 5 by the Queen and members of the royal family.
Practically half the city had turned out, waving flags, hats, handkerchiefs and whatever else could help guarantee a hero’s welcome, as King Olav began his journey along the two-and-a-half-mile parade route.
Edinburgh city centre was spruced up to the nines with buildings and street furniture elaborately decked out in all manner of flags, banners and bunting. The decorations bill for this must have been eye-watering.
An elderly Edinburgh Evening News reader, M. Wilson, wrote: “We older people are pleased that once again the young folk will have thrill of a Royal visit, and grander than we had sixty to seventy years ago. Flags, bunting, Scots Greys, Highlanders, were acclaimed, and wonderful fireworks to end the day. These occasions were part of our city life.”
Upwards of 100,000 people witnessed the procession which took in Princes Street, North Bridge, the High Street and Canongate before terminating at the Palace of Holyrood House.
With such enormous crowds packing the city’s main thoroughfares, it’s not surprising to hear there were a few injuries. Aside from the usual bruised ribs incurred from the inevitable jostling of elbows and arms, a number of spectators, desperate to catch a glimpse of the Norse royal carriage, managed to impale their feet on railings on the south side of Princes Street. Cases of fainting were also numerous.
Freedom of Edinburgh
Despite less favourable weather, day two brought more large crowds as King Olav made his way from Holyrood to the Usher Hall to receive the Freedom of Edinburgh.
One photograph, taken outside the, reveals the extent to which the city authorities went to polishing-up Edinburgh ahead of the prestigious event. In the background one of the city’s corporation bus shelters can be made out, albeit obscured by an array of elegant-looking potted plants.
King of the catwalk
After being handed the keys to the city, King Olav made a bee-line for South Queensferry, where he traversed the catwalk of the still-under-construction Forth Road Bridge.
A pea-souper of a fog, however, prevented the monarch from being able to appreciate the 22-strong naval flotilla that had gathered on the Forth for his arrival.
Going out with a bang
King Olav’s departure from the city was marked by a fireworks display that would attract the largest crowd to Princes Street in a decade since the 1950 Festival of Britain and the much-heralded march of the 1,000 pipers.
Packed in like sardines, it is thought around 150,000 Edinburghers were there to witness the tremendous light show of rockets and catherine wheels that ensued.
One reporter spoke of the ‘determined vigour’ of several women who displayed fine ‘winter sales’ tactics’ by bashing him in the ribs as the crowd dispersed to head home after the display.
As his brief visit reached its climax, King Olav said: “My stay in Edinburgh has evoked in me the memories from the last war, when the British and Norwegian people stood shoulder to shoulder, and it has given me the assurance that the same happy feeling of sympathy, understanding, and kinship still prevails with unabated strength.”
King Olav V died in 1991 at the age of 87. Named ‘folkekongen’ (the people’s king), he was hugely-popular figure in his homeland and in 2005 was voted ‘Norwegian of the century’ in a poll commissioned by the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation.
King of the penguins
In Edinburgh the name of King Olav lives on.
Following the appearance of the Norwegian King’s Guard at the 1961 Tattoo, Lieutenant Nils Egelien gifted a king penguin - Nils Olav - to Edinburgh Zoo. The penguin was named after both Egelien and King Olav.
In the years since there been three king penguins named Nils Olav at Edinburgh Zoo. The current, Nils Olav III, boasts the honorary title of Colonel-in-Chief of the Norwegian King’s Guard.