- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 3, 2000

High-ranking guests from Scandinavia, royal as well as republican, were on display at the opening of the new vikings exhibition at the National Museum of Natural History Thursday night.

Could there ever have been any doubt that the royals, even without their regalia, would get the lion's share of attention?

The phalanx of photographers sprang to action the instant Prince Joachim, the tall, charming second son of Queen Margrethe of Denmark, strode in wearing a tuxedo unadorned by heavy orders or medals.

More photography lights flashed when Crown Princess Victoria, the heir of Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf, arrived in an elegant floral-print gown and matching wrap sans tiara to greet Lawrence Small, the Smithsonian Institution's new secretary, and museum Director Robert Fri in the receiving line.

Then King Harald and Queen Sonja of Norway came in, decidedly regal with or without their crowns.

They had unmistakable allure, hard to define, but surely "a lot more than just good posture," as one gawker was overheard remarking to a friend.

Not that Olafur Ragnar Grimsson and Tarja Halonen, the democratically elected presidents of Iceland and Finland, much minded being upstaged, if truth be told.

"We get used to it," the gracious Mr. Grimsson told former Ford administration social secretary Nancy Ruwe and other guests, jokingly referring to the group as a "traveling circus that comes together very often," most recently in Copenhagen a few weeks ago to celebrate Queen Margrethe's 60th birthday.

Such Nordic solidarity, he said was "an expression of political cooperation, democratic and cultural heritage that is quite unique in the world."

Guests chatted easily with the royal guests at a special VIP reception before the exhibit opened later to more than 1,000 guests. Prince Joachim, 31, spoke of Princess Alexandra, his beautiful part-Chinese wife of four years, who he said has "had an incredible impact from day one" at home. (Learning Danish in record time certainly helped.) Crown Princess Victoria, 22, said she loves her freedom at Yale, where she is a a second-year student and "can be a normal person doing normal stuff, like driving a car and going grocery shopping."

Even King Harald seemed approachable after his security guards allowed him to talk to the press about one of the viking exhibits, "The Way They Weren't," which features historically inaccurate horned and winged helmets worn by cartoon characters, opera divas and NFL Minnesota Vikings football players.

"I already knew they never wore the hats," he said in perfectly accentless English, which he learned, as it turns out, during the five years he lived in the White House as President Franklin D. Roosevelt's special guest during World War II.

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