25 November 2021, The Tablet

By royal appointment


The King and the Christmas Tree
(MANILLA PRESS, 176 PP, £9.99)
tablet bookshop price £8.99 • tel 020 7799 4064

“It’s a present from the people of Norway,” I’ve said to my children in many Decembers, passing through Trafalgar Square and seeing the pine tree 20 metres high lit with white lights. “They send us one every year. It’s to celebrate our … er … friendship with them during the war.” I’m glad they never asked me more, because I wouldn’t have known, and was secretly ­confused, aware that Britain actually failed Norway catastrophically in 1940.
What a brilliant idea of A.N. Wilson’s, to tell the whole story. This delightful short book should be this year’s top-of-stocking nugget for both curious adults and lively-minded 12-year-olds. It’s a story of Christmas trees, snow, fear, bravery, patriotism and fortitude, and its unlikely hero is the quiet, gangling, moustachioed, cigarette-smoking, 68-year-old King Haakon VII of Norway, whose wife Maud (Edward VII’s daughter) had died in 1938. When, after the Nazis invaded Norway in 1940, the Germans gave him an ultimatum to accept a Nazi government led by the vile collaborator Quisling, he simply refused.

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