The Knighted Penguin

At Edinburgh Zoo, the Royal Guard of Norway visit their colonel-in-chef, Brigadier Sir Nils Olav III who is… a penguin….

Xander Brett

At Edinburgh Zoo, a penguin is addressing the troops. It’s Brigadier Sir Nils Olav III, colonel-in-chief to the Royal Guard of Norway. The family of Norwegian shipping magnate Christian Salvesen gave a king penguin to Edinburgh Zoo when it opened in 1913. When the King’s Guard performed at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo of 1961, Lieutenant Nils Egelin arranged for the regiment to adopt a penguin as their mascot, named Nils Olav after Egelin by the then King of Norway, Olav V. From his initial rank of lance corporal, the original Nils Olav died shortly after his promotion to sergeant. In 1982, his place was taken by a two-year-old near double, appointed sergeant-major in 1993 and, in 2005, the regiment’s colonel-in-chief, continuing the line of succession with unbroken ranks. In 2008, on the approval of King Harald V, Nils Olav II was knighted. A crowd of several hundred gathered, the world’s press watched on. A ceremonial sword-tap on each wing and a message read out from his commander-in-chief, His Majesty the King.

Sir Nils Olav retired shortly after his knighthood, passing the honour to the incumbent, Sir Nils Olav III, promoted to brigadier in 2016. At that ceremony, he inspected the troops, pausing for a short speech at the statue of their first title holder. There’ve been others. From 2001 to his retirement in 2009, William Windsor I (Billy Windsor), a goat, served as lance corporal in the 1st Battalion, The Royal Welsh… except for a three-month period when he was demoted for inappropriate behaviour at the Queen’s official birthday parade (he headbutted a drummer). But, as penguins, rather than goats, Nils Olav and his predecessor’s service to the Kingdom of Norway has always been nothing short of exemplary.

This article is a Fika Online exclusive.

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