Like most youngsters I was prone to hero-worship, and my cast inevitably included sports stars, movie icons, rock gods and historic figures. Nevertheless, back in the early 1980s I suspect I was unique in the UK, if not the entire globe, in having a cruise line chairman at the summit of my particular totem. By then I was already fascinated with ships and especially the French Line’s France. She had been laid-up in a Le Havre backwater for almost five years seemingly never to sail again. Her saviour, it transpired, was a Norwegian with an unpronounceable first name. He was the one who captured my impressionable imagination.
I was inclined to like Knut Kloster from the start. Over subsequent years the more I read, the more I respected both his achievements and his personality. They say that you should never ‘meet’ your heroes, presumably for fear that their failings will destroy the pedestal that you have placed them on. Well, in 2010 I completed a painting to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of SS Norway’s introduction and decided to give the first print to Mr Kloster, as a thank you for inspiring me all those years ago. With a certain trepidation I obtained his contact details from a mutual acquaintance and sent a speculative email. Of course I needn’t have worried. He was as gracious as I had been led to believe and as a reciprocal ‘thank you’ he recounted anecdotes from Norway’s maiden voyage. Doubtless like all of us he had his flaws, but insensitivity certainly isn’t one of them. Rare detractors tend to focus on his idealism and perceived naivety, but to many these are virtues rather than blemishes on a character. Besides which, naivety seems an odd label to levy on a man who helped forge a multi-billion pound industry and ran the most successful cruise line of its era
Knut Utstein Kloster was born in Oslo on 2nd April 1929, the son of his namesake and his mother Ingeborg (née Ihlen), three years his father‘s junior. After early schooling in Norway, the young Knut went to the USA for further education, graduating in 1951 with a degree in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. On returning to Norway he undertook compulsory National Service (interestingly in the Air Force, rather than the Navy) before joining the family firm in 1953. Always a close-knit community, the Norwegian shipping fraternity became even more tightly bonded that same year, when Knut married Inger Katrine Bregval, daughter of another second generation ship-owner, Arvid Bergval. Knut and ‘Trine’ would have four children, one of whom would ultimately succeed him at NCL.
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