I was so tired when ABB END A ED

For a decade she was one of the most fa­mous faces in the world – then, when Abba broke up in 1982, Agnetha Fält­skog walked away from pub­lic view. In her first ma­jor in­ter­view for three decades, she talks to Moira Petty about the loves and losses of the in

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - COVER STORY -

P as­sen­gers ar­riv­ing at Ar­landa air­port in Stock­holm trun­dle through to the feel-good beat of Abba’s great­est hits. Hon­estly, it takes re­straint not to ex­e­cute a few dodgy disco moves as the tunes blast out from huge screens ad­ver­tis­ing Abba The Mu­seum. Once Swe­den’s sec­ond most im­por­tant ex­port af­ter Volvo, Abba is still, more than 30 years af­ter dis­band­ing, help­ing to sell the coun­try’s brand to vis­i­tors. The new mon­u­ment to the group’s decade of dance­floor dy­na­mite is timely, as Agnetha Fält­skog — al­ways the most re­tir­ing of the four­some — has emerged from her Swedish is­land home to re­lease an al­bum of new songs.

But my first glimpse of her is the 1978 Agnetha, all 1970s knitwear, high boots and pale blue eye­shadow, as the video for Take A Chance On Me beams out across the ar­rivals hall. Then she’s full screen, eyes full of inky emo­tion, lips sticky with gloss, a bit tremu­lous, voice slid­ing mag­nif­i­cently from eu­pho­ria to anguish. Since Abba aban­doned a halffin­ished al­bum in 1982, Agnetha has mainly hit the head­lines for all the wrong rea­sons. The cat­a­logue of dis­as­ters in­cludes two bro­ken mar­riages and a se­ries of failed love af­fairs, a road traf­fic ac­ci­dent in 1983 — when she was thrown out of the win­dow of a bus on a solo tour — an ac­cu­mu­la­tion of pho­bias, the sui­cide of her mother in 1994 and the per­sis­tent at­ten­tion of stalk­ers, with one ob­ses­sive ru­in­ing her last al­bum re­lease in 2004 ( her first since the 1980s) when his threats caused all in­ter­views to be can­celled.

We meet in a brick, wood and slate house over­look­ing a sparkling lake on one of the many is­lands that sur­round Stock­holm. This is home to Jörgen Elof­s­son, the co-pro­ducer and writer of her new al­bum, A. I am hang­ing out in the kitchen, a lit­tle bit tense, as she’s some­where in this house hav­ing her make-up done. Then she pads into view, en route to the bath­room, in white tow­elling dress­ing gown and slip­pers, hair in rollers, smil­ing broadly, with a friendly ‘hi’ to ev­ery­one. She ex­udes a Zen-like calm, the ad­van­tage no doubt of spend­ing decades stand­ing on her head be­cause, as she tells me later, yoga and med­i­ta­tion helped res­cue her from de­pres­sion. She is ex­cited about her al­bum and a lit­tle ner­vous, but it is full of lushly or­ches­trated num­bers, ev­ery track about love and heart­break. Her voice through­out sounds fan­tas­tic. ‘I will al­ways be com­pared with Abba, with what was. I can only pro­duce a good al­bum; oth­er­wise why would I do it? We had a joke about it. I said: “If I sound like an old woman, we won’t give it out. Af­ter a few times, I kept say­ing: “This is not good.” So I trained and trained, took a cou­ple of lessons, and sud­denly on the third take it was there, and my voice sounds re­ally young. I thought my pre­vi­ous record in 2004 was go­ing to be my last. It’s not very com­mon that you do records when you get past 60. Your voice changes, and your body, and you don’t have the same en­ergy.’

Has she sung in the in­terim? ‘For my­self, yes; at home, at the pi­ano and with my grand­chil­dren, but noth­ing pro­fes­sional.’ Oddly, the only peo­ple who have been shielded from the Abba le­gend are her three grand­chil­dren, aged 12, six and three, the off­spring of her ac­tor daugh­ter, Linda, 40. Her son, Chris­tian, 35, a com­puter pro­gram­mer, has no chil­dren but Agnetha, an ar­dent grandma, is keep­ing her fin­gers crossed. She is cau­tious about talk­ing about the lit­tle ones for se­cu­rity rea­sons but says, ‘I spend a lot of time with the grand­chil­dren. They love it when we sing to­gether. It’s fan­tas­tic to hear them and they re­ally can sing. I don’t talk to them so much about Abba and the past, but as they get older they will be­come more aware. Al­ready the el­dest one, Tilda, knows a lit­tle bit more.’ She apol­o­gises for her English, which be­comes charm­ingly frac­tured un­der pres­sure. She is creamy-skinned, well pre­served, ro­bust-look­ing and em­anates a ma­ture beauty. She gave up smok­ing in the 1980s, rarely drinks, and leads a healthy life tucked away on an­other Swedish is­land far re­moved from the stresses of youth cul­ture and cos­metic surgery. She lis­tens to some con­tem­po­rary pop on the ra­dio (‘I like it if it’s not too hard and has melody... even rap­ping can be

nice’) but doesn’t know who the per­form­ers are. Is she ready to leave this haven and em­brace her pub­lic again, with all the mad­ness it might bring? ‘ I know that it is nec­es­sary if I am to get this CD out. It feels fan­tas­tic to meet new peo­ple again. I was very afraid of fly­ing — I still am — so I had ther­apy. Now I am able to fly for three to three-and-a-half hours, no longer.

‘The press has al­ways writ­ten that I am a recluse and a mys­te­ri­ous woman but I am more down-to-earth than they think. I live on a farm and there is a lit­tle bridge to get to Stock­holm. I live a nor­mal life there with my pug, Bella, and my puppy, Bruno. I chat to other dog walk­ers, I go shop­ping and out to restau­rants with friends. I don’t mind sign­ing au­to­graphs as long as there’s not a queue form­ing,’ she says with a hearty laugh. She is es­ti­mated to have a € 25 mil­lion for­tune. ‘It helps, but I don’t think about it much,’ she shrugs. ‘You can go shop­ping, and if you see some­thing very spe­cial, you can buy it. Maybe I was a recluse for some years. I was so tired once Abba was over and just wanted to be calm and with my chil­dren. I mar­ried, was in Abba, had my chil­dren, di­vorced, all in 10 years. I won­der how I man­aged it, but I was young.’

The pop be­he­moth that be­came Abba was formed in 1970, when Agnetha and her boy- friend, Björn Ul­vaeus, teamed up with his song­writ­ing pal, Benny An­der­s­son. Soon, Benny’s girl­friend, Anni-Frid — also known as Frida — Lyn­gstad joined them. Both cou­ples went on to marry and di­vorce.

Abba has sold 378 mil­lion records since 1972, the fig­ure ris­ing an­nu­ally with new gen­er­a­tions be­com­ing fans af­ter the suc­cess of Mamma Mia!, the stage mu­si­cal and film. Hav­ing shunned mu­si­cal premieres, she turned out for the film pre­miere in Stock­holm in 2008. ‘That was so ex­cit­ing. Meryl Streep was re­ally good in it. I didn’t know that she could sing. She was very fresh and down-toearth, not like a big star, and said, “It’s so good to meet you. I love th­ese Abba songs.” I think the Mamma Mia! craze is great.’

Adding to the buzz, Abba The Mu­seum, an in­ter­ac­tive ex­hi­bi­tion in which vis­i­tors can record as if part of Abba, as well as pe­ruse the band’s arte­facts, will open on the is­land of Djurgår­den off Stock­holm on Tues­day. ‘I didn’t keep any of my stage cos­tumes from the Abba days. I have do­nated items to the mu­seum, not very much, but some things I had at home, some gold records, I can’t re­ally re­mem­ber. I think it’s nice that th­ese things are in a place where they will be taken care of.’

Agnetha re­calls Abba days with mixed emo­tions, as she found it hard deal­ing with global fame. ‘Fans would be­come re­ally hys­ter­i­cal — bang­ing on car doors. But very, very nice as well,’ she adds, not wish­ing to sound un­grate­ful. ‘Things that hap­pened were quite in­cred­i­ble. We would ar­rive in our cars and there would be small chil­dren there and we were so scared that we were go­ing to drive over some­one or hurt them. Some­times we could hardly leave our ho­tels. It was fright­en­ing, but we had so many peo­ple tak­ing care of us and ev­ery­one wanted to show us the best [of their coun­try] wher­ever we went. ’

She ad­mits she grew to dread go­ing on stage. When she and Frida caught the whiff of cannabis from the au­di­ence, they would joke about tak­ing in a few lung­fuls, but Agnetha pre­ferred a glass of Cham­pagne to fire her up. ‘Per­form­ing live is not my favourite. I am more of a record­ing per­son; I pre­fer to be pri­vate. I didn’t mind do­ing videos, even if they came very close with the cam­era. I can take that, but walk­ing on stage in con­cert and singing live, that is a bit dif­fi­cult. And I don’t think we sounded or looked very good.’

For a minute I am in shock, think­ing that she means the plat­form boots, satin jump­suits and glit­tery make-up, but she is talk­ing about their lack­lus­tre chore­og­ra­phy, which wouldn’t stand muster next to rou­tines by Lady Gaga or Rihanna, with their troupes of back­ing dancers. ‘It was nice to look how we looked, but we had no pro­fes­sional dance help. We did it on feel­ings so when we had our con­certs it


Abba in their hey­day in 1977, from left to right: Anni-Frid (Frida) Lyn­gstad, Björn Ul­vaeus, Benny An­der­s­son and Agnetha

Above: Agnetha per­form­ing on stage with Abba in Swe­den in 1975

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