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
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
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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