Abba's Recluse: Agnetha Faltskog Comes Out!
Is Abba's Agnetha Faltskog finally ready to forgive her bandmates for years of misery?
By Alison Boshoff
Last updated at 12:16 AM on 12th July 2008
Mamma Mia: Abba's Agnetha Faltskog in her musical heyday
Given she has a visceral dread of crowds, noise and open spaces, attending the Swedish film premiere of Mamma Mia! last week must have been torture for Agnetha Faltskog.
Indeed, until the moment she turned up, even Abba's die-hard fans were dubious that Agnetha - pop's ultimate sex symbol - would make the journey from her self-imposed exile on one of Stockholm's rural outlying islands.
In the event, she looked wonderful, displaying a shock of platinum hair and that gap-toothed smile which makes her instantly recognisable.
Although she is now a 58-year-old grandmother, she sported the tightest of rock-chick trousers and a white vest - rather rebellious given that her bandmate Anni-Frid was in an evening gown, as were all the cast members.
She girlishly linked arms with Anni-Frid and the film's leading lady Meryl Streep. The three of them whirled around on the carpet outside Stockholm's Hotel Rival, in full glare of the onlooking paparazzi.
But there the joy stops. Agnetha didn't pose with her other bandmates, Benny Andersson or Bjorn Ulvaeus - who also happens to be her former husband. And when it came to appearing on the hotel balcony with the cast, Agnetha kept her distance from the men who wrote the songs that made her famous.
According to a Swedish source: 'She refused to do the picture which everyone wanted, which was the four of them together.'
It's been 21 years since the Abba foursome were seen together in public - and the sticking point has always been Agnetha.
Admittedly, she came when Mamma Mia! opened in Stockholm three years ago - but walked alone into the theatre, and then alone out of it. She also refused to show up at an event to mark the 30th anniversary of the Abba song Waterloo winning Eurovision.
Agnetha's spokesman, Steffan Linde, told me bluntly that, apart from Bjorn and Agnetha bumping into each other at the odd family event, there was really no contact between the band members on any level.
'They do not socialise with each other,' he snorted. 'They just happened to come to the same premiere. It was nothing they organised themselves.'
Leading ladies: Agnetha Faltskog, Meryl Streep and Frida Reuss pose at the premiere of Mamma Mia! in Stockholm
Mr Linde added that there was no chance of Agnetha being involved with making music with Abba again, and added: 'The movie people invited all the Abba members separately and all members decided to come.'
It seems, bizarrely, that Agnetha hates to acknowledge her part in pop history - so much so that she's known as 'Garbo the second' in Sweden. She is reclusive, and told an interviewer that she doesn't like to go out, doesn't have many friends and likes to talk to her horses.
The nickname, though, infuriates her. 'They spread that I am hiding, that I am the new Greta Garbo. It's not the way it is. I just want to live in peace and quiet.'
So why would she turn up to such a public media event, finally - but then refuse to cooperate with the rest of the band? Can she really have conquered her demons after so long?
Make no mistake, the past 25 years have been difficult for Agnetha. She was emotionally ' mangled' by the split with Bjorn in 1979. They had two children, but divorced while the band was at the peak of its fame. Within a week, Bjorn had a new girlfriend and Agnetha had counselling.
ABBA's great, deeply bitter song The Winner Takes It All was written during this period - and she had to find the emotional strength to sing: 'Tell me does she kiss/Like I used to kiss you?' After a tour, the band returned to the studio in 1982, but realised that, with both couples now divorced (Benny and Anni-Frid split in 1981), it was no longer any fun being Abba.
Thank you for the music: The original cast of Abba, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, Agnetha Faltskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad
Agnetha now admits she found the closing years miserable. Terrified of flying, after being caught in a storm on a private jet, she was still obliged to tour the world by plane. Today, she hasn't taken a flight in more than 20 years and is terrified when she knows her family are flying.
She also found the Abba fans alarming and would have terrible daydreams in which they set upon her and consumed her alive. ]
More prosaically, she was troubled by guilt at being away from her children, Linda and Christian, when they were so young. And she was never as at ease socially as the others - her English was not as good, so she sometimes struggled.
So while Anni-Frid partied, her rival on stage, Agnetha, was in hell: anxious, shy and overwhelmed. No wonder the girls were not always the best of friends. A substantial amount of time has had to pass for Agnetha to forgive her bandmates for their part in her torment.
Gorel Hanser, who works for Benny and Bjorn, confirms there was no personal appeal to Agnetha to come to the premiere - despite gossips suggesting it was down to Benny, because he owns the Rival Hotel where the event was held. Ms Hanser, who managed the group until it split in 1982, said: 'Agnetha came because she was invited by the film company. She comes to certain events, but not many, because she does not like to fly, and you just respect that.
'As far as a photo of the four of them together, I don't know that it was requested or that anyone said "no". But this was not an Abba event, it was a Mamma Mia! event. They are not pictured as a group for obvious reasons, to not upstage the film.'
Ms Hanser went on to say that Agnetha attended with her children and some friends, and that her granddaughter Tilda, eight, also came along. 'They sat at the table next to Bjorn at the party afterwards and everything was fine. It was a great, relaxed evening, everyone had a glass of champagne.' Indeed, speaking to friends and associates of Agnetha in Stockholm, what becomes clear is that she is finally, but slowly, emerging from her ultra-private existence.
The influence behind this move, says everyone, is urbane socialite Bertil Nordstrom whom many expect will be her third husband.
Nordstrom, 64, a close friend of King Gustaf of Sweden, has been dating Agnetha on and off for three years. Not that he will admit it - he told me yesterday: 'We are not together in any way.' But pictures of the two of them arm-in-arm at a society party this summer tell their own story, as do eyewitness accounts of them smooching in nightclubs.
They have been seen out increasingly, with Nordstrom chaperoning her with evident pride. Swedish gossip magazines describe them as 'love-birds' and say that they are 'fascinated' by one another.
They are even reported to have bought a £300,000 love nest in Bastad, the seaside resort which hosts the Swedish Open tennis championships.
'Don't tell me Aggie is going to marry that old fart!' said one fan on an Abba site, but in truth no one could begrudge her some romantic happiness, especially since under the influence of this wealthy and well connected man she is breaking free of two decades of self-confinement. As for the secrecy and denial? Well, that's just the way Agnetha likes to do it. One source in Sweden says she is fearful of having her private life exposed, and insists any boyfriend pretends there is no romance.
It wasn't always so complicated: Agnetha Faltskog was a shy little girl born in Jonkoping in April 1950. Her father worked in an electrical factory, her mother was a shop cashier.
Agnetha fell in love with Bjorn Ulvaeus at 19, after meeting him in a cafe. They were married in 1971 and Abba won Eurovision in 1974. They sold 350 million records, and their recent greatest hits compilation album, Abba Gold, stayed in the charts for more than 400 weeks. (Despite this, Agnetha is worth £4million - whereas Bjorn and Benny are worth more than
£100 million each, thanks to royalties and Mamma Mia!).
The success was so extreme that Agnetha still has difficulty believing it. 'It's nice to look back on it and sometimes I can't comprehend it.
It feels like another life.' After Bjorn came a succession of lovers - including psychiatrist Hakan Lonnback, who had tried to save her marriage. She even had an affair with Stockholm detective Thorbjorn Brander, who had been assigned to her case after kidnap threats towards her children.
In 1990, Agnetha married for a second time - to divorced surgeon Tomas Sonnenfeld. The marriage was conducted, at Agnetha's insistence, in secrecy, and became public knowledge only as it disintegrated three years later.
At this time Agnetha also had to cope with the suicide of her mother Birgit, who threw herself from their sixth-floor flat. A year later, her father died, too, and she felt very alone.
Again, Agnetha kept everything secret. Her biographer was told her mother died in an accident. Those who are close to her say everything changed from this point, and her reclusiveness became more pronounced. Certainly she must have been troubled as the oddest chapter of her life now followed: an affair with a man who had been stalking her.
Overweight Dutch forklift truck driver Gert van der Graaf was an Abba fan who had pursued her for two years. She complained to the police, but in 1997 they started a romantic relationship. 'It was a very intense attention from him and after a while I felt I could not resist any more. I wanted to know him,' Agnetha said. Two years later, they had split up and by 2000 Agnetha was seeking an exclusion order.
After the disaster of her dalliance with Gert, she moved deeper into the forest, building a smaller house around a private courtyard garden. Neighbours say she barely exchanges greetings with them.
For years Agnetha hadn't sung or even listened to music. But, to general astonishment she released a record in 2004, a collection of Sixties covers, and embarked on some limited publicity for it, saying she yearned to find lasting love.
The album, My Colouring Book, spent 25 weeks in the charts in Sweden, and then it and she dropped out of public view again. But in 2005, that all seemed to change when a 20-year friendship with Bertil Nordstrom blossomed into romance.
Nordstrom, a successful businessman, may not look glamorous - permanently besuited, tall, with grey hair and glasses - but he is seriously wealthy. A few weeks ago the happy pair arrived together for a high-society party in Stockholm.
'Agnetha and Bertil are very much in love and it is expected they will marry soon,' said a source in Sweden.
Pictures from the party show them looking absolutely the contented couple. But, given Agnetha's avoidance of the spotlight, you wouldn't lay bets on Hello! doing the wedding pictures. And Benny, Bjorn and Anni-Frid probably shouldn't hold their breath for an invitation. - MAIL ON SUNDAY