It’s been ten years since Agnetha’s authorised biography As I Am – ABBA Before & Beyond was released internationally.
The book continues to generate diverse opinions. There are those who love it for coming from Agnetha herself, while others think that it reveals nothing about Agnetha beyond her public image.
As I Am had originally been published in Swedish in 1996 as Som jag är, which was more text-based than the English-language coffee-table picture book format. There are plans for an expanded Dutch translation to be published next year.
Here’s a review of As I Am from The Sunday Times (London) published 14 September 1997.
Thank you for the music: What the blonde one from ABBA did next, and what she looks like 10 years after hanging up her pantaloons.
Super trouper: Agnetha Faltskog – you know, the blonde one – swapped sequins for serenity and cat-suits for kids after ABBA split up. She has now co-written a strange book about herself. By Penny Wark
She was the blonde one in ABBA, the one everybody really fancied. The one with the sprayed-on satin knickerbockers, crocheted hat and spangly bits glued to her cheekbones. She was also the one with the sexiest bottom in the world – or so they said in the 1970s, as the Swedish fab four supertrouped to mega stardom. Then, as pop groups sometimes do, when they have banked their millions and spent 10 years on the road together, they split, their reputation frozen in the time zone of flared trousers. Aching for a more conventional family life with her two children, Christian and Linda, Agnetha Faltskog retreated to her Swedish island.
But while the singer may have all but disappeared from view, the popularity of the band with which she made her name shows no sign of abating. Kitsch ABBA tribute bands such as Bjorn Again tour the world playing to huge audiences, other groups such as Erasure cover their songs, and ABBA hits featured in the cult movies Muriel’s Wedding and Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert. Perhaps this is why, after 15 years, Faltskog has her first public step and co-operated with a biographer.
The book, As I Am, is designed to correct the false impressions about her that have reverberated since 1974, when – to Faltskog’s amazement – ABBA won the Eurovision Song Contest with Waterloo.
The first thing she wants to set straight, it seems, are the rumours that she was the difficult one in the band. This wasn’t so, claims Brita Ahman, the journalist who won the singer’s confidence, became her friend and co-wrote the picture book.
“She is very down to earth, not at all the tragic figure always left by a man, always in tears, who has been presented to the press,” Ahman says. “She is a perfectionist and she was always professional. But she wanted to limit the long hours they worked around the world so that she could have time with her children. There was always that conflict. That annoyed some people and they started to make up things about her being the difficult one. There was a lot of envy and some people are small-minded.
The book also reveals that Agnetha’s divorce from Bjorn Ulvaeus, her co-band member – who scarily resembled the friendly one from Planet Of The Apes – to whom she was married for seven years, was much messier than anyone admitted at the time.
The strains of superstardom were apparently acute for Faltskog, who detested flying, loathed crowds, hated partying and found even the flattery empty. And if she did not hate Frida Lyngstad, ABBA’s feisty brunette, neither was there much love lost between the two.
“Agnetha and Frida were very competitive and very different personalities,” Ahman reveals. “Agnetha is home-loving, Frida loves parties and did not have young children at that time. Off-stage they had little in common, Frida loved socialising, Agnetha just wanted to get back to the hotel and phone her family.”
Faltskog has also had an uneasy relationship with the press, largely, she says, because she wanted them to write only about her music. But then, here was a woman who considered it a grave insult when her bottom was singled out for attention and given an award.
Ahman, an arts journalist, first met the reclusive singer in 1982 when she was debating press ethics in Sweden. One day she opened her door and found herself face to face with Faltskog, who had written an open letter about the press and wanted it published. She told Ahman that she did not recognise herself in what they wrote about her and could she help her set it straight?
Writing a book about life after ABBA cannot have been an easy task. Not only is the blonde singer incredibly reluctant to reveal much of interest, but she has also chosen to lead a normal, very downbeat life, a stark contrast to the glamour and sequins scenario that ABBA so cheerily represented for many years. Faltskog has since concentrated on being a mother, living privately and comfortably – she has an estimated £6m stacked away – on her island off the Swedish coast. After all the hurtling around on world tours, she apparently craved silence. Ahman says, and for the first 10 years neither played, sang nor listened to music – including her own.
“When she came out of ABBA she could at last be what she wanted to be,” gushes Ahman. “She loves to cook, she takes long walks and savours the time she has after having lead such a hectic public life.”
Looking for a replacement for the songs, the singer has explored yoga, astrology and – through a book by the Hollywood guru Deepak Chopra – Ayur-Vedic medicine. She’s also been through a second divorce – from the surgeon Tomas Sonnenfeld.
“She’s not a nun and she’s not afraid of men,” says Ahman, who seems overly protective towards the star. “But like any woman with two broken marriages behind her, she’s careful. She is mature and she knows what she is looking for in a man, but maybe it is not so easy to find because she is 47, she has money, she has been successful, and she has seen a lot of life.” But, she quickly adds, “she has not been out of circulation”.
Reading between Ahman’s words of worship, Fältskog’s reputation for being difficult might not be wholly unfounded. She is not a woman who comprises, the writer says, choosing her words carefully, although she does admit that she has “the claws of a tiger”. She justifies this by adding: “If someone abuses her trust she cuts them off completely and there is no way back. She is strong, and when she flares up it is like a storm. But that is necessary because otherwise she would be eaten up, as she has been sometimes.”
Ahman then confides, now almost whispering, that she can tell us something exclusively about the singer that nobody else knows: Faltskog’s self-imposed silence is, it seems, over. Not only is she listening to music again, she has also started composing. Hurrah! “That is a glimpse of a new beginning,” says Ahman, relishing the treat of having shared what she considers to be such a secret. So will the former ABBA girl be climbing back to the top of the charts again, rather than watching others do it by recording her old songs? For now, the Fältskog camp won’t say. It seems we’ll just have to wait and see. After all, that’s the name of the game.
Knowing me, knowing you: Agnetha…
On Frida: I admit there was a strong sense of competition within both of us. I don’t want to hide the fact that Frida and I had opposite backgrounds, temperaments and personalities. We could get furious and tired with each other, so we had our moments.
On Bjorn: we fell deeply in love during a television recording in May 1969. Björn was warm and tender. He had a charming voice and was an artist, like me.
On the divorce: when Bjorn and I separated we told the media it was a “happy” divorce, which, of course, was a front – we all know there is no such thing as a happy divorce.
On the break-up of the band: we had an unspoken agreement – when it no longer seems fun, we’ll call it a day. Talk of me ending ABBA’s career is wrong.
On the songs: it’s hard to tell when a hit is being made. Dancing Queen was an exception: we knew immediately it was going to be huge. The same thing with Fernando and Chiquitita, which sent shivers up the spine straight away. But the best of all ABBA songs is The Winner Takes It All – a small masterpiece.
On the band’s image: the press were a little surprised that we didn’t have bigger rave-ups, but instead could often be found jogging and exercising. But we did have wild times.
On winning the Eurovision Song Contest: it was just unbelievable when Waterloo won. To calm my nerves I started getting dressed early. I’d bought some small stars, which glittered beautifully, and glued them to my cheeks as a way of preparing myself, of getting into character.
On the future: sometimes I get the urge to do something again. A few years ago it was totally inconceivable. But I am conscious of having a special voice, so there are days when it feels tempting.
Thanks to Samuel Inglles for the article.