ABBA – Prisoners in their hotel rooms

From Raymond J. Fullagar in Europe - Pix/People 23 September 1976

ABBA, the super group of the Seventies, not only sing together, but live their day-to-day lives mostly in each other’s company. They are all friends, Agnetha and Bjorn are lovers, and Frida and Benny are also lovers. But little is known of their life at home.

It’s no secret that Bjorn, 31, is married to blonde Agnetha who is 26, and that they have a three-year-old daughter Linda. Likewise, it’s well known that Benny, 29, is engaged to 30-year-old Anni-Frid Lyngstad. But what else do the ABBA superstars get up to between performances?

A large file is kept in the London office of ABBA’s recording company containing every published interview the super-group has given in the past two years.

There is a wealth of information about the countries in which they have performed in, the titles of records, how they joined forces after independent showbiz careers, and how they have accepted superstardom.

But something is missing. Next to nothing has found its way into print about their private lives.

A record company executive explained: “ABBA jealously guard how they spend their time between performances. They do not talk about their private lives to anyone.” So to solve the mystery, I made a few investigations in Stockholm, and gradually built up a personal dossier.

They all live in old and charming large houses situated in the same attractive suburb of Stockholm. The Swedish foursome, are also neighbours in the Summer, when they spend their holidays on one of the many islands in Stockholm’s Archipelago. They frequently go sailing on the Gota Canal, which is 580km long – the longest canal in the world. All four are keen sailors. Bjorn and Benny each own a yacht.

At the last count, between them the group owns six Afghan hounds. Anna told me: “We are all dog crazy”. She also praised Benny’s skill as a carpenter. “Benny is very good with wood and tools. He made super kennels at our houses for all the dogs,” she said.

Benny said the dogs deserved only the very best, so no expense or comfort was spared. “It’s true. We treat our pets like children. We are such crazy people,” he said.

Bjorn has a great sense of humour, plus more than his fair share of charm and personality. On listening to what his wife had to say about the dogs, he added: “Now you can begin to understand why we have to work so hard. Our dogs eat as much food as we do. But they are such great company, so loyal and understanding. Linda can do anything with them. She never has been afraid of their size. They have always been so gentle with her.”

Bjorn is fond of home cooking. His favourite meal is petti pari, which consists of cold meat, potatoes and onions diced and fried and served with poached eggs on the top. Fortunately for him, Anna not only is a first-rate cook, but also collects recipes.

Benny, I understand, prefers fresh vegetables to frozen, which means Frida (they live together) has to make frequent visits to the local markets to buy fresh vegetables and fruits. Frida also is a superb cook.

Any time Bjorn has time to spare, he spends it with Linda, to make up for the long periods of time her parents have to be away from home. Bjorn is good with a camera, and has been taking masses of photographs of his wife and daughter for the family album.

According to friends of Anna and Bjorn, the couple absolutely idolise their little daughter. Anna personally makes, or buys, everything worn by Linda. It was Bjorn who taught his daughter first to read. Linda likes her daddy to read or tell her stories.

No one, it seems, can accuse Benny of being a lazy man. Friends insist he just cannot sit down for more than ten minutes at a time. He must always be on the move – and have something to do.

He rarely watches television, or reads a book. But his house is full of improvements. Nothing makes him happier on his birthday, or other special occasions, than to receive tools as gifts.

Anna is artistic, and Frida, athletic. Anna, on being given a large bunch of flowers and a vase, can produce a breathtaking floral display.

At one time, many of Frida’s friends thought she might pursue an athletic career. Two of her favourite sports are tennis and riding. She is very much an out-of-doors person, and takes a passing interest in the garden.

ABBA are great believers in presentation. Anna and Frida have to spend much time together deciding what clothes the group should wear on future engagements. Dressmaking is something else both likes doing when time permits.

It is the long dresses and trousered suits they wear which have earned them the accolade of the “sexiest looking ladies in show-business.” Both insist they have the last word on what costumes not only they will wear, but what Bjorn and Benny will wear.

All four like to be invited to, and give in their own homes, fancy dress parties, sharing the same wide circle of friends. Fancy dress parties are extremely popular in Sweden. Both Anna and Frida are rated as top-class hostesses.

All four buy albums recorded by other artists. For example, Bjorn has collected every recording made by The Beatles. He is also a great admirer of Elton John. So is Anna, who also has many discs in her collection recorded by Bobby Vinton, Carole King and Neil Sedaka.

Benny, say friends, is a Scottish bag-pipes fanatic. He thought the Royal Scots Dragoon guards version of Amazing Grace was out of this world. Benny also sings the praises of The Beach Boys.

Frida prefers most of the golden oldies recorded by Glenn Miller. Two of her other recording star favourites, are singers Roberta Flack and Anita O’Day.

Anna and Frida are excellent dancers. They try hard each week to allocate a few hours to be with George, their dancing instructor 

Many of ABBA’s admirers do not realise that as well as being recording artists, Bjorn and Benny are also record producers, and have their own recording company called “Polar Music”, situated in a charming old house on the outskirts of Stockholm.

Ten years ago, it was The Beatles who had to be smuggled in and out of concerts by many ingenious methods to avoid the adulation and mobbing by over-enthusiastic fans. Now it’s ABBA’s turn.

They become prisoners in hotel rooms when on tour. They have to go to great lengths not to reveal their private addresses and hope not to be recognised when they venture in public places.

Like most people, the Swedish foursome like to sleep, when possible, for at least eight hours a day. But it seems all four are early risers even when forced to go to bed at a late hour.

Fortunately, all enjoy good health. In the past year they have performed on stage, on radio, and on television, in at least 12 countries. This has involved them in thousands of kilometers of travel.

Their engagement book for the next 12 months tells its own story with visits planned to many countries. Somehow they must also find the time to record tracks for a new album.

One can understand why Bjorn, Anna, Benny and Frida, jealously guard the odd hours when they escape from being ABBA, and become ordinary people. 

ABBA speaks more in depth in regards to their favourite songs at this time period by other musicians during their interviews.

Bjorn Ulvaeus:

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles. I was a member of a folk group in my early singing days, and one day I heard this Beatles album. I just had to buy it and play and play it. It was so marvelous, a new sound, a new kind of music.

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (single and album) by Elton John. I like to be amazed by music and what Elton does amazes me! He has so much talent and of course there is Bernie Taupin with him. I think Elton is one of the few really creative people on today’s music scene.

Where Have All The Flowers Gone by The Kingston Trio. When I started singing, The Kingston trio were a very important group. I belonged to a group and we sang songs which were sung by famous people. This was a song we sang often. I suppose we thought of ourselves as one day being as popular as this American group.

Agnetha Faltskog:

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (single and album) by Elton John. I heard it on a television programme. It’s the kind of song I’d love to sing and write. The song is so good and the album has some other very, very good songs.

Mr Lonely by Bobby Vinton. I heard it on the radio and went straight out and bought it.

It’s Too Late by Carole King. Carole is so good at writing songs and very clever. This song, I find, goes round and round in your head. I suppose it’s another sad song – but I’m often very happy, believe it or not!

The Dreamer by Neil Sedaka. I cannot forget this one as my memory is of ABBA sitting with Neil Sedaka himself and listening to the album from which the song comes. It was a marvelous occasion as you can imagine. Neil is so clever and when we listened to his record, he was able to tell us so much about it.

Benny Andersson:

Amazing Grace by The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards. Bagpipes, I love them, a marvelous instrument. On the record you hear, at first, one bagpipe and then suddenly the lot; and the sound is tremendous! I have always wanted a record with them playing and when I heard this lovely tune. I was thrilled. Now, when I think of the bagpipes, I think of Amazing Grace. And when I think of Amazing Grace, I think of bagpipes! I must go and see Scotland.

Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys. To me, this is the best record ever made. Everything about it is perfect and when I think back at all the records I know, when someone asks me for favourites, this is the one that matters!

I love the first six years of The Beach Boys; Brian Wilson did a great deal with them and he’s so clever. Take me anywhere and play Good Vibrations and I’m at home!

Anni-Frid Lyngstad:

Killing Me Softly With His Song by Roberta Flack. I felt so sad when I first heard this, but it’s such a beautiful song. Some friends of mine brought it back from a holiday in America. I used to wake up early in the morning and put the disk on the record-player. I’ve listened to the record for hours and hours 

In The Mood/String Of Pearls by Glenn Miller. I started singing when I was thirteen, and when I was fourteen or fifteen, I found myself singing with a band which had lots of trumpets. They played Glenn Miller music. I went one day to see the film about Glenn Miller and cried my eyes out.

Sweet Georgia Brown by Anita O’Day. I was a teenager and my boyfriend had a copy of this record. I remember him from this record but I must say I remember Anita O’Day most! She was a singer who greatly impressed me and gave me an idea of what I might try and achieve as a singer myself.

©1976 Pix/People. Thanks to Samuel Inglles