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Introducing...Carola

Published: 05 Feb 2007 18:49 GMT+01:00
Updated: 05 Feb 2007 18:49 GMT+01:00

As Melodifestivalen kicks off, Paul O'Mahony takes a look at Carola – the charismatic Christian who has become Sweden's uncontested Eurovision queen.

Who is she and why is she famous?

Carola Häggvist is Sweden's Eurovision queen. So famous is the songstress in her homeland that her Christian name usually suffices.

You know, it's not a good idea to say 'Christian name' in these multi-cultural times. 'First name' is better. You never can tell.

But that's just the thing, you really can tell with Carola. She is a loud and proud evangelical Christian, and former member of Livets Ord (the Word of Life), a Swedish church allied to the charismatic movement.

With her single name and charismatic movement she could almost be a Brazilian footballer, couldn't she?

Very droll. No, the Charismatics are an offshoot of the Pentecostalists. Carola joined back in 1988.

Was that before or after she entered the Eurovision Song Contest?

It was a few years after her first appearance. Carola has represented Sweden no less than three times in the annual feast of camp pan-European songmanship. She made her debut in 1983 at the age of 16 with 'Främling'. The word means 'stranger' but in English the song was called 'Love isn't Love'.

Sounds like a Magritte painting. Did she win?

No, she came third. But some extraordinary viewing figures illustrated two notable points. First of all, it was clear even then that Carola was going to be an enormous star.

What else?

Well, in secular Sweden there's a school of thought that believes the Eurovision Song Contest to be the only god that counts.

Why? How many people watched?

An incredible, not to mention totally embarrassing, 6.1 million people, or 84 percent of the population.

Crikey, if you take away infants and the infirm that was probably just about everybody in the country.

Indeed. It is a television record yet to be beat.

But surely the days of those sorts of figures are over?

Not so fast, Sherlock. The final of the national Eurovision qualifiers, Melodifestivalen, regularly attracts over 4 million viewers. It has been the highest rated programme every year of the current decade. And last year, 23 years on from her breakthrough, Carola was back in contention.

How did she do this time?

She blew the opposition off the stage. Wind machines, flag-bearing dancers and fireworks all helped to propel her to the final in Athens.

And did she win?

No, she came fifth.

Oh for goodness sake. Did she ever win?

Yes, in 1991. The final was held in Rome and Carola bounced around the stage like a gazelle on uppers. Armed with her trusty wind machine she conquered Europe with the upbeat 'Fångad av en Stormvind', sometimes performed in English as 'Captured by a Love Storm'.

And has Carola ever been captured by a love storm?

Oh yes. She was once caught in the eye of Runar's hurricane.

Who or what is Runar?

Runar Søgaard is a Norwegian preacher. The two were once married and had a child together. The son of the preacher man is called Amadeus.

After Mozart? Or 'Rock me Amadeus', the popular 1980s hit by Falco?

Don't be ridiculous. The name means 'to love God'.

Oh right. And does she have a love interest now?

No. After Runar she famously went on television wearing a shirt that bore the legend: 'available'. Then she moved on to another Norwegian preacher, Edward John, who heard the voice of God while playing semi-professional football (soccer) in the US. He's also a pop star.

Sounds like a match made in heaven.

Yes, but it didn't last and now she's on the prowl again. At a recent show in Haparanda she demanded to know if there were any eligible 40 year olds in the audience.

That's right up north, isn't it?

Yes, the home of eligible 40 year old bachelors. She's no fool, our Carola.

But she hasn't found love yet?

No, but I can tell you what she doesn't love.

What's that?

Homosexuality. She has called it 'unnatural' and says she knows people who have straightened themselves out through prayer.

Cripes. Not a big hit in the gay community then?

On the contrary, she's a massive gay idol. Her flamboyant appearance, eternal youth and over the top performances combine to make her camp as a row of tents. She has even worked with the Bee Gees.

Really? How strange. Sounds like an intoxicating mix though.

Indeed. And recently she has been botoxicating. Life begins at 40 for Carola and she's only getting younger.

Paul O'Mahony (paul.omahony@thelocal.se)

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