She’s a familiar face on Swedish television, but it was her venting blog post about a homeless man's mobile phone that caught the nation’s attention this week. Laila Bagge Wahlgren is The Local's Swede of the Week.
“Who the hell can afford a mobile phone when you’re homeless and begging on the street???,” Wahlgren wrote in a blog post on Wednesday morning, and her name hasn’t left the Swedish headlines since.
But before we look deeper into the blog that got most Swedes talking this week, let's take a quick look at exactly why people care about what Laile Bagge Wahlgren has to say.
Perhaps most known in Sweden for being on the panel of judges for the hit TV programme Idol
, Wahlgren is also a singer-songwriter who once penned a tune for Canadian star Celine Dion.
Born in Lund to a Swedish mother and a Palestinian father, the 40-year-old Swede has made a career within the music and television industry, now spending most of her time as a manager and talent agent.
She was previously married to fellow Idol jury member Anders Bagge, and in 2010 married Niclas Wahlgren, the actor/artist brother of singer Pernilla Wahlgren.
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But as with many TV personalities, Wahlgren’s work away from the screen is the reason her name has been sprawled across headlines this week.
In her blog, published on a portal associated with Mama magazine, she took issue with a homeless man on Stockholm’s Kungsgatan who she spied while waiting in her car at a red light.
“Beside the car on the street was a man who was sitting with a coffee cup in front of him, praying with clasped hands for help from everyone that passed,” she wrote.
“He even had a sign that said Homeless on it!
“You can bet I was amazed when this ‘homeless’ man got out a mobile phone and answered it!!! Who the hell can afford a mobile phone when you’re homeless and begging on the street??? If you can afford a mobile phone then it’s doesn't feel very trustworthy to sit there on your knees with your hands together begging for money with a sign saying you’re homeless!”
Wahlgren even took issue with the mystery person on the other end of the phone call, on the suspicion that they were also homeless.
“I get so annoyed when I see these kind of people, you get suspicious and afraid to help the wrong ‘homeless’ people and I don’t like that feeling. Grrr…” she continued
The blog post has since been shared on Facebook 2,700 times. It might not sound like much for a TV personality, but in comparison, her previous post had only garnered one share.
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Mainstream Swedish media was quick to enter the fray, with the Aftonbladet newspaper talking to other homeless people around Stockholm about their own mobile phone habits.
“If I have a heart attack and am alone somewhere, I need a mobile phone, it’s my last lifeline,” Jouka Jokinen, who has been homeless in the Swedish capital for over 25 years, told the paper.
Jokinen said his mobile was "as important as food" and that much of the money he gets through begging goes toward purchasing credit for the pay-as-you-go phone.
“She’s welcome to come down here and see how we live. She can have my mobile number if she wants,” another homeless man, Mikael, chimed in, explaining he paid 200 kronor ($30) for his mobile.
Celebrity handyman Aders Öfvergård, who worked with homeless people in Kanal 5’s ”Nybyggarna” programme, also slammed Bagge over her comments.
“I was really damn angry at what she said. It’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. She’s talking irresponsibly about a person she doesn’t even know, who clearly has it much tougher than her,” he told the paper.
However, controversial celebrity blogger Katrin Zytomierska
came to Bagge's defence in a post published on Wednesday.
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"If you don't have a home and are begging for money on the street, then you clearly can't afford a mobile phone. They're just trying to dupe us," she wrote.
But a spokeswoman for Stockholm's Stadmission, which operates homeless shelters in the capital, slammed Bagge, saying she "doesn't understand what she's saying".
"It's demeaning, ignorant and a sign that she has an outdated view of humanity," Yvonne Borg told the Nyheter24 news website.
She explained that 60 percent of homeless people in Stockholm have children and that it's common for companies to donate mobile phones or public transit passes to the homeless instead of giving money.
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While refusing to speak to media about the incident, Wahlgren took to her blog again on Thursday to issue a public apology.
“What I wrote came across as truly unsympathetic - which was never my intention,” she wrote.
“I hope you all accept my apology and we can leave all this behind us now.”
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