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INTRODUCING

Introducing…Carola

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.

CELEBRITY

Is Elijah Wood in Sundsvall and what is he doing there?

It is not that Sundsvall is not a nice town. It is just that it is not normally the place where Hollywood stars go for a night out. So rumours that Elijah Wood was visiting the town quickly went viral on Thursday.

Is Elijah Wood in Sundsvall and what is he doing there?
The main shopping street in Sundsvall. And Elijah Wood. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT & Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

The 35-year-old actor of Lord of the Rings fame was reportedly spotted visiting restaurant 'Tuppen' in the central Swedish town, which posted picture evidence on Facebook and Instagram late on Wednesday.

News of the unexpected celebrity visit quickly dominated local news headlines in Sweden, and was picked up by some of the national newspapers too, with growing excitement on social media. Several newspapers even asked readers to call them if they had any more information about the visit.

“Starstruck at Tuppen. Celebrity visit in the shape of Elijah Wood himself from the Lord of the Rings. Thanks for the visit!” wrote the restaurant.

Not everyone was convinced that it actually was the star, however, and some speculated that it could just be a lookalike or a clever PR trick by the restaurant itself to attract more visitors.

“I think it's fake. They had a customer who looked like him and wanted to joke,” wrote one person on their Facebook page. “Is it fake or is he looking for the ring in Sundsvall now?” wrote another.

Wood, who's currently starring in BBC America series Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, visited Stockholm last month to perform at the Södra Teatern venue with his friend Zach Cowie as DJ duo Wooden Wisdom. His film production company SpectreVision, of which he is a co-founder, helped produce Swedish 2013 science fiction movie LFO.

With a population of some 50,000 people, historic sawmill town Sundsvall is the third biggest town in Sweden's northern region Norrland and Sweden's 21st biggest town overall. It is home to one of the campuses of Mid-Sweden University as well as Sweden's first-ever international casino.

Sundsvall's nearby island Alnön was recently voted one of the most beautiful places in Sweden. Restaurant Tuppen is one of a number of restaurants in the town. It opened in May this year and aims to serve locally produced meat and fish.

The reason behind Wood's supposed visit to the town was not immediately known, but it would not be the first time an international celebrity has fallen in love with unexpected places in Sweden.

Last year US-Haitian rapper Wyclef Jean revealed that he wanted to move to Sandviken outside Gävle. British actor Hugh Grant recently bought a house in Torekov, southern Sweden. And rapper Kanye West paid a visit to the rural town of Älmhult to convince its Ikea headquarters to let him design furniture.