What would you ask the likes of Nelson Mandela, Maradona, the Dalai Lama, Colonel Gaddafi and Hilary Clinton? Those are but a mere microcosm of the famous names Lundberg Dabrowski has encountered during her tenure as Sweden’s celebrity interviewer.
Over the last 25 years, she’s brought pop icons and political giants to Swedish TV screens, yet cringes when the tables are turned. “I prefer being where you’re sitting,” she says. “I hate being on this side.”
Typically, Dabrowski ponders her questions for hours, yet gets just half an hour to grill her subjects. She tends to avoid small talk with guests and we do the same. “Is it true you asked Madonna how many abortions she has had?”
“Yes, and that was a mistake,” she says. “But I read an article where she said she had several, so I figured I’m only going to get one chance to ask.”
“Still, I’m very nervous,” she adds. “My heart is in my stomach, my legs are shaking and my cheeks are blushing. It’s just that I’m curious and never going to meet this person again – probably.”
Enemies have been made along the way and there are a few interviews she’d rather forget – pressing top businessman Jan Stenbeck on his alcohol problem and an infamous exchange of verbal blows with former Moderate leader Bo Lundgren (Lundberg became visibly irritated with him when he tried to dodge her questions).
Yet when it comes to international figures, one of her biggest demons is language. “Interviewing in English causes me problems every time,” she says.
“To speak a second language always makes you inferior; it gives you a sense of insecurity and makes the interview worse. So I try to learn the questions by heart, so as not to stumble or forget words.”
She admits, however, to being rendered almost speechless when she crossed swords with the Iron Lady.
“Margaret Thatcher is the toughest person I’ve ever met,” Dabrowski says. “I didn’t care much for her politics but she was very smart and had a great sense of humour.”
But she wouldn’t jump. Dabrowski’s famous gimmick in her television series involves asking the guest to jump in the air, as the camera freezes for a final shot.
“It was a fun idea but horrible to have to ask the question,” she says. Thatcher’s response the request was priceless: “I don’t make little jumps in studios; I make big leaps in life.”
Mikhail Gorbachev did.
Despite her best efforts, there is one dream interviewee that has eluded her for over two decades. She learned Spanish and even moved to Cuba in pursuit of a meeting with Fidel Castro.
“That man has cost me a lot of time and a lot of money,” she says. “For the last 20 years he’s been on my most-wanted list. I’ve always been attracted to horrible men.”
Dabrowski recently collated these stories and more into print. Stinas Möten (Stina’s meetings) tells some fascinating tales behind the scenes of her big name interviews.
“I simply wrote the book because I didn’t have a job at the time,” she says. “I started looking at old interviews and I realised they were much better then I had experienced. I also started to remember a lot of conflicts.”
“I accepted it was not going to be great literature but am proud and happy I did it.”
The book is currently only available in Swedish. “A translator did contact me, but I can’t see why anyone would want to buy the book in English,” she says.
Indeed, she refers to herself many times as “just a journalist from a small country.” Yet, she sees her ‘Swedishness’ as a career advantage.
“If I was from England or the US, I would never have worked in television because the competition is so fierce. And I wouldn’t have been able to live the nice life I’ve lived with my family. I’m not at all career-focused; it’s a common misunderstanding about me.”
As for being a celebrity in her own right, she’s not one for the limelight either. “I think it’s a suffering,” she says. “When people recognise me in the street it’s horrible.”
“I’m not much for putting make up on or good at dressing up. I look a bit shaggy, almost like a bag lady.”
Dabrowski’s new talkshow Stina! starts on Saturday 17th March on SVT1, when her guests will be Hugh Grant and celebrity blogger Perez Hilton. Al Gore, footballer Henrik Larsson, singers Marianne Faithful and Liza Minelli and actor Stellan Skarsgård will also feature in the new series.