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Introducing... Panos Papadopoulos

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18:07 CEST+02:00
Every week in Introducing... The Local gives the lowdown on a Swedish celebrity we think the world should get to know better. This week, Paul O'Mahony offers an insight into the world of swimsuit king and Miss Sweden supremo Panos Papadopoulos.

Who is he and why is he famous?

Panos Papadopoulos is the Greek fashion designer whose youthful odyssey brought him to Sweden in the late 1970s. The enterprising immigrant went on to found his own swimwear company, Panos Emporio. He also owns the rights to the Miss Sweden beauty pageant, or the New Miss Sweden as it is now called.

What's so new about it?

Well, in 2005, Panos claimed to have been harassed by a group of feminists. The pressure they brought to bear led to him cancelling the Miss Sweden event. An exasperated Papadopoulos said at the time that it was impossible to talk to those people.

So what did he do?

He talked to those people. Following consultation with feminist groups, the show was back on the road last year. And while a curvaceous frame is hardly a hindrance, a degree in microbiology will prove just as useful for any contestants wishing to progress to the final.

So swanning about in a swimsuit and advocating world peace is no longer enough?

No. From now on Miss Sweden's primary task will be to act as a modern-minded role model for young women. The days of happy amateurs are over: Miss Sweden is a job like any other, to the extent that it is even advertised on employment websites. The eventual winner signs a one-year contract to represent Sweden. And to highlight the fact that beautiful bodies no longer triumph over agile minds, Papadopoulos has gone so far as to axe the swimsuit section.

Sounds like an extraordinary move for a swimwear mogul.

Well, he's an extraordinary man. His story, or his odyssey as he prefers to call it, is an intriguing one.

If it involves adventures at sea and encounters with one-eyed monsters, I'm all ears.

Well, not quite, but there is plenty of heroism, resistance and old-fashioned hard-work.

OK, that'll do.

Great. The story of Panos Papadopoulos begins in Athens in 1958, when a young boy took his first tentative steps in a cruel world.

Boring and hackneyed. Get to the good bits.

How rude! Do you know the original meaning of the word cynic?

No.

It means dog-like, as in shameless, messy and aggressive. Just thought I'd mention it. Anyway. back to Athens. The shy young Panos got his first break dressing windows for a local shop when he was just eight years old. But as he grew older and more perceptive, he noticed that the country of his birth was rife with nepotism and corruption.

Strangely reminiscent of Icarus flying too close to the sun.

No, it's not. But thank you for sharing your shoddy knowledge of Greek mythology.

You're welcome.

As a young man working hard in a local foundry, Panos began writing to the authorities, pointing out the fraud, injustice and corruption he witnessed all around him. Rather than do something about the problems, however, police and officials began threatening our Odysseus, leaving him with little option but to flee Ithaca.

Golly. And he fled to Sweden?

Yes. Appropriately for a wayfaring stranger on a mythical quest, he got a job in shipping. He also studied sociology, which provided him with the insight into human nature that he would require for the next leg of the journey.

Which was what?

Importing undergarments into the country. Papadopoulos acquired a car and took to the road to peddle his wares. "Those were not easy times. Any other man, with less determination, would have given up," he has said of the underwear era. But Odysseus prevailed, and in 1986 everything he touched turned to swimwear: Panos Emporio was born.

Did it become a success? What does the Grecian earn?

That's hardly any of your business. Beauty is truth, truth beauty. That is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

Crikey. Don't have a Keatsian fit, I was only asking.

Sorry, I overreacted. Whatever his earnings, the company has gained massively from the human capital of models like Traci Bingham, Victoria Silvstedt and Elena Paparizou , all of whom have posed in Panos Emporio's swimwear. In fact, Panos would have less to worry about if they hadn't slipped back out of the swimsuits before the photographer was finished.

How do you mean?

Last summer a computer was stolen from the company containing topless photos of several of the models, including Silvstedt and Paparizou. The culprit was eventually found but the pictures are still at large.

Is this viewed as cause for panic and the payment of ransoms?

Not at all. It is just another stage on the Odyssey. And as so often before, Panos will prevail.

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