The Death of a Swedish Icon


Today, the news of a death reached the Swedish people. The death of an icon. At the age of 80, popular singer Barbro ‘Lill-Babs’ Svensson passed away. Lill-Babs is little known outside of Sweden, but in Sweden she was an icon, a part of the soundtrack of many Swedes’ lives – she was Sweden. To get a grip on her status in the country, think the UK’s Cilla Black, and France’s France Gall – with that combination of untrained vocals and girl next door sex appeal – and you come part of the way.

When I moved to Sweden over 20 years ago, Lill-Babs was possibly one of the first Swedish celebrities that I got to hear of. She was constantly on the tv, on chat shows, in theatres, in concert halls, in the tabloids, in reality programs, in magazine articles and firmly positioned in the national memory. Her modest origins from a small village in rural Sweden contrasted intriguingly with her show-biz lifestyle, her many love affairs and bankruptcies and her glamorous media-trained daughters. She seemed to balance the ability of staying true to your roots with the bravery of a sexually liberated woman surviving decades in a man’s world. In older days, blonde hair, tanned skin, moist lips, bling and leopard print were her signum, along with her distinctive raspy deep voice. She impacted everybody it seems. Even the King of Sweden announced his condolences today saying he will remember her warmth and exuberance.

I had the pleasure of seeing the ‘Lill-Babs Show’ in 2015, when she was 76 years old. She gave annual dinner shows at the Swedish venue called Playa del Sol on Gran Canaria. As I happened to be there on holiday, I went with some friends to watch her perform. I admit I was a little sceptical going in, but I was blown away. There on the stage stood a woman, slightly ravaged by the years, but with a warmth and a humour that is rarely seen. Her energy and professionalism swept us all away and the crowd went wild – well as wild as they could given the average age was about 70. She sang her classics from the previous 6 decades and told cheeky, saucy jokes to the audience. I felt that I wasn’t just seeing a concert but I was having a thoroughly Swedish experience, somehow immersing myself into Swedish popular history and culture. There, on the stage, was not only a singer but a living legend.

April 3, 2018 Lill-Babs died after a short period of illness. She takes with her a piece of Swedish history, an echo of a Sweden long gone. Her legacy is the openness with which she invited the Swedish people into her life – warts and all. I am sure she will not be easily forgotten and that her voice will be echoing loudly through many a Swedish home this evening.

Playa del Ingles – Swedish invasion


Currently enjoying a week in the sun on Gran Canaria. It’s altogether a very Spanish experience. Er, well, maybe not.

Yesterday evening we headed off to a well-known dance palace called Playa del Sol. The reason it’s well known is because it is a Swedish oasis, in the middle of the tourist sprawl. A restaurant and dance club, this is where Swedes, mostly of an older generation, come to eat Swedish food, drink cheaply, listen to orchestra music and strictly come dancing. The place has certainly seen better days, with it’s tired decor, faded colors and jaded staff.

Last night a Swedish legend was performing. The 75 odd year old Lill-Babs is Sweden’s equivalent to the UK’s Cilla Black and she’s still going strong. The show was sold out and her white haired audience of regulars went wild as she crooned to her classic hits from previous decades. Her energy and her saucy jokes had the audience agog. They were in the palm of her hand.

For me, this was a fantastic cultural experience – a mixture of fascination, sentimentality and horror. But mostly I was a witness to how a singer can create a life long following of loyal and loving fans through her hard work and professionalism.

Lill-Babs is really proof that the show does go on. And it goes on and on and on in this little Swedish dance paradise on a small island far away in the Atlantic Ocean.