"ABBA’s mamma mia" by Dan Hansson: ABBA were a hit again in 2008. Mamma Mia! beat all records. Görel Hanser is the woman behind-the-scenes for decades who worked behind ABBA. Benny Andersson summarises her role best: "Everything that should have been done was already done," he said about Görel Hanser’s organisational skills. She began as Stikkan Anderson’s secretary and was behind ABBA reuniting.
Görel Hanser – Photo: Mike New
Being ABBA’s project manager and spokesperson meant that Görel Hanser traveled around the world on tours, promotional trips and took care of the record company contracts and the media. Although ABBA reached a peak in the 1970s – and it was quite hysterical – so they reached a new peak in 2008. Mamma Mia!, the musical continues to play around the world, the movie with Meryl Streep in the lead role was a huge success and is already the most popular film in British history, and even when ABBA’s nine studio album was released in yet another box-set, it rushed up the Swedish album chart.
"There is more to do now than in the ’80s. Who could believe that it would be like this?" asks a surprised Görel Hanser when we meet at a coffee shop in central Stockholm. She has just been celebrating Benny Andersson’s 62nd birthday.
A few weeks earlier, I met her at the office on Skeppsholmen, where she works as the managing director of Music & Artist Service representing, among others, Tommy Körberg and Helen Sjöholm. She also runs Benny Andersson’s record company Mono Music. I laugh when I see a sign behind her chair that says "Gööööööööörel!". This refers to Stikkan Anderson’s constant yelling for his secretary.
Görel Hanser sees her role on ABBA duties – which are apparently not yet completed – as a integral to the whole operation, to keep everything together and make it work. She describes herself as a strong and driven person.
"I never needed to struggle because it all went so well. Moreover, I like to have many balls in the air. It was everything from records, being on-time, be sure to get schedules when they went anywhere, with the records and music publishers, making sure that there were contracts in place, ensure that everyone received all the information they needed, resolve problems and coordinate tours. I have been involved in many once-in-a-lifetime situations…ABBA, CHESS, Kristina från Duvemåla and Mamma Mia!.
You say that this is a regular job, but …
"It is difficult to compare, but I have never had any other job, ha ha! It’s not as glamorous as people might think. It’s not just about premieres, it’s about a great many small memos and involves almost an entire year’s work to prepare a staging for something like CHESS. It must be done right, everything must be in place and work out.
Benny Andersson, who has become good friends with Görel Hanser, agrees with the description of her as the heart of the ABBA machine.
"We have worked together for 35 years and it would not have been as easy without her, all her knowledge and contacts. She took care of the outcome of what we did. She has what is needed and then some. Görel ensures that things hang-together.
ABBA singer Anni-Frid Lyngstad-Reuss explains Görel Hanser’s role by comparing her with Stikkan Anderson, sometimes called the fifth member of ABBA.
Görel was irreplaceable as his right hand woman and shared the position as fifth member of ABBA. Apart from the fact that she was a quick learner, she also had an unerring sense of timing and a strong sense of the importance of details.
Görel Hanser can not remember exactly when she met Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson for the first time. She was already working at Polar with Stikkan Anderson when Björn and Benny appeared as producers for Lena Andersson and wrote Ljuva sextital for Brita Borg in the late 1960s.
"They were just these two young men and eventually Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Agnetha Fältskog joined them and they did Hej Gamle Man. Ring Ring became a hit in Europe but when Waterloo turned out to be a winner in 1974, that opened all doors. We were prepared in case of a victory and went to the office on the Sunday after the win and sent the information to all of Stikkan’s record company contacts, ensuring that the record would be released in every country. We soon stopped celebrating with champagne every time a single reached number 1 though as it all became too much," she laughs.
Were you thinking how great it was?
"No, you just worked on. But I do not think we really took in how well it all went."
Görel Hanser grew up in a traditional home in Skultorp outside Skövde with a father who was a mechanic and a mother who was also a housewife. During the Second World War her father was active in the Norwegian resistance movement, and it may be that she inherited some of his courage, not to worry so much but get things done.
"I thought his story was wonderfully exciting when I was little, before I understood what was involved."
What was that about?
"He was warned one day on a tram by a person who said "Go home. Leave!". The Germans had come to get him, so he fled across the border at Trondheim, ended up in Västergötland and eventually met my mother. I feel proud of him and I am myself a pretty fearless person. If that comes from him or not, I can’t tell."
As the older sister to two brothers, Görel Hanser was in charge from the outset and was, as she puts it, busy and organised. Just like in her future job. From her father she inherited the mindset that "it’ll work out" and from her mother a more complex viewpoint.
Her homelife wasn’t anything unpleasant. Rather, she was nurtured in a home filled with traditional values and common sense, frankness, a desire to do the right thing and a little dose of "you should not assume that you are something special." Ironically, given how her future would turn out, the home was significantly devoid of music, except for a radio and gramophone player, of course.
"I’m not musical but enjoy music. During adolescence, it was Elvis, The Beatles and Tio i topp".
Görel Hanser went to secretarial school in Stockholm and dreamed of becoming a teacher. Part of her training included work as a secretary in England and Germany. When she came home, eight words [nine in English – Ice’s note!] changed her life forever. The magic words were in an advert in Sweden Music, they were: "Music company seeks secretary with good knowledge of English." Stikkan Anderson’s daughter Marie Ledin wrote in the book Min pappa heter Stikkan about a funny episode between her father and Görel Hanser, when they worked together:
"Stikkan yelled: If I had met you when you first came here, even if you’d begged you would never have been employed! Görel Hanser retorted: If I had met you, I would never have taken the job! "
Görel Hanser laughs and mutters "maybe it was like that" and notes that she has a very short fuse. She says it was fortunate that Stikkan’s wife Gudrun Anderson originally hired her. Marie Ledin writes: "At a first glance, Görel could seem small, blond, doe-eyed and weak. But my God, what determination she posesses."
Yes, if you ask my brothers, they know I had a fiery temper, a short fuse. There was a time when my fuse was completely non-existent, according to my children. I can become incredibly sick of myself when I race around on all cylinders, but I have gotten a little wiser with age. Stikkan and I found a loving rapport over time, even though on a couple of occasions I took myself off to the bathroom and cried. He liked it when he got resistance. He threw pens at me, I threw words at him.
In working for Stikkan Anderson, the man who wrote lyrics like Klas-Göran and Mamma är lik sin mamma, she wrote copyright lists, handled record negotiations, had contacts with producers and learned all about the music industry. Despite arguments between her and Stikkan, she was retained and was soon appointed Vice President, long before the debate on how few female managers there were in the Swedish business community. Marie Ledin describes in her book how executives called from across the Atlantic, wanting to talk to Stikkan Anderson and made a fuss when they had to deal with a "seemingly insignificant secretary". But Görel Hanser refused to put them through, which provoked the claim that he "had a secretary who obviously misunderstood her position and had become power crazy."
Stikkan Anderson decided quickly to appoint Görel Hanser as Executive Vice President.
He was not afraid to trust me and often said "you can do this." Many managers were afraid when the secretary was very capable, they saw the competition in it. Becoming Vice President made things easier for me and suddenly I heard the people who phoned treat me in a different way. When I turned 50, I received letters from several women who thanked me for showing that it is possible to get on in business, even though it is not as straight-forward as for a man, you can be seen as "just" a good woman. I had never previously considered my role from a gender perspective but it is fun if I can inspire women to step up to the mark and play their part in business.
Some close to her have not been so impressed by all the celebrities she meets in the course of her job. Her daughter Carolina wanted, for a period, not even to be associated with ABBA. When she started high school on Kungsholmen, and would explain what her mother did, she said: "My mother works with two bearded men on Skeppsholmen".
"I can tell you that the bearded men laughed hard about that!".
Are your children like you?
"Both are adopted. On the other hand, they have been with us since they were six months old. My daughter is a lot like me and tends to laugh about that fact today, but it’s something she did not like to hear when she was a teenager."
Even when Görel Hanser married, it was clear that they would adopt as her husband had had testicular cancer and thus knew from the beginning that they could not have biological children.
"There was no difficult decision. I wanted to have children together with Anders and we did it this way. Both come from Bolivia and are of South American Indian origin. We now have a second homeland and my daughter was there last year and worked at the care centre where she lived when she was little," says Görel Hanser.
Her birthdays over the years have been marked by the odd spectacular event, involving Stikkan and ABBA. Stikkan Anderson wrote his definitively last schlager song for her 30th birthday exclaiming among other things that he couldn’t even write a memo without her.
"That is a funny lyric that described my situation." – she says.
When she celebrated 50 years in 1999, it became world news. ABBA, who had been offered one billion kronor for a reunion tour and declined, surprised Görel Hanser by performing together for the first time since they split up.
"This was two days after Kristina från Duvemåla had left Cirkus and I had a birthday party at the Modern Museum. Suddenly, in came Benny with an accordion and Björn with a guitar and then all four sang Med en enkel tulipan. I knew that they were there though because they were in the ladies’ room earlier rehearsing.
Kristina Görel Hanser
Age: 59 years.
Family: Children Carolina, 20 and Calle, 24, new husband, a mother, brothers and a dog.
Currently: Constantly with ABBA.
Head of: Music & Artist Service. CEO of Briggen theater productions. Responsible for Benny Andersson’s record label Mono Music.
About ABBA: Benny is incredibly close and good. For me he is the biggest musician of the four and is a humble, warm, generous person. Björn looks more to the business side while Benny always wonders if things will be fun. He is easy to work with, he listens and understands. Agnetha is shy and more withdrawn. Frida is a very clever person who supported me in many ways and with whom I have a loving relationship.
Cried last: Often, incredibly easy moved.
Afraid of: Creepy-crawlies.
Ashamed of: The fact that I sometimes say things I do not mean.
If you met yourself at a party, you’d be: Quite nice and fun….I’m not sure!
What you see when you look in the mirror: A person who enjoys life and has created a good life for the family.
Others say about Görel Hanser:
"Görel is a woman with strong passions that she hides behind a diplomatic front. She is both sensitive and strong, with great integrity. She has a big heart and is very attentive to her friends. Unfortunately, she can neglect herself in her consideration for others. We love to catch up over a glass of champagne, even if those occasions are seldom because I live in Switzerland. "
Anni-Frid Lyngstad-Reuss, Abba member, friend
"Mom has always been there but I remember her always with a phone and a small notebook. She is absolutely wonderful and we have become like siblings. She is incredibly flexible, but got a little stressed sometimes, I had to scream to get attention. We are fairly similar. Benny Andersson is my godfather, but when I was little I did not known who he or ABBA was."
Carolina Hanser, 20 years, daughter
"She is friendly and determined, and also godmother to my son. She is never too much and is a really excellent person. Görel is an organisational genius, as well as being kind and thoughtful. She has a heart of gold and when she smiles the sun shines. "
Tommy Körberg, friend and artist for Hanser’s agency