Benny Andersson, 62, is best known as one quarter of pop supergroup Abba. To celebrate Sweden taking over the EU presidency today, his Benny Andersson Band play at the City of London Festival, Hampstead Heath, on Saturday.
New album Story Of A Heart is out on Monday.
You sound rough. Heavy night?
I have a cold. I’m not sure how I got it, because we’ve got beautiful weather in Sweden. I hope you’re still having a heatwave when I come over for the show – it’s nicer for the audience if it’s warm.
What changes can Sweden bring to the EU?
I honestly believe we’re the most gender-equal country on the planet and I’m proud to be a part of that. I hope there is some focus on gender equality, it’s an essential issue. But if we come out of it with our feet down and our heads high, I’ll be happy.
Sweden’s environmental agenda will be crucial. How green are you?
My next car will be environmentally friendly but it’s hard to choose one because new models are coming out all the time. I try to be good, such as remembering to switch off lights, but I could be so much better.
What do you think when people deny global warming?
How can they do that? Wake up.
Can we afford to be green in a recession?
Absolutely, it’s issue number one, isn’t it? The best way to work yourself out of a recession is to invest in environmentally friendly businesses. The Swedes are working on it, we have the technology and we have come a long way to finding solutions. We live in a cold climate and it’s always been a tradition to work with our environment.
Isn’t your beard a form of heat-saving natural insulation?
Ha ha, what a good question. The answer to that is ‘yes’.
What’s the best thing you’ve spent your Abba millions on?
I spent two weeks on a boat in a Greek archipelago during the shooting of Mamma Mia! I had a marvellous time in the ultimate luxury. I’ve not done it before and will probably never do it again but it felt like a good way to spend money.
Was it odd to see Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth singing your hits in the film?
It was probably the most surreal moment of my life. Björn and I were on one side of the studio and on the other side were James Bond and Mr Darcy singing the chorus to Waterloo. They were probably thinking: ‘What am I doing here?’
Abba’s costumes were almost as iconic as the music. What was your favourite?
Hardly any of our costumes were fashionable – we never had good taste – apart from the music, that is. But the outfits we wore to perform Waterloo at Eurovision 1974 were kind of beautiful.
Could you still squeeze into it?
Absolutely… at least the shoes.
What can a London audience expect from The Benny Andersson Band?
We play dance music from the 1940s and 1950s, some evergreens and some Swedish songs translated into English, so we are all over the place. I don’t know how it will work with a British audience but we will hope for the best.
Is it demoralising when a foreign audience doesn’t understand what you are singing?
Music is a universal language but with words, you throw in the towel when it comes to communicating with people abroad.
Are you worried your best work is behind you?
I just try to do the best I can at all times. Sometimes good things come out and other times they don’t. Writing music can be a long and arduous process.
Were there any embarrassing jobs before pop stardom?
You bet. I was a door-to-door washing machine salesman. I would go around ringing doorbells, saying: ‘Would you like a new washing machine? My name is Andersson.’ I was terrible. Thank God for music.
What are you proudest of in your life so far?
My grandchildren. I have five between the ages of two and 19. I can’t think of a greater privilege than being a grandfather.