ABBA fans around the world have this week been looking back on four decades in the company of some of the world’s most masterful, deceptively simple pop songs, as they chalk up the 40th anniversary of the day they won the music war in Brighton with ‘Waterloo’ in the Eurovision Song Contest of 1974.
For fans from all corners of the globe, it’s been a time to bask once again in the abstract glory of a true pop phenomenon who sold a stunning 375 million records. For Ingmare Halling, it’s a much more personal look back on fun days on the road with her famous friends.
Ingmare was the band’s makeup artist, costume assistant and all-round travelling companion through the three headiest years of their fame. More recently, she’s been helping to create the ABBA World exhibition dedicated to all things to do with the band, which has now arrived at its home in Stockholm, where she is the museum’s curator.
And she’s been part of ‘ABBA: The Treasures’, a book celebrating the magic of it all, a fan’s delight, with hundreds of intimate, never-before-seen photos, itineraries and memories shared by everyone involved.
So how did Ingmare enter this heady world? Her friend Frida, who knew that she was experienced in theatre and costume design, just asked her to go on tour with the band. Simple!
“The girls had been touring on their own for years, doing their own make up. They knew exactly what they wanted. It was very simple,” she laughs. “Not like today.”
Ingmare was a close witness to the dizziest spell of ABBA-mania, including their record-breaking tour to Europe and Australia in 1977. “We had never seen anything like it, it was just surreal. We used to look at each other, pull faces and laugh,” she remembers.
Of course, as we know, the dream soon died, with the demises of both marriages within the group, but the split, when it came, was a shock to Ingmare.
“They never liked touring, anyway, they all preferred to be in the studio,” she explains today. “So during that last tour, I thought everyone was just tired as normal – I didn’t realise it was more a permanent yearning to do their own thing.
"But it made sense. I knew Benny and Bjorn were ambitious to create bigger music than just pop songs, and Ana and Frida were both ready to move on. It was just a very natural parting.
“They didn’t tell me about the split themselves, but they didn’t have to. Stockholm is such a small pond, everyone knows everyone else’s business without asking.”
To this day, Ingmare remains friends with everyone in the group, and hopeful that they may one day reunite, despite each of the four saying the opposite…
“I would like them just to do two enormous concerts, and make the tickets very expensive,” she laughs. “And all the money can go to a music school in Africa, because music can do so much for children. It is a very healing, special thing.”
And she should know. So, finally, Ingmare, what’s your favourite ABBA song? She has to think for a while, reminding me that there are so many…
Spoken like a true ABBA fan.
'ABBA: The Treasures' is out now, written by Ingmarie Halling with Carl Magnus Palm - price £30. The ABBA Museum is open in Stockholm - details here.