Reuters Agnetha Faltskog Image Credit: REUTERS

The details of Agnetha Faltskog’s return to pop remain sketchy, although it is safe to assume that the rarely spotted ex-Abba singer has given more thought to her comeback than she did to joining the business in the first place.

In the good old glam-rock days when Agnetha was pumping her knees in hotpants and platform boots, it wasn’t immediately obvious that she had been a musical prodigy. But at the age of three, she had learnt the harpsicord, and by seven was composing complex piano pieces. Then, one night at a small-town concert in Sweden, she met a hairy guitarist called Bjorn Ulvaeus, joined his band, married him, and became a world-famous wreck.

Agnetha’s long, troubled stint as a pop recluse has become as much a subject of fascination as her work with Abba. Rumours of a comeback have circulated for years, but recently there was confirmation that a new album will be released in May. Called simply A, it will feature ten tracks, including a duet with Take That’s Gary Barlow, and arrives at a time when her old outfit — the band the pop purists of the 1970s most liked to snigger at — is bigger than ever. “I have been so lucky, I am the girl with golden hair,” Agnetha, 62, sang in Thank You for the Music.

Even if the audiences believed it, she knew it wasn’t true. Agnetha had always felt herself to be the odd one out in Abba. She lacked the confidence and the vigour of the others, her English was less fluent, her poise less assured, and when the band became a global phenomenon in the Seventies she felt unable to establish a distinct personality. While Bjorn, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad revelled in the fan worship and the perks of fame, Agnetha yearned only to be home. “I’m a country bumpkin,” she told her (ex) friend and biographer, Brita Ahman. “I’m not a showgirl. The others like to party. I like to be by myself.”

Performing in public filled her with dread, and although she understood the commercial drawing power of her leggy figure and blonde-bombshell looks, she was never comfortable as a sex symbol. Her stage fright reached the point that she was unable to perform without whisky. What the average rock star accepted as adulation, she saw as something close to intimidation. “No one who has experienced facing a screaming, boiling, hysterical audience,” she said, “can avoid feeling shivers in the spine. It’s a thin line between celebration and menace.”

Then there was the sheer bad luck. In 1979, during a tour of the US, the group’s private jet flew into a violent thunderstorm while approaching Boston. Although the aircraft landed safely, Agnetha developed a fear of flying, and afterwards travelled by road whenever possible. This provided only temporary relief, for in 1983 she was on a coach that crashed outside Stockholm, hurling her through a window and into a frozen ditch. She has rarely travelled anywhere since. When Mamma Mia!, the blockbuster Abba musical, premiered in London in 1999, she was the only member of the group not to be present.

For the past 25 years, her home has been a secluded lakeside farmstead on Ekero, one of the loveliest of the many islands around Stockholm. Not that it has provided much solace to Agnetha. Fans regularly turned up her gates. Sometimes she would come out, sign a few autographs and ask them to leave. Then came the strange case of the man who wouldn’t go away. Agnetha’s love life has never been simple. Her marriage to Bjorn, with whom she has two children, ended in 1979, by which time both of them were seeing psychiatrists. After Ulvaeus she fell for a Swedish ice-hockey star, then for a fashion designer, and later for her marriage guidance counsellor. In 1990, she married a Stockholm doctor, but the union lasted barely two years. Into the void stumbled the bizarre figure of Gert van der Graaf, a bespectacled Dutch factory worker.

Abba fans first became aware of his existence in 2003, when Agnetha complained to the police that she was being stalked by a maniac, and was in “fear of my life”. Officers raided a rickety wooden cabin on the shores of Ekero, in which they found 37-year-old van der Graaf, a decomposing turtle and thousands of mementoes of Agnetha’s career. The Dutchman was charged with threatening behaviour, but in court he produced a letter from the singer suggesting their relationship was rather more than that of stalker and victim. It emerged that the pair had enjoyed a full-blown romance and had been on holiday together only weeks before Agnetha called in the police. Sweden was outraged. Brita Ahman says it was the end of their friendship.

“I warned her and said it could be dangerous. Instead she continued to encourage him. I think it was the point at which many people simply gave up on her.” Those who remain close to Agnetha say she never had the aptitude for stardom. That it might have been better if she had stayed in Jonkoping, the small town where she was brought up, the daughter of a department store manager, and become the classical musician she seemed destined to be. Yet Abba would never have reached the same heights without her. Agnetha’s pure voice and arresting beauty made the group both eye-catching and irresistible to the ear. No one knows how her comeback will unfold, but when we see her again we can at least say a proper thank you for the music.

— The Telegraph Group Limited, London 2013