'My life's passion': superfan's Abba shrine recreated for exhibition

Andrew Boardman shares 44-year devotion to supergroup as part of O2 immersive show

Andrew Boardman is overcome with emotion as he stares at the cornucopia of Abba singles, albums, cassettes, videos, DVDs, posters, magazines, books, dolls, mugs, calendars, pendants, mugs, T-shirts, badges, posters, baubles, colouring books, games and dolls assembled behind glass windows at the O2 in London.

“It does look phenomenal like that, I must admit,” he said. “It is amazing to see it out like it is … it’s 44 years.”

Boardman, an Abba superfan, is looking at a collection that normally lives, shrine-like, in the front room of his mother’s house in Manchester. “I’ve missed it. I spend hours with it at mum’s when I go round.”

The room has been recreated as part of an immersive show that tells the story of the Swedish supergroup and its four members: Agnetha Fältskog, Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson.

The exhibition charts Abba’s music, lyrics, creative process and influence, and features personal items from each member.
The exhibition charts Abba’s music, lyrics, creative process and influence, and features personal items from each member. Photograph: Nils Jorgensen/Rex/Shutterstock

The exhibition, which opens to the public on Friday, takes up 1,300 sq metres (14,000 sq ft) of space which has previously been used for popular culture shows on Elvis, Prince and Star Wars.

It includes artefacts, photographs, videos, interviews, costumes and private letters, many of them going on display for the first time, as well as replicas of things organisers could not quite get their hands on – the scoreboard for Abba’s Eurovision win at the Brighton Dome in 1974, for example, and the helicopter on the front of the album Arrival.

Boardman has been a fan since hearing the intro to I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do on the radio as a 12-year-old in 1975. “There was something … it’s stuck with me for the rest of my life, it just really clicked. There was a sound and from then on I was hooked.”

He soon got morning and evening paper rounds for money to spend on anything Abba-related. And he has not stopped since: “It has been my life’s passion, you could pick any item and I could tell you where I got it, when I got it.”

When video recorders came in, his mum would shout “they’re on”, and Boardman would run down to tape any Abba TV appearance.

Andrew Boardman’s collection of Abba memorabilia.
Andrew Boardman’s collection of Abba memorabilia. Photograph: Nils Jorgensen/Rex/Shutterstock

Boardman thinks he has about 2,500 items and has spent about £50,000 over the years. He listens to Abba all the time. “It upsets everyone, but so what? I travel all over the north and I have them on constantly,” he said.

A replica of the helicopter that graced the cover of Abba’s Arrival album.
A replica of the helicopter that graced the cover of Abba’s Arrival album. Photograph: Nils Jorgensen/Rex/Shutterstock

The exhibition is a much bigger version of a show at the Southbank Centre staged two years by its then artistic director, Jude Kelly, to mark the end of a year of Nordic arts and culture. “The Abba team loved how seriously we took their story,” Kelly said. “They asked how would I approach it if it had a much bigger footprint.”

The O2 show opens with a room of newspaper headlines and film clips giving people a sense of Britain in 1974. It will either be a jolt of nostalgia, or an education.

The snapshot clips include footage from the Daily Mirror gala super girl beauty contest in Stoke-on-Trent; Eddie Waring presenting It’s a Knockout in the rain; alien metal monsters chuckling at primitive humans for eating potatoes rather than dried nuggets; and Edward Heath warning people “in terms of comfort, we shall have a harder Christmas than we have known since the war”.

The Ring Ring room has 30 interactive 1970s telephones.
The Ring Ring room has 30 interactive 1970s telephones. Photograph: Nils Jorgensen/Rex/Shutterstock

The exhibition, which includes an audio guide narrated by the broadcaster Gemma Cairney, tells the Abba story though the band’s eight studio albums. The Ring Ring room has 30 interactive 1970s telephones, for example, while Voulez-Vous has a nightclub disco vibe.

Abba split up in 1983 but with a museum in Stockholm, a theatre production, two movies and a recently opened dinner and theatre party experience, also at the O2, the band’s profile seems to have grown rather than diminish.

One of the displays at the exhibition.
One of the displays at the exhibition. Photograph: Neil Hall/EPA

In a statement, Lyngstad said she could not wait for fans to enjoy the exhibition’s surprises. “From our Eurovision song contest win in Brighton in 74 to the present day, the UK has long held a special place in Abba’s heart, and we have always strongly felt the love and support of our British fans.”

• Abba: Super Troupers the Exhibition is at the O2 in London, from 6 December 2019 to 31 August 2020

Contributor

Mark Brown Arts correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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