Agnetha hid her mother's suicide for ten years; Exclusive: ABBA star's tragic secret.
THE flash of platinum blonde hair was enough to send the waiting fans wild with delight.
Few had dared to believe that the reclusive Agnetha Faltskog would actually turn up.
Not for nothing is the former Abba star known in Sweden as Garbo the Second - but her behaviour at the band's first public reunion in 23 years was bizarre even by her standards.
Refusing to talk to her fans or sign autographs outside the Swedish premiere of Mamma Mia!, she held up her hand against the bright flashlights.
She barely exchanged a word with her former co-stars and failed to get up on stage with them for a photograph. Then she fled by the back door of the Stockholm theatre with three bodyguards, ignoring the throng waiting at the front for another glimpse of her.
For Abba fans who have devotedly followed their troubled heroine for the past two decades it was just one more strange episode to remember.
Agnetha was "the blonde one" in the supergroup that dominated the pop charts throughout the 70s, selling more than 350 million records.
But her retreat from the public gaze after Abba broke up amid acrimony and divorce in 1982 was hastened by a family tragedy that has remained a secret until now.
Agnetha, it has finally been revealed, is still haunted by the horrific suicide of her mother more than 10 years ago.
Birgit Faltskog, a former shop cashier, threw herself from the sixth- floor flat she shared with Agnetha's father Ingvar, a retired factory worker.
"They had had marriage problems," says a former family friend from their home town of Jonkoping. "Her father used to drink heavily and it made her mother very depressed.
"Agnetha was devastated. It was hard for her to carry on. She couldn't comprehend that her mother would take such a terrible step. As well as feeling bereft, it frightened her. She felt completely alone in the world.
"After her mother's death she visited her father several times. He was in a special home by then and only lived another year."
The singer kept the tragedy secret, not even mentioning it in her autobiography, As I Am.
"As far as anyone knew, her mother had died in some kind of accident," says Carl Magnus Palm, who worked with Agnetha on his book Bright Lights, Dark Shadows - The Real Story Of Abba. "She never told me what actually happened to her mother. She didn't speak about her childhood."
But the friend reveals: "From the moment her mother killed herself, everything about her changed. She shut herself away from the world. It was then that people noticed how strange she had become."
Two years after her mother's death she began dating a derang-ed forklift truck driver who had been stalking her.
Agnetha met Gert van der Graaf, 37, an obsessed Dutch fan, while out walking. She split up with her boyfriend Kurt Torpling to date him.
"She had known about his obsession for years," her biographer Brita Ahman told the Mirror last year. "But still she got involved with him."
When she ended their affair, Van der Graaf began to terrorise her. Soon she was too scared to leave her home.
In April 2000 he was charged with threatening behaviour, but took revenge by handing over an intimate letter to a newspaper. At his trial Agnetha confessed: "His courting of me was very intense... in the end I couldn't resist him."
Revelations about her mother's death also throw new light on the release of her album My Colouring Book last year.
O NE critic called the collection of 60s covers a "paean to repressed longing", and Agnetha admitted: "It was a nostalgia trip.
"I started to feel again what I went through in that period of my life. I love the sad songs. When I was a teenager I would really cry along with them."
Her friend says: "It is very telling that she chose songs from her youth for her first album in 17 years. She is still dwelling on the past."
Much more disturbing was the documentary she commissioned to coincide with the album's release.
Critics were shocked at the amateurish production - Agnetha hired her own interviewer and cameraman. And they were dumbfounded by scenes of her passionately French-kissing a young male actor.
"It was embarrassing and uncomfortable to watch," said a Swedish observer. "She came across like the worst kind of man-eater.
"The whole film just gave the impression that she is desperate to have a man in her life. The worry is that despite her last two albums she will never really make a comeback and this will be her lasting legacy. It's very sad that she should have done something so desperate."
It is a perplexing end to the music career she embarked on at the tender age of 15, determined to find fame as a singer.
The great days lasted nearly a decade after she joined forces with Benny Andersson, Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Bjorn Ulvaeus to form Abba. But when they ended her love life became more and more turbulent. Her marriage to Ulvaeus collapsed in 1981 and she dated a string of lovers, including ice hockey star Lars Eriksson, fashion designer Dick Haakonsson and a detective assigned to her after kidnap threats to her children Linda and Christian.
But she has never found the right man. "People who find true love and keep it are very lucky," she once mused. "It's fine to yearn for true love. I still yearn."
Today Agnetha is still single and shuts herself away from the world on one of Stockholm's most remote islands, Ekero.
Dogged by fear of heights, crowds, flying and open spaces, she rarely ventures out. When she does, neighbours see not a glamorous ex-star but a woman who hides behind sun-glasses and scrapes back her hair.
Recently she left the sprawling mansion which was her home and moved deeper into the forest. There she has built a smaller house around a private courtyard garden concealed from the outside world.
"I think she wanted to get away from her old home," says an associate. "In her mind she associates it with broken dreams. Her marriage broke up there and all her problems with her stalker happened there."
Agnetha is still a devoted mother to Linda and Christian and has a three-year-old granddaughter, Tilda.
But why would someone so obsessed with privacy bother to go to such a public event as February's premiere of Mamma Mia!, the musical based on Abba's back catalogue which has become the most successful stage show of all time?
She must have known that many of her fans - some had travelled from Britain to see her - would be there to say: "Thank you for the music."
"It's very strange," says one showbiz journalist. "But maybe she wanted to show her face and remind people that she still exists."
Another claims: "That Garbo image... I think really, deep down, she likes it. She likes being the mysterious princess in the tower."
Above all, at the age of 54, Agnetha Faltskog still yearns for the love of a man. And until she finds it, she can't quite bear to let go of the love of her fans.
FEAR: Camera-shy at Abba reunion; BRAVE FACE: The star on a rare public outing three years after the tragedy; MUM: Birgit with Ingvar and Agnetha; BLONDE ONE: Agnetha in Abba's heyday