Carola (Maria Häggkvist) was born on 8 September 1966 at Södersjukhuset in Stockholm, Sweden. She grew up in Norsborg, south of the Swedish capital. At the age of eight, she began to perform. She also attended Adolf Fredrik’s Music School. In 1977, Carola won a talent competition and appeared on television for the first time.
In 1981, Swedish music promotor Bert Karlsson met the then 15-year-old Carola after she performed on the television series Hylands hörna. He offered her the chance to take part in Melodifestivalen, the Swedish preselection for the Eurovision Song Contest in 1982. She said no. The next year, songwriter Lasse Holm offered her two of his songs : “Mona Lisa” and “Främling”. “Främling” won Melodifestivalen 1983, and with this song Carola won the right to represent Sweden at that year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Munich on April 23.
She finished third in front of 6.1 million Swedish television viewers, 84% of the country’s population. This is still a record in Sweden.
“Främling” became the title track to her debut album, which sold over one million copies, making it the biggest selling album in Swedish history. After Eurovision, Carola went on a tour of European television programs, promoting “Främling” and performing it in several languages.
In 1985, the Bee Gees collaborated with her on the album Runaway, which was written by the Gibb brothers and produced by Maurice Gibb. The record sold double platinum when released in Sweden the following year. “The Runaway”, “Brand New Heart”, “Spread your wings” and “Radiate” became massive hits in Scandinavia.
In 1990, she returned to Melodifestivalen, with “Mitt i ett äventyr” (In the middle of an adventure). The song finished second in the festival. Her comeback album, titled “Much More”, was released, earning a gold certificate in Sweden. However, Carola and songwriter Stephan Berg had already begun planning another attempt at Eurovision.
In 1991, she returned to Melodifestivalen again with “Fångad av en stormvind” (Captured by a lovestorm). The song won the festival by thirty-two points and became the Swedish entry for the Eurovision Song Contest in Rome. British bookmakers considered Carola as the second favourite to win the contest. On the night of the contest, with one voting jury left to announce their scores, three countries were in competition to win the contest: Sweden, with 146 points; Israel, with 139; and France, with 134. Neither Israel nor Sweden received any points from the Italian jury, but France received twelve, leaving Sweden and France tied for first place with 146 at the conclusion of the voting. Sweden won the contest after a recount, having received five ten-point scores during the voting versus France’s two. “Fångad av en stormvind” became a huge hit in Europe, and was followed by a compilation album, “Hits”, and a Christmas album, “Jul”. After her victory, she released an international version of “Much More” and went on an extended promotional tour throughout Europe. Her album produced several hits, among them “I’ll live” and “All the Reasons to Live”
Carola was the first Scandinavian pop artist to perform in China—in front of an estimated 600 million television viewers; she also released an album in China in 1992. In 1992 and 1993, Rival International, released Carola’s earlier albums on CD. She was originally signed to Mariann Records in Scandinavia.
In 1993, ten years after her breakthrough representing Sweden at the 1983 Eurovision Song Contest, she recorded a gospel album, My Tribute, which was released in sixteen countries, making her gospel artist of the year in the Netherlands in 1994. The album contains the hit-single “My Tribute”, one Carola’s best-known songs. In 1994, she released a rock-themed album, ‘”Personligt” (Personally), marking her debut as a songwriter and selling gold. “Så länge jag lever”, “Sanna Vänner” and “Guld i dina ögon” became hits and received a great amount of radio airplay.
In 1995, Häggkvist made her debut as a musical actress, playing Maria in The Sound of Music. Three years later, she sang the theme song in the Norwegian musical Sophie’s World, which was released on the album “Songs” from Sophie’s World. Also in 1998, Carola played the voice of Mirjam in the Swedish version of The Prince of Egypt. In 2002, she made a short appearance as Fantine in Les Misérables in London and five Scandinavian cities.
In November 1997, Carola released another compilation album, De bästa av Carola (“The Best of Carola”), and with it several new singles like “Dreamer”. Following this came an album of tracks penned by Lina Sandell, Blott en dag (“Just One Day”). The album received excellent reviews and revealed Carola’s passion for hymns. In 1999, another Christmas album was released: Jul i Betlehem (“Christmas in Bethlehem”). The album sold 600,000 copies throughout Scandinavia, including 350,000 in Sweden and became the biggest-selling album of 1999. She also co-wrote the ballad “Himlen i min famn”, which remains a popular Christmas song that is often performed at Christmas concerts. In the summer of 1999, she toured in the Rhapsody in Rock.
In 2001, she released “Sov på min arm”, an album based on Christian hymns, gospel melodies and intimate ballads. It became one of the most-sold albums in Scandinavia that year. In 2002, she release the pop/country album “My Show”, which received great reviews. The album, which marked Carola’s return to the pop scene, contained several hits such as “The Light”, “I believe in love”, which also topped the Estonian and Brazilian charts, and “A Kiss Goodbye”. Even though the album only peaked at number 6 on the Swedish album chart, it sold 100,000 copies by the end of the year. In the summer, she embarked on a huge and luxurious Scandinavian tour.
In 2003, Carola submitted a song, “Autumn Leaf”, for Melodifestivalen 2003. Having performed the demo, she was required to perform the song when it qualified for the competition. She decided against doing that, and the song was disqualified from the competition. “Autumn Leaf” appeared on her next album, “Guld, platina & passion”, in Swedish as “När löven faller”. The ballad became an enormous hit, and the album itself reached number 1 on the Swedish charts and sold over 300,000 copies. She also recorded her favorite Elvis Presley songs, “Walk a mile in my shoes” and “If I can dream”. The following year, Carola released a religious album, “Credo”, which she described as “an expression of my love for God”. The album peaked at spot 2 on the Swedish album chart. This was followed by “Störst av allt”, which Dan Backman wrote. “Genom Allt” became a huge radio hit in Sweden and the soul ballad “Allt kommer bli bra mamma”, a dedication to her deceased mother, became popular at religious events.
Having performed as part of the interval act at Melodifestivalen 2005, Carola confirmed that she would return to the competition in 2006. She performed “Evighet” (“Eternity”) which she described as a “true winning song”. The song qualified from the semi-final in, and was widely tipped to win. Despite finishing second with the regional juries, “Evighet” won the competition with 232 points. The English version “Invincible” qualified from the semi-final of the Eurovision Song Contest in Athens, and finished fifth out of twenty-four with 170 points. This placing also made her the second-most successful artist in the history of Eurovision.
Following Melodifestivalen, Carola released a pop album, Från nu till evighet (“From Now to Eternity”). Lennart Wrigholm reviewed the album for Musiklandet; It earned her a lot of criticism, both positive and negative. The album topped the Swedish sales chart, and sold approximately 100,000 copies by the end of the year. “Stanna eller gå”, a Latin-inspired pop song, became a radio hit during the summer.
In late 2007, Carola released another Christmas album, “I denna natt blir världen ny” (“There is a New World This Night”). The album featured songs in Swedish and English, and was recorded in Jerusalem in June 2007. The album was reported to have sold 90,000 copies.. After the release she toured Scandinavia.
Carola entered Melodifestivalen 2008 as part of the duo Johnson & Häggkvist with Andreas Johnson. Their first single was called “Lucky Star” which became popular on the radio. In the Melodifestivalen in February, they sang “One Love”, written by Carola, Johnson and Peter Kvint. They were the early favourites to win the whole show, taking part in the second qualifier. They qualified for the Second Chance round, missing out on an automatic final spot. Though widely tipped to qualify for the final after all, they did not even proceed from the first voting round in the Second Chance programme. Although “One Love” did not become an enormous success, the song “Lucky Star”, which they released a few months prior to the contest did sell well, and topped the Swedish charts for weeks.
Carola decided to take it easy the rest of the year, but did make a small Christmas tour at the end of the year. In 2009, Carola was reportedly working on her upcoming album, and other projects. She went to the United States to record some new material. She departed from her recording company and signed a contract with X5 Music Group, in which she aims to transfer her music abroad through the internet. In June, she hosted Carola Camp, a camp designed to help talented young singers and entertainers. In May, she performed at the Eurovision Song Contest held in Moscow at the kick-off ceremony, performing her 3 Eurovision songs. In July, she performed, together with the Eurovision winner Alexander Rybak in Norway and sang “Fairytale”, “Främling” and The Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There”. At the end of 2009, she released the album Christmas in Bethlehem, which contained duets with artists like Paul Potts. She embarked on yet another Christmas tour, visiting Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland. She also launched her new website.
In the summer of 2010, Carola went on tour across Sweden, singing the hits of both Elvis Presley and Barbra Streisand. The influence came from Carola’s childhood, where her father and her mother would play records by both their favourite artists. The tour was an instant success, selling out and becoming one of the few tours to sell out that year. She took time out from the tour to appear on Allsång på Skansen, and in March 2011 she released a studio album, containing twelve songs.
Carola attended in the final of the Eurovision Song Contest 2013 in Malmö and performed in a humorous interval act about Swedish culture.
In 2014 Carola participated in Så mycket bättre on the Swedish free-to-air television network TV4.
Carola attended the final of the Eurovision Song Contest 2016 in Stockholm and was briefly interviewed on screen along with another previous Swedish winner Loreen.
In late-October 2016, she released her new Christmas album titled “Drömmen om julen”. The release was followed by a tour.
Her status as one of the most popular national celebrities of her country made her more or less constantly followed by the tabloid press. She has often talked about her Christian faith and much of the focus has been around her membership in the controversial evangelical church Livets Ord (Word of Life).
She was married to Runar Søgaard, a Norwegian Christian preacher, with whom she has a son, Amadeus. The couple divorced in 2000, after ten years of marriage. She adopted a daughter, Zoe, from South Africa, in 2012. (The girl’s parents had both died in 2004.)
Controvesry regarding opinions on homosexuality
In an interview in 2002 for the Swedish gay magazine QX, she alienated many gays and some heterosexual fans by alleging that she knew homosexual people who had become heterosexual through prayers. She also said that homosexuality would always remain “unnatural” to her.
Four years later, her comment was brought up when she participated in the Swedish national selection for the Eurovision Song Contest in March 2006. During a press conference a journalist tried to ask her about her opinions on homosexuality, but she did not answer.
On 15 March 2006 Rickard Engfors, who was Carola’s cooperating partner during the Melodifestivalen and Eurovision Song Contest 2006, said “Carola doesn’t hate gays. If she did, I wouldn’t work for her. She is a fantastic person.”
During an exclusive interview for one of the Eurovision-related websites before the 2006 contest, Carola was also questioned about this, and she stated that she “would love for every gay person to feel that she loves them” and that she does not think that “being gay is a sickness”. She went on to criticize the tabloids for misinterpreting her original words and making an issue out of it. Later in the interview, she also commented on one of her supporting dancers being gay and his boyfriend being “great”.
In 2008, she spoke to the newspaper Aftonbladet and again revisited her opinions about homosexuality, which she insisted have evolved over the past two decades and are very inclusive. She said, “I actually invited gays from QX to my 25-year anniversary, but QX turned it down. What can I do? I love all people. I love the gays. So I am definitely not homophobic in any way. We are here for the music and I have no wacky opinions. And I feel love from many homosexuals too.”
Many fans hope Carola will once again participate in Melodifestivalen. Will she do it…. Who knows?