Last week the Anglo Swedish Society held a splendid white tie ball at Mansion House ostensibly to celebrate the 200th Anniversary of the Alliance between the UK and Sweden but basically to have an excuse to wine and dine in spectacular surroundings. Roger Gifford, the outgoing Lord Mayor, is UK manager for Swedish bank SEB and generously allowed us access. Here I am drinking from ‘the loving cup’!
I interviewed the former and current cultural attachés for the ball programme. I attach the interviews below.
Interview with Carl Otto Werkelid, Swedish Cultural Attaché from November 2008-July 2013.
How do you think Swedish culture is perceived in the UK?
Scandinavian design as a whole is thriving in the UK, as is fashion, and even Swedish food is making its mark with Waitrose introducing a range of Nordic food products. Then of course there is the proliferation in crime fiction- the Stieg Larsson books and films, the huge success of the Wallander television series along with Swedish/Danish collaboration The Bridge and Danish Borgen.
Have you achieved what you set out to do as cultural attaché?
I need another five years! But we have achieved a great deal and have had many cultural events, both big and small, ranging from design fairs and art exhibitions to fashion events. There is a great deal of competition in London (the best of the whole world is here) but that is what makes the city so inspiring, and I think we have contributed to a wider appreciation of Swedish culture during my time here.
What have been the cultural highlights amongst your work?
Swedish Design goes to London, an exhibition of furniture, textiles and accessories, held in September 2011 at the Ambassador’s Residence was a great success – we had 1,700 visitors over two days and the exhibition received great critical acclaim. We have also had excellent literary events, amongst them a reading and discussion of Nobel prize winning author Tomas Tranströmer’s work at the British Library, in the presence of the poet. Some of Tranströmer’s work was set to music which made it a particularly special occasion.
What will you miss most about the UK when you leave?
Radio and television news programmes, Jeremy Paxman! But seriously, the quality of debates in the media is much higher in the UK than in Sweden; the Today programme is wonderful, there is nothing to match it in Sweden. I will also miss the British openess- I find them very supportive of one another, they will easily stop on the street, for example, if you look lost or need help- that is a great quality.
Are there any places in London you will miss?
The National Portrait Gallery which is a wonderful place to drop in to, the V&A, and Holland Park which is close to where I live, and has given me much pleasure over the last five years.
What do you most look forward to about returning to Sweden?
Friends and family of course, and nature which is such an integral part of Sweden. I live by the sea and it will be wonderful to return to that.
Carl Otto Werkelid’s ‘The Swedish Academy, A Year behind the Scenes’, has this year been published in English.
Interview with Ellen Wettmark, started as Swedish Cultural Attaché in July 2013
What was your position/background before taking up the post of cultural attaché?
For the last six years I have held different positions at the Swedish Arts Council, always with a focus on international relations, and in 2010 I became Head of International Affairs. Prior to that I worked at the Nordic Council of Ministers as well as the Nordic Institute for Contemporary Art in Helsinki.
What do you hope to achieve during your time in the UK?
Building on the excellent work of my predecessors I hope to stimulate new collaborations as well as strengthening existing ones. Having worked in the field of visual art, I naturally gravitate towards the exciting contemporary art scene here, but I am also interested in dance, literature, film…There is a lot to do!
How do you envisage Swedish culture is perceived in Britain?
I believe there is a real interest and curiosity, and I have been surprised by the high level of knowledge from arts professionals and the general public. Sweden and Swedish culture appears to signify different things for different people: some think of dance or pop music, others of socially engaged contemporary art, while others equate it with smart, clean interior design.
What do you think is Sweden’s strongest cultural selling point?
I once heard an American professor of literature say that Scandinavian artists are the best at capturing ‘life as a disappointment’ Not very uplifting, is it? But I would say that Swedish arts and culture is extremely diverse: there is both introspection and social engagement. Swedish children’s culture is also something to be proud of; there are so many books, plays and films for children that are groundbreaking, both in terms of subject matter and artistic quality.
What do you most look forward to about living in London?
The quality and variety of the culture. London is one of the most exciting cultural cities in the world. I admire how British history and heritage can thrive simultaneously with experimental and cutting edge expression in arts and culture.
What do you expect to miss the most about Sweden?
My family; my two sisters both had a baby this year, and I would have loved to be geographically closer to them. But friends and family all seem eager to come and visit. Apart from that, the Swedish shop, close to the Embassy, caters to my cravings for Swedish sweets! Although I confess that I baked my own småkakor last week!