A portrait article about Per Sundnes,
published on www.dagbladet.no 8.6.2012 Text: Hallgeir Opedal. Drawing: Finn Graff
Found and translated by Tessa Lande. English revision by Anni Jowett.
The parts, where Alexander Rybak is mentioned, are highlighted in blue.
Northern Norway’s potato!
It is not “Gay Patrol” that attracts Per Sundnes (46) to TV3. It is a woman.
-” There is national mourning in England now because I quit”.
Per Sundnes shuffles around in the kitchen, wearing pirate pants and shock yellow t-shirt.
– “You know, I stop when I’m on top”.
There is a smell of spices, chocolate and buns. We stepped over a vacuum cleaner. A bulging garbage bag leaning against the fridge, the balcony door to the backyard is open, the radio is tuned in on “Nitimen.”
– “National mourning”?!
– “In Birmingham, there are some who call themselves Schlagerboys, funny boys with a lot humour, and those boys find it very sad that I quit. The first thing I did when I started in this job was to take care of the fans. You know, Grand Prix fans are like soccer fans: The hard core are there in good times and bad. I listened to them and asked how they wanted it. And the last three years I have organized it so that fans get to meet the artists. And why do I do that? Because I can!”
He tilts his head to one side, smiling coquettishly.
– “They are eternally grateful”.
There is a lot of confidence in the dense body of Per Sundnes. During the next hour, he manoeuvres between bragging and humility, and tries to find a balance. Now he stops, looking around to take stock.
– “Let’s see. Now I’ve baked one …”
He points at the hob, where a cake stands cooling down.
– “… Two …”
He points at the kitchen counter, where stands another.
– “And then I’ve baked muffins with smash, and smash is what all the artists are eating. Crispy corn with chocolate glaze. If it is a success-tart? No, no, it’s booze cake”.
– “Liquor cake?”
– “Mmm. Everyone asks for it if I do not bake it. It is a plain cake with fruit and vegetables, soaked in alcohol. I’m having a great big party tonight for all the previous Grand Prix winners. The people are coming from all over the world to party”.
– “Oh my goodness!”
– “Yes, former artists and dancers, and not all of them live in Norway. How many? Fourty maybe fifty, I don’t know. I woke up at half past five to bake”, he says, or “sæks”, which he pronounces it with a limp, lisp s-sound. His body clock is out of sync , he says, because even though it’s been a while since he returned from Baku, his body is still in Baku time.
– “There is no jet lag, but I’m a bit uncomfortable in the body. They are three hours ahead of us, and all shows began at twelve o’clock at night, their time. We were never in bed before half past four, their time. Then it was breakfast at ten, their time. We never quite knew what time of the day it was”.
This week it was announced that Per Sundnes leaves NRK to be patrol leader in the “Gay Patrol” in TV3. The move was decided three months ago.
– “There are many who have known about it, but not one person has leaked a shit. People gossip all the time and I had to make sure I had the right people around the table. It has been an acid test for me, because I have cleaned up dramatically in the ranks. This time all have been loyal”.
“To go from the flagship NRK to the pirate ship TV3 has probably only one possible explanation: To follow the money?”
– “No. No, no, there is not any wow-pay. No, the answer is: To follow Aase Bendiksen. Do you not know who she is? She is the new program director of TV3, she wins all the gold routes. She has made “Every time we meet,” “71 Degrees North”, “No Boundaries” and it was the one to … eh … No matter: A great innovator and a damn good woman who I want to have around the table. Normally I would have said no to TV3, but when it comes to her, everyone in the media industry let go of everything they have in their hands, and say yes. If someone is going to turn the pirate ship, as you call it, it’s her. And then I would like to be on board”.
– “As a patrol leader in the “Gay Patrol”?”
– “Yes, that’s what she asked, and then I said “No, I will probably not do it.” But then she put forward the concept, and we will unscrew it. There is less nonsense and smarter. I cannot be specific, but it does not help to get a new jacket if everything inside is rotten.
– “From Grand Prix –Per to Gay-Per?”
– “But I have been Gay-Per all my life, and not ashamed of it. No, that kind of prefix I don’t care much about. If I’m Little-Per, Glass-Per, Bog Studio-Per or the Grand Prix – Per. people can care about. I do not”.
Then lower and concerned:
– “But I don’t think it will be Gay-Per, because it sounds a bit ugly. Maybe Gay Patrol-Per? Whatever, the presenter role is only the beginning. I go to TV3 to develop new program concepts”.
Let us stay a bit with the job he leaves. It is five years since Per Sundnes was asked if he wanted to work with the Eurovision Song Contest.
– “It was more like: “You don´t want to work with the Grand Prix, do you?”. And the way they asked, said something about the status it had.
– “And what did you say?”
– “Of course I want. Basically I am a person who says yes, but means no. In fact, I thought no, but said yes”.
– “My spinal reflex always says no!”
– “Yes, mine too, but that reflection has led to so many mistakes. Now I have become like that if someone comes into a room and asks: “Is there anyone who can …?”. YES, I say, for I know that it opens doors. You have to go with the garbage ten times, but then you get something fun to do the 11th time. All I’ve done, I have done in spite of, and if I hadn’t done it, I would have lived in Bodø and been a nurse or a teacher”.
To clear up a widespread misunderstanding: No, it’s not Per Sundnes who is the architect behind the big part final shows across the country. NRK already had a cooperation with Dinamo before he began. Per Sundnes’s job was to be an artist and repertoire developer.
– ” My mandate was to get good songs, and develop them”.
At the international final in Belgrade in 2008, the Russian Dima Bilan went to the top with the song “Believe.” No one remembers the song, but it was he who brought a skater on stage. Norway got that year at respectable fifth place, and it was at that point Per Sundnes began to analyze, and it is this history that has given him status as a victorious Grand Prix General.
– “We had been doing jazz ballet, not to offend anyone about that, but Eastern Europe had an international trend of acrobatic element of dance, a somersault, a voltage or a lift, a C-factor simply. It looked like a Beyonce / Rihanna concert. And the choreographer and I thought that : Didn’t that kind of dancers exist in Norway too? And one Friday night, I sat on the sofa and watched “Norwegian talents,” Frikar appeared with Halling breakdance and acrobatic elements, and I thought: There they are!
But what should they dance to?
– A few weeks later I met Alexander Rybak’s producer, and again, very random. I asked if he could bring Rybak to my home for dinner. He came and sat at the table here just like he usually does, strange and quiet He mostly listens, but loves food and eats like a horse. And I said, ‘Hey, we are going to Russia next year for Eurovision, you are from Russia and speak Russian. Imagine how cool it would be if you won, and spoke Russian at the press conference? And it glanced from his eyes. So he sat down at the piano”, Sundnes says and nods towards the piano. – “And played a sad song called Fairytale, which was about a broken relationship. But I had Frikar, so it didn’t fit with a ballad. I explained to him what I had in mind, and he is professional, and went home and came back with an uptempo version. And then the song was in “the box”. Rybak and Frikar were an optimal combination”.
“That ended with an expensive victory for Norway?”
Since then it has only gone downhill for us. Stella Mwangi with “Haba Haba” did not even get to the final.
– “Also it went bad this year “?
– “No, I will not say that. We beat 16 countries, but came last in the final. Yes, but if you do not win, it makes no difference how you perform. The ranking between two and 25 are uninteresting. In my time, we made two records: The highest points, with regards from Alexander Rybak, and the lowest ranking, regards from , yes, several”.
– “Is there something wrong with the Norwegian people’s taste in music?”
– “Njaa. I like the idea that the Norwegian people do not follow Europe. I think that both Stella and Tooji were frisky choices. But then you can say: According to the European, the Norwegian people picked the wrong song two years in a row. Is it time to get a jury with 50 percent of the votes as they have in Sweden? And cold minded consider: Can she sing? No. Does the song hit potentials? No. Then it’s out”.
– “For the people are obviously out of step with Europe?”
– “I see that some people believe it, but I think it will go a bit up and down. We will not win again in five years, and where we rank ourselves in the meantime is not that dangerous. As long as we get to the finals”.
– “You said that you quit at the top, but you quit at the bottom?”
– ” We have never used the result at the final as evaluation of Melodi Grand Prix. As the Swedes say, finals are only a small part of the Melodifestival. In terms of viewing figures, the number of submitted songs, media impact and the device we have built up, I quit at the top. And that was my job. I do not write songs and feel no guilt in that we got lowest ranking now, just as much I can not take the victory of Alexander Rybak personally. It’s actually his song. That I found Frikar, I can take some credit for, but I’ve been working with the infrastructure. We now have a costume designer who has worked for super designer Alexander McQueen. The light designer has worked with the tour of Phoenix”.
– “For who?”
– “Phoenix, one of those French, cred bands, arty rockpop, he is married to the singer Sofia Coppola. We have become a good dynamic bunch with clear expectations and clear roles. Because you know: The artists are fragile, and shop for opinion all the time. We must be clear and consistent, and any disagreements we take backstage. It was something of a problem when I started: There were too many around the table. Now we have grown the world’s best football team: Light is optimal, choreography, makeup, costumes, all that stuff works. We have top people in all key roles. Then it is not that dangerous that the captain quits”.
– “You said we?”
– “Yes, I have to stop saying that. Them. Now I’ll draw a good thick line”.
In the early 50th century Einar Sundnes from Inderøya i Nord-Trøndelag took the train north to serve conscription in Bodø. There he met Kathinka, and they eventually had four children. In June 1966 the last one was born, and he was given the name Peter Andre. They are otherwise spread well with four years between each.
– “Your father continued in the military?”
– “Yes, at Reitan. What grade? Captain? Major? I do not know. Mum has always been in the caring professions, nursing and home care, things like that. Otherwise, I have a brother who is an officer, who is engineer and a sister who is an economist. All live in the north”.
– “Is the low height from the mother or father?”
– ” “From both. There is so much wind in Bodø, and evolution has made us short, so that we should not blow on the sea”.
– “When is it less convenient to be 164 centimeters high?”
– “That must be at concerts, but otherwise it is practical. On plane for example, and at work it is convenient, because you are considered harmless. All my minority things have been a plus. I can curse more, because I’m from northern Norway. Girls think I’m great, because I’m gay. Guys find me great, because I am no danger for the girls. No, I have never let height bother me a shit, I do not know if it is the survival mechanism or what it is. There is no one who has been bullying me in my entire life. I thought when I went into the army that now, now it’s my turn, but not there either. No, not as long as you have a big mouth”.
The poser: A young Per in popstar-position
It was his mouth that got him in as a sidekick at the talk show “Store Studio” with Anne Lindmo. A well-oiled oracle who could lecture on trends, fashions and music, yes, briefly summed up what we call popular culture.
“…I haven’t been looking for anything special, but I am a loyal work- ant who do what I’m asked for, until someone pricks me on the shoulder and asks: Can you do that? And then I become absorbed in it, and do not think about what to do next. I step in where they need me. If they are lacking a guest in “Nitimen,” they call me. They always have done, and I bring a lot of energy, high knee lifts and spread glitter. Anne Lindmo calls me ” something for everyone, always”.
– ” Do you feel that they have appreciated you at NRK?”
– “Absolutely! Sure! I quit just because I want to do something else. Now I’ve walked in the hallways there for 14 years, and there is a limit for how much Arne Scheie can teach me. And you can tell a lot about the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, but it’s bloody large. It´s a long way from idea to screen. We have idea seminars but only few of the ideas are specified. There are very few and small creative pastures, long processes and many seventh father in the house. In smaller environments, it is easier to get things done. No, I’m really looking forward to start. And TV3 can only get better”.
What would Einar Gerhardsen say today if he had been placed on a sofa with a remote control in his skinny hand? He, who when television was starting up in Norway, reassured those who were “worried that the TV will come to interfere in family life rhythms and habits.” Those who were “afraid that the children will be so preoccupied with the television they neglect both homework and active play outside in the sunshine and fresh air.” But Gerhardsen was not worried, as he said, because “eventually we learn enough to pick and choose, so that we each and every one of us choose what we believe is of particular value.” Hah! Norway has become a chaotic, garish and complex water of TV channels, 24 hours a day.
-“It is fortunately not Einar Gerhardsen who decided the development, Sundnes says”.
– “There is a lot of crap on TV?”
– “Yes, but I like crap. I can watch “Paradise Hotel”. What I miss is more playfulness. I want more nonsense”.
– “Hah! It’s nothing else than that!”
– ” Where is the nonsense? Thus, it is nice that the “evening news” and “Urix” is serious, but beyond that, I miss more nonsense. Look at Skavlan? He’s so serious. And my good friend Anne Lindmo, the funniest girl in the world, but on TV she’s so serious”.
It is Anne Lindmo who HAS contributed to Per Sundnes to have this over-dose of confidence.
– “Anne is a world champion in telling how little dangerous things are, and my life doesn´t live at work. It’s just a job, and it is not my identity. If you are smart in your head, you know how little the job means”.
– “What matters then?”
– “Life. And it is lived at home, with whom I live with and our large extended family”.
– “Your partner is a doctor?”
– “Yes, a general practitioner. His children and family didn’t understand the reason that we got together, since we are very different, but they do now. His whole family has embraced me with everything they have, and my family has embraced him”.
– “How are you different?”
-” I can take one example: I have always been grumpy in the morning, and I thought it was a human right to be. But when I got together with Tore, he was so happy when he went to bed and so happy when he woke up. And it was unfitting that I was grumpy. It is much easier to be happy”.
– “If you manage it?”
– “You just have to decide to be that”.
If you read old interviews with Per Sundnes there is an adage that recurs, namely that life is too short. Life is too short to have it bad, he said, too short to be worried, too short to sacrifice, too short to dislike anything, to be afraid, to make silly rules, to regret, to say no to a challenge, yes, life is too short to not eat Grandiosa once in a while.
– “When I left NRK they made a video to praise me, and I thought: Wow, have I done all this? And then I thought, Now life is beginning to get some length. I notice that I am old. That I’m more sore and stiff in the joints, not that it’s annoying, but I should have trained. I have no time. But I still live every day as if it were the last”, he says, and picks up his iPhone.
He sends a text message.
– “As I said, you have to clean up now and then in your friends group. I do not like drama in everyday life, and therefore: Tidy up your flower bed. You must know who wish you well. Gossip about me that is not meant for my ears, I will not have. Those who pass things like that, I weed away. And those kind of anonymous posts in comments sections, I never read, it is ugly and bad. No, tell it to my face, so I can respond. I can be angry, but you will never see me cry”.
– “You have an analytical relation to media?”
– ” It’s because I started so late. I was 30 years. I had been grown up for ten years, studied in London and lectured in media for four years in Bodø. I have the theories behind it all. Media is a monster that we cannot control. As I say to Alexander Rybak when he comes here: it is to sit around the table here that is life, not the stupid stories in VG, three years ago. Life is now, and now we are celebrating ourselves”.
The phone rings, it’s his partner, the car is finished at the garage, who can get it? Per Sundnes is short and consist, not much “ I love you”, but straight on, “OK, I can pick it up tomorrow, after one o’clock, yes, great, then no need to rush with that, good bye”
– “There was not much love in the air?”
– ” No, it’s because we are both busy, and it was specific messages. So I would rather say “darling, I love you” when he comes home. If I get time”.
– “Is there a wedding ring on your finger?”
– ” No, it is my father’s wedding ring”, he says, holding up his little finger with a thin little golden ring.
– “He got swollen fingers, probably due to medications, and wore it on a string around the neck. So I asked if I could have it, so I can think of him”.
– “You must have it on your little finger?”
– ” Yes. We were a thin family that now has become thick. But now I have to run to a meeting. Then a new meeting, take a taxi to Lysaker to another meeting, and then I’ll have 40-50 people here tonight”, he says, looking once again at the monster of a watch, which he got as a birthday gift from Didrik Solli-Tangen. He writes a text message that he is on his way. In the kitchen, he twists the cork from a brandy bottle, and generously soaks the spirit cake. He picks up the garbage bag, climbs over the vacuum cleaner.
– ” What will you serve?”
-” Hot dogs. Bowls of candy. I do not know if you get wiser with age, but it all get less dangerous”.
Per André Sundnes
Family: Living together with Tore Lenngren.
If you could travel back in time: — I would have joined Charles Darwin to Galápagos-Islands.
If you could travel where you wanted: — To Vietnam at a Seabourne cruise.
In ten years: — Just as chubby, just as happy and even more friends.