Pia Degemark - You always get another chance
By Pia Lundgren
Photos: Peter Knutson
Translation, Mark Rowlands
Peter Knutson, the photographer, has given his kind consent for the publication of his photographs. Pia Degermark has also consented to us publishing both these photos and the photo of her new born son.
Mark Rowlands, engineer in
"I will never give up the struggle to get my child back"
We remember Pia Degermark as the beautiful young girl in the film Elvira
Madigan. At 17 she became world famous and flirted with the King. On the
surface, she was a glamorous jetsetter but behind the facade lay deep sadness. Anorexia,
drugs and eventually prison. Today, however, Pia Degermark is finally back on
"I have regained my faith in my fellow man."
"I suspect I would perhaps have had an easier life without Elvira Madigan" says Pia Degermark. "Perhaps I would have avoided anorexia, hyperactivity and substance abuse" and in her next breath "But of course you can't change the past"
She was born to the heights of society and descended to its depths, she has been to hell and back. Still, she looks fresh and healthy. Her face is still as beautiful as when she made Elvira Madigan, but the once innocent and trusting eyes now reflect a reality shaped by a decadent lifestyle, homelessness and life down and out coping with a drug problem.´
There is pain in her glance, but also happiness at having survived despite everything. There is even a mischievous sparkle that bubbles forth at times.
"My life began to improve about five years ago when I began cognitive therapy, when I regained a closer contact with my mother. I have broken out of my more destructive patterns of behaviour and found my faith in mankind renewed."
Now her handmade cushions are on display in a Stockholm gallery, a real comeback if you consider that the last news we had of Pia was of her being awarded 630,000 SEK for lost income after a traffic accident which crushed her right leg.
The Traffic Insurance Society has appealed this decision however and Pia still hasn't seen a penny of it. The past year she has been unable to work but for two years prior to that she was working as a cultural assistant for an Athletics foundation.
"I would rather work with handicrafts. I find it difficult to work for someone and know that I must be at the office every day at 8.00".
She points at the cushions in the room: "These are a form of therapy, that one symbolizes my mother and the one in the corner, that's for Ann Zacharias. We have known each other for twenty years but only really began to socialise this autumn. There's no competition or jealousy between us, she's a dear friend."
Two huge armchairs dominate the living room; Pia serves tea and buns, and sits herself down in the armchair with studs on the armrest.
She has been making cushions for years. Traces perhaps of her hyperactivity?
"It provides both an outlet for my creativity and something to occupy my hands."
She suffers continuous, severe pain after her accident and says that the only thing that really helps to ease the pain is swimming:
"So I swim almost every day. The pool here at Hägersten is the best in
Her godfather helped her with the money necessary to get the contract on the apartment. Pia gives the impression of being five, fifteen and fifty, all at the same time, a child, a precocious teenager in a mature woman's body. Just after the success of Elvira Madigan, an English journalist asked Pia's mother "How was Pia as a child?" The reply? "Pia never was a child"
"It just wasn't for me" says Pia. "I have always been stubborn, as a six year old, my constant dieting forced my mother to put me into the Princess Lovisa Hospital, it took me a long time to learn how to play, to be a child, to explore boundaries."
"I grew up in such a incredibly sheltered environment. When I was just ten, we all moved to
Pia carries on to tell of the materially rich life they had, whatever she pointed at, she got except for what she really needed, the security of family life. Her family was not fully focussed; she got no clear guidelines or clarity, only mixed messages of what was and was not acceptable.
"But I got huge amounts of love from my mother!"
Pia and her mother still enjoy a close relationship; they celebrated Christmas and New Year in
When they met, he was heir to the Siemens' millions, a divorced father of two and a notorious European playboy. In 1971, came a fairytale wedding, 8000 carnations in four different colours where flown in from
Whilst Pia was at that time anorexic and excitable she was at least temporarily free from the more serious symptoms of hyperactivity. She had graduated with excellent grades and even managed to appear in two films, not quite in Elvira Madigan's class but even so!
"Father took care of the money. That was how he exercised control over me."
Pia tells how her father was an alcoholic and the more he drank, the worse his jealousy became, how he treated her more like a girlfriend than his child.
"He couldn't stand my husband, so when I married, he divorced my mother. Then my husband sank so far into alcoholism I just had to leave him.
They lived an extravagant jet set life, light-years away from the suburban tranquillity that characterises her life these days. In their heyday Pia and Pier would think nothing about hiring a jet with 25-30 friends just to get to a party.
After the divorce, Cesare lived with her father in
"He's very social, funny, loving and has a good dose of commonsense. Cesare, he's very thoughtful and human. He has studied law and works as a property broker. He has just got a girlfriend so am looking forward to becoming a grandmother."
Her eldest son was in the delivery room when Robbin was born
I will never give up the struggle to get my child back
Pia says it was tough to leave him when she returned to
"For the last 10 years, I have only been able to see him once a month for 3 hours. He was placed in a foster home when he was little, the foster father is always there when I meet Robbin. I have tried everything to get custody of him again. I have been in a stable situation and drug free for over six years now but I have a stain on my character as far as the social services are concerned, one I don't deserve.
The explanation for this is simple, life just spiralled out of control for Pia.
When Pia returned to
"They helped to control my hyperactivity, I took them just to get through the day, without them I probably would have killed myself"
On returning to
"It took too much out of me, I invested too much of myself in it and when one of the girls died, I just couldn't cope anymore"
In 1991 Pia was convicted to 14 moths in prison for drugs and fraud offences and assault on a civil servant. She had amongst other things succeeded in getting money out from her father's bank account and was reported to the police by his new wife. At this time, she met Janne, a criminal and drug abuser, and became pregnant with Robbin.
When he was born, both her first son Cesare and her mother were present:
"It was wonderful, even though I had a caesarean, I was fully conscious and could see everything, I was so happy."
When Pia and Janne ended up in prison, they received family therapy but to no avail, Robbin was taken by the social services. When Pia got to see Robbin at
Pia began injecting amphetamine after this and became infected with Hepatitis C. She will soon under treatment for this, an unpleasant process with side effects similar to those of chemotherapy but she is determined to go through with it.
"Even though Robbin loves his foster family and the social services have promised them he can stay till he is 18, I will not give up the fight."
"He is such a fragile boy" says Pia. We have changed scenery, moving to a favourite restaurant in the local square.
"He seems so pure and unaffected, even though I cannot say I know him so well, we often go to a film so it is hard to really talk. Mind you, he is less anxious now he has got a girlfriend, he has got over the "girl terror" so we can hug and kiss a little more now!"
There are no other distractions in Pia's life now, it is Robbin that counts.
She lights a cigar, a couple of men sitting in the restaurant turn and scrumptiously glance over, they point and whisper "Isn't that Pia Degermark?"
"I am often recognised" she says, sounding both gratified and troubled.
The fair weather friends are long gone. They disappeared as soon as Pia landed up in jail.
"They didn't dare hang around after that" says Pia "and I think a lot of them were jealous and thought I pretty much deserved what I got because I had had it so easy, as the ex girlfriend of the King and a 17 year old world famous film star. I have felt their spite.
"All I have ever tried to do is survive" she continues, "I have survived partly because I feel there is another life, that you can come back, perhaps to something better. My involvement with sport and my enjoyment of nature has helped, when I was at my most depressed, I saw no colours, now I see every nuance and shift of shade. Incidentally, do you know how many colours there are in a tree?"
I have no idea, but as Pia says, miracles do happen.
"I am alive and I can still laugh."