Hera Björk: Eurovision fans are the best

There’s music in the air. It’s a time of year where acts from all over Europe are gearing up for the next era of “Eurovision 2016”, which will be held in Stockholm in early May. For some, it might be the first time they tune in. For others, like Iceland’s very own vocal powerhouse Hera Björk, it’ll be a new chapter added to her already fascinating Eurovision journey, which brought her all the way to Chile, extending her international audience to music lovers all over South America. Six years after serenading us in 2010, she’ll be hosting “Eurovision in Concert” this weekend in Amsterdam, a huge promotional event that highlights this year’s upcoming acts. But like any true diva, Hera had some big news for her fans that even surprised us at GayIceland!


The sun has set and after a long day of teaching, Hera sits herself down and like any true professional, shows no signs of being tired. Within seconds of this Skype call, Hera’s warm energy can be felt through the computer. Her living room walls are bare, resembling those of any traditional cosy Icelandic flat. There’s a special vibrancy when Hera speaks. “Where in the world are you right now?”, she asks me as if we’ve been best friends for years. It’s clear that the Hera you see on TV is the same Hera that you’d run into at the grocery store, except she’d likely give you a huge hug in person. After all, she became the Eurovision fan favourite in 2010 when she represented Iceland with “Je Ne Sais Quoi”, her global hit. “It’s crazy to think that it’s likely being played somewhere in the world right this second and this is why we do it. We have a message and story to tell, so when you record it and people actually like it, it’s the best feeling in the world. When a song gets through to someone’s heart, when people get married to it, when people fall in love to it… it’s fantastic. When you become a part of someone’s life in a way that’s so intimate and personal, you feel like your voice is being heard. This is amazing.”

When Hera reflects back on her childhood and how much she dreamed of being a singer, there’s a victorious tone in her voice, as she had to overcome many obstacles to get to where she is now. “It was fantastic for me because I really wanted to step in those Eurovision shoes ever since I was 4. My mom was a singer as well so I followed into her footsteps and each year, we would watch it together. As I grew up, I think I had been subconsciously working on it forever. I was always a singer in Iceland but it wasn’t until I moved to Denmark and met some people, that things started moving. They sent me a song, I sang it and it went on to get 2nd in the Denmark Eurovision selection, Melodi Grand Prix. When the Icelandic people heard about this, they went crazy and decided they’d send me to win it for them instead! The support from Iceland at this time was amazing.”

“In Iceland, we are so used to seeing our famous people everywhere, that we don’t treat them differently … When I came to Chile, everyone put me on this tall mountain like I was a statue of Jesus, simply because I was a singer, which is something I wasn’t used to. I’m just an ordinary person!”



When asked about the new era of Eurovision music, she mentions that things have changed. “We’re hearing more indie pop, it’s becoming less commercial and perhaps more political. I’ve been watching it since I was a little kid and I love that it’s becoming more current, the young people are stepping in with new technologies which has created a new sound. They know how to work with iPads, screens and all these machines that weren’t available when I was younger.”

Does this make it easier for the older generation artists? “It’s way more challenging. I have to be my own producer, graphic designer, publicist… I have to do all those things. I’m lucky to have a great manager but I still have to work harder than ever.”

A few years ago, after spending 14 months in Chile, and winning the Viña Del Mar International Song Festival, Hera’s career reshaped itself into something bigger and more international. “I was pleasantly surprised when I went there, I thought I’d just be flying there with a chicken on my lap (laughs). It was quite the opposite. Countries like Chile and Argentina are quite European and they have a lot of forces of nature that are very strong, which was familiar to me. There were a lot of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, similar natural circumstances to the ones I was raised in. Chile is a very isolated country and they know how to survive, almost having the mentality of island people. Everything felt strangely similar.”

This was surprising to hear, especially considering one would likely never put Iceland and Chile on the same page. A big difference between the two would be the treatment of public figures. She tells me that Latin-Americans often put public figures on a pedestal, which was a huge change. “In Iceland, we are so used to seeing our famous people everywhere, that we don’t treat them differently. We don’t have private chefs, 12-door garages… we all shop at Bónus! When I came to Chile, everyone put me on this tall mountain like I was a statue of Jesus, simply because I was a singer, which is something I wasn’t used to. I’m just an ordinary person!”



In fact, before landing in Chile for the first time, Hera recalls a time when she nearly missed her flight to Chile, but eventually got on-board because of a loyal fan. “I was on my way to the song contest, sitting in Madrid with my manager Valli. For some reason, my computer was in Icelandic time, so we sat there answering emails, until suddenly he turns to me and says, “what time is it?” Somehow, we realized our flight was leaving in 15 minutes. We started running across the airport to catch our flight. Of course, I was in heels so Valli raced ahead of me and got to the gate first. When he got there, the tall bearly security guard told him that we were too late, that the aircraft was pulling away from the gate. The guy was so tall and had a very serious gaze. Suddenly, I came around the corner and his expression changed as he screamed “Hera Bjðrk! Oh my god!” I was out of breath but he was still going crazy and asked for an autograph and picture. My manager replied: “Of course, as long as we get on the plane”. I had no makeup on and looked tired but after the photo, sure enough, it all worked out and we made it on! (laughs)”

It’s almost midnight and with two teenage kids of her own, it’s a wonder how Hera juggles her time between being an international pop star and a full-time mom. It’s a rare circumstance to have the chance to have one on one time with a music pro but since returning to Iceland, she has invested her time in teaching people of all ages how to sing. “I’m just an ordinary person who does ordinary things. If I could go back and tell my 20 year-old self anything, it would be to practice and take every opportunity as it comes. I was blessed with my voice and even more blessed to be able to use it, but I still have to work really hard. So I always tell my students that they are like sailors; you have to sail through all kinds of weather to find the fishies. And maybe you’ll find the big fish, but you won’t catch it if you don’t try. This is real job, it’s real work and people wont knock at your door until you put in the work. I hope my experiences as a singer will help them grow into the people they want to be.”

More famously, Hera has been a prominent figure in the gay community since she first broke out in 2010. From her fabulous stage persona to her public fight for equality, people from all over the world have embraced her into their communities. “I love the community. I just feel a strong connection there and it’s a two-way street: I’m just as crazy about them as they are about me. I think everyone has a fight or purpose on this planet and my fight in this life is equality and the right to be whoever you chose to be. I’ve travelled with a group of drag queens in America and hung out with them backstage. It was hilarious, dramatic and I felt like I was in a movie. I mean, who doesn’t love RuPaul?!”

“I met Elton John … I went into the VIP area to watch him. I had curlers in my hair and a jogging suit but I immediately started crying. My makeup artist was screaming at me to stop crying as I was ruining his masterpiece (laughs).”

For someone who supports the LGBT community as much as Hera does, some might argue that meeting Elton John would be the pinnacle of any music career. As it turns out, Elton John actually opened for her show in Chile. “I met Elton John. When I met him, I was speechless. He opened the show, and prepped my audience (laughs). While preparing for my set, the security allowed me to hear him play so I went into the VIP area to watch him. I had curlers in my hair and a jogging suit but I immediately started crying. My makeup artist was screaming at me to stop crying as I was ruining his masterpiece (laughs). He started playing “Your Song” and that was it. I was blown away.”


As we’re one day away from “Eurovision in Concert” in Amsterdam, Hera’s getting ready to host the biggest party in Europe. “I’m hosting with Dutch commentator Cornald Maas. Of course I’ll perform some songs myself and there will be a meet-and-greet but most importantly, we’re there to introduce the newcomers. It’s a chance for the new acts to gain some new fans and without a doubt, Eurovision lovers are the most loyal fans in the world. I am so happy and blessed that they welcomed me into the family with open arms. My experience in Oslo in 2010 was amazing. That being said, I was aware that after that two-week bubble, reality was going to hit you in the face. You need to be aware that this is just a short period of time. When you step out of the bubble, people won’t recognize you as much, people wont want to talk to you as much, so you need to know this before going into it. In my opinion, it’s all about the exit. How are you going to exit? Will you grow? Will you nourish the connections you made? After all, that’s when the hard work begins and with my team, we did just that. I hope the upcoming competitors realize this and focus on having fun.”

Before wrapping up and saying our goodbyes, our conversation took a surprising turn. Hera Bjork’s upcoming solo show “Queen of F*cking Everything” was originally postponed due to an injury she faced after slipping on ice. “It was cold outside, the stairs were icy and I fell on my ass. It was a majestic fall but I decided to postpone the show to let my body heal. I’m really lucky it wasn’t worse.”

Before I could get another word in, Hera gave me some big news that I wasn’t expecting. “This being said, I’m pleased to announce that I’ll premiering my debut show “Queen of F*cking Everything” at the Playhouse Theatre in Stockholm on May 7th, right before the Eurovision weeks starts!” The excitement was building in her eyes, as if she had just revealed a secret to an old pal. “It just feels like the right time. With my injury pushing this show back, I suddenly feel like everything was meant to be, as it’ll be kicking off the week of music celebrations!” For all the Hera Björk fans, this is huge news.

We say our goodbyes and upon hanging up, you can feel still Hera’s energy running through your body. Her story is compelling, as it gives you the motivation to keep going and do what you love. Underneath all the triumphant vocals and the dramatic dresses, is a young girl who simply wanted to sing. Ceaselessly moving forward, always challenging herself to new heights and now, launching a solo show that’s about to take on the world. It’s no surprise she was the fan-favourite in 2010; her authenticity speaks volumes, her voice soars through all the noise and her beauty shines beyond her gorgeous locks. It boils down to her passion for people; Hera genuinely cares about you. She cares about everyone and that is what makes her special. She wants everyone to feel happy, to feel included. To celebrate life. And even after a short Skype convo, I truly feel like I can call her a friend.

Photos: Courtesy of Hera Björk.

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The Hamburger Factory
- gourmet burgers

Ok. You’re in Iceland. Most likely for the first time.

You will probably bathe in the Blue Lagoon and take a road trip to Gullfoss and
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welcome tourists with our newspaper like menu and smiley service. They are
packed with fun items and memorable connections to Icelandic pop culture.

Locations:

Omnom Chocolate
- award-winning chocolate maker

    Omnom Chocolate is an Icelandic craft chocolate company based in Reykjavík. We produce handcrafted chocolate from organic cacao beans sourced ethically and sustainably. We’ve developed direct relationships to create premium chocolate with fine flavor cacao beans.

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    Alfred’s Apartments
    - gay owned an operated

      Alfred’s Apartments and Alfred’s Studios is a gay operated and owned accommodation in the heart of Reykjavik.

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      Laekur hostel
      In the hostel we have dorms for 4-8 persons with shared kitchen and bathroom facilities. The rooms are furnished with free internet, lockers, and a USB charger by each bed. The beds have linen provided and you can rent a towel in the cafe on the ground floor for 5 EUR.

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      Blue Lagoon
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      Named by National Geographic as one of the 25 Wonders of the World, the Blue Lagoon is a shimmering expanse of warmth, relaxation, and rejuvenation. Its unique geothermal seawater comes from 2000 meters within the earth where sea and fresh water converge in a tectonic frontier of porous lava and searing heat. Propelled by extreme pressure, the water ascends to the earth’s surface, emerging enriched with silica, algae, and minerals: the elements that endow Blue Lagoon geothermal seawater with its radiant, healing properties.

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      Whales of Iceland
      - larger than life

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      Landsbankinn
      - leading financial institution

      Landsbankinn is a leading Icelandic financial institution. It offers a full range of financial services and is the market leader in the Icelandic financial service sector with the largest branch network.

      The present bank was established on 7 October 2008 but the history of its predecessor dates back to 1886. The bank is owned by the National Treasury of Iceland, which holds 98.2% of its share capital, and other shareholders who own 1.8%.

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      Dohop
      - get inspired

      Dohop allows people to find the cheapest flights available with just one click. Founded in Reykjavik in 2004, it is the only Icelandic company of its kind and quickly became the go-to tool for finding cheap flights among the locals. Dohop finds the best deals among hundreds of different airlines and online travel agencies, to make sure that the user is getting the cheapest price. Dohop also offers hotel and car rental search engines, so users can make all of their travel bookings from a single website.

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      Macland
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      Aurora Reykjavik
      - northern lights center

        Aurora Reykjavik is a Northern Lights Center situated in downtown Reykjavík at the Old Harbor next to Icelandair Hotel Marina and Vikin Maritime Museum.

        Aurora Reykjavík is Iceland’s first educational and recreational Northern Lights Center where multimedia is used to explain when, why and how the Northern Lights work, with the highlights being large HD projection of the Aurora’s. We also share myths and legends about what our ancestor thought about those mystical lights.

        The Northern Lights Center is for all ages. Children are our favorite guests and we created the exhibition in a way that children can have a look freely and parents don’t have to worry about things being broken.

        Aurora Reykjavik offers a great selection of souvenirs that are designed and made by Icelanders along with nice little coffee corner, where you can enjoy free coffee and tea while browsing through the souvenirs or just planning your next step.

        Contact Aurora

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        Ísey skyr
        - once tasted never forgotten

        Our Story
        Once upon a time, 1,100 years ago in fact, Nordic settlers began arriving in Iceland. They brought with them the skills and knowledge for producing skyr. As time passed, the know-how and recipe for this nutritious food slowly faded out elsewhere in the Nordic region. Luckily, the Icelandic skyr-making tradition continued.

        For centuries, Icelandic skyr formed a cornerstone of the national diet, helping to keep people strong in living conditions that were often harsh. On family farms countrywide, it was the women who nurtured this dairy and passing on both the recipe and the original Icelandic skyr cultures from mother to daughter.

        Ísey skyr builds on this remarkable legacy. It was some of those very same women, the recipients of their mothers’ expertise, who, around 90 years ago, taught Icelandic dairy scientists the art of skyr-making. The production process is more high-tech these days, and the quality standards more rigorous. However, the basic recipe and the use of original cultures to ferment the skimmed milk remain the same. Protein rich, fat-free, creamy and delicious – Ísey skyr is as relevant to consumers now as it was all those centuries ago.
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        You can read more about Ísey skyr on our website.

        Núðluskálin
        - noodle bar

        Núðluskálin is a small gay owned and operated fusion noodle bar.

        All of our courses are individually made from fresh ingredients and therefore highly customisable.
        We offer fully Vegan versions of all courses.
        Though originally a take-away we now seat over 30 people.

        Núðluskálin is located right in the heart of Reykjavík on Skólavörðustígur 8 (street leading up to the big Church) near the junction with Laugavegur (main street).

        Seatours
        - adventure cruise

        Ferry Baldur – the gate to the West fjords
        and VikingSushi Adventure – Bird & Nature watching Tour for everyone all year around

        The “VikingSushi Adventure” is the right boat tour for travelers who are adventurous and want to experience something new – close up to the nature seafood simply doesn’t come fresher than this! The archipelago area of the Breidafjordur Bay always surprises her visitors during winter or summer with spectacular sights. Where else you get to try delicious fresh scallops and sea urchin roe straight from the ocean served with soy sauce, wasabi and ginger.

        600x400-seatours-tasting

        This old volcanic area, characterized by the typical basalt formations of the islands, is the home of countless birds. Here you will also find the strongest currents in Iceland. The VikingSushi Tour takes roughly two hours and our captain is also the tour guide.

        600x400-seatours

        The VikingSushi Tour is a true adventure through incredible nature which should not be missed by any traveler to West Iceland.

        Birds, possible to spot:
        -puffins (from the middle of April until the middle of August)
        -eider ducks
        -shags
        -kittiwakes
        -fulmars
        -white-tailed eagle

        The car ferry Baldur is the bridge to the West fjords via the island Flatey
        Ferry Baldur crosses Breidafjordur Bay daily from Stykkisholmur on the Snæfellsnes peninsula to Brjanslaekur in the north. A ferry ride considerably shortens the route between the south and mid-west of the country and the West Fjords region. It also gives you the opportunity to experience a floating restaurant.

        Take a stopover at the charming island Flatey when you are crossing the bay or go to a day tour to Flatey and back to Stykkishólmur. At Flatey are no cars allowed and between the houses of the 18th century you get the feeling of a journey back in time.

        Contact Us


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